VXLAN is an overlay network to carry Ethernet traffic over an existing (highly available and scalable) IP network while accommodating a very large number of tenants. It is defined in RFC 7348.
Starting from Linux 3.12, the VXLAN implementation is quite complete as both multicast and unicast are supported as well as IPv6 and IPv4. Let’s explore the various methods to configure it.
To illustrate our examples, we use the following setup:
- an underlay IP network (highly available and scalable, possibly the Internet);
- three Linux bridges acting as VXLAN tunnel endpoints (VTEP); and
- four servers believing they share a common Ethernet segment.
A VXLAN tunnel extends the individual Ethernet segments across the
three bridges, providing a unique (virtual) Ethernet segment. From one
H1), we can reach directly all the other hosts in the
$ ping -c10 -w1 -t1 ff02::1%eth0 PING ff02::1%eth0(ff02::1%eth0) 56 data bytes 64 bytes from fe80::5254:33ff:fe00:8%eth0: icmp_seq=1 ttl=64 time=0.016 ms 64 bytes from fe80::5254:33ff:fe00:b%eth0: icmp_seq=1 ttl=64 time=4.98 ms (DUP!) 64 bytes from fe80::5254:33ff:fe00:9%eth0: icmp_seq=1 ttl=64 time=4.99 ms (DUP!) 64 bytes from fe80::5254:33ff:fe00:a%eth0: icmp_seq=1 ttl=64 time=4.99 ms (DUP!) --- ff02::1%eth0 ping statistics --- 1 packets transmitted, 1 received, +3 duplicates, 0% packet loss, time 0ms rtt min/avg/max/mdev = 0.016/3.745/4.991/2.152 ms
The reference deployment for VXLAN is to use an IP multicast group to join the other VTEPs:
# ip -6 link add vxlan100 type vxlan \ > id 100 \ > dstport 4789 \ > local 2001:db8:1::1 \ > group ff05::100 \ > dev eth0 \ > ttl 5 # brctl addbr br100 # brctl addif br100 vxlan100 # brctl addif br100 vnet22 # brctl addif br100 vnet25 # brctl stp br100 off # ip link set up dev br100 # ip link set up dev vxlan100
The above commands create a new interface acting as a VXLAN tunnel
vxlan100, and put it in a bridge with some regular
interfaces.1 Each VXLAN segment is associated with a 24-bit
segment ID, the VXLAN Network Identifier (VNI). In our example, the
default VNI is specified with
When VXLAN was first implemented in Linux 3.7, the UDP port to use was
not defined. Several vendors were using 8472 and Linux took the same
value. To avoid breaking existing deployments, this is still the
default value. Therefore, if you want to use the IANA-assigned port,
you need to explicitly set it with
As we want to use multicast, we have to specify a multicast group to
group ff05::100), as well as a physical device (
eth0). With multicast, the default TTL is 1. If your multicast
network leverages some routing, you’ll have to increase the value a
bit, like here with
vxlan100 device acts as a bridge device with remote VTEPs as
- it sends broadcast, unknown unicast, and multicast (BUM) frames to all VTEPs using the multicast group; and
- it discovers the association from Ethernet MAC addresses to VTEP IP addresses using source-address learning.
The following figure summarizes the configuration, with the FDB of the Linux bridge (learning local MAC addresses) and the FDB of the VXLAN device (learning distant MAC addresses):
The FDB of the VXLAN device can be observed with the
command. If the destination MAC is present, the frame is sent to the
associated VTEP (unicast). The all-zero address is only used when a
lookup for the destination MAC fails.
# bridge fdb show dev vxlan100 | grep dst 00:00:00:00:00:00 dst ff05::100 via eth0 self permanent 50:54:33:00:00:0b dst 2001:db8:3::1 self 50:54:33:00:00:08 dst 2001:db8:1::1 self
If you are interested to get more details on how to setup a multicast network and build VXLAN segments on top of it, see my “Network virtualization with VXLAN” article.
Using VXLAN over a multicast IP network has several benefits:
- automatic discovery of other VTEPs sharing the same multicast group
- good bandwidth usage (packets are replicated as late as possible)
- decentralized and controller-less design2
However, multicast is not available everywhere and managing it at scale can be difficult. In Linux 3.8, the DOVE extensions have been added to the VXLAN implementation, removing the dependency on multicast.
Unicast with static flooding#
We can replace multicast by head-end replication of BUM frames to a statically configured lists of remote VTEPs:3
# ip -6 link add vxlan100 type vxlan \ > id 100 \ > dstport 4789 \ > local 2001:db8:1::1 # bridge fdb append 00:00:00:00:00:00 dev vxlan100 dst 2001:db8:2::1 # bridge fdb append 00:00:00:00:00:00 dev vxlan100 dst 2001:db8:3::1
The VXLAN is defined without a remote multicast group. Instead, all the remote VTEPs are associated with the all-zero address: a BUM frame will be duplicated to all these destinations. The VXLAN device will still learn remote addresses automatically using source-address learning.
It is a very simple solution. With a bit of automation, you can keep the default FDB entries up-to-date easily. However, the host will have to duplicate each BUM frame (head-end replication) as many times as there are remote VTEPs. This is quite reasonable if you have a dozen of them. This may become out-of-hand if you have thousands of them.
Unicast with static L2 entries#
When the associations of MAC addresses and VTEPs are known, it is possible to pre-populate the FDB and disable learning:
# ip -6 link add vxlan100 type vxlan \ > id 100 \ > dstport 4789 \ > local 2001:db8:1::1 \ > nolearning # bridge fdb append 00:00:00:00:00:00 dev vxlan100 dst 2001:db8:2::1 # bridge fdb append 00:00:00:00:00:00 dev vxlan100 dst 2001:db8:3::1 # bridge fdb append 50:54:33:00:00:09 dev vxlan100 dst 2001:db8:2::1 # bridge fdb append 50:54:33:00:00:0a dev vxlan100 dst 2001:db8:2::1 # bridge fdb append 50:54:33:00:00:0b dev vxlan100 dst 2001:db8:3::1
Thanks to the
nolearning flag, source-address learning is
disabled. Therefore, if a MAC is missing, the frame will always be
sent using the all-zero entries.
The all-zero entries are still needed for broadcast and multicast traffic (e.g. ARP and IPv6 neighbor discovery). This kind of setup works well to provide virtual L2 networks to virtual machines (no L3 information available). You need some glue to update the FDB entries.
Unicast with static L3 entries#
In the previous example, we had to keep the all-zero entries for ARP and IPv6 neighbor discovery to work correctly. However, Linux can answer to neighbor requests on behalf of the remote nodes.4 When this feature is enabled, the default entries are not needed anymore (but you could keep them):
# ip -6 link add vxlan100 type vxlan \ > id 100 \ > dstport 4789 \ > local 2001:db8:1::1 \ > nolearning \ > proxy # ip -6 neigh add 2001:db8:ff::11 lladdr 50:54:33:00:00:09 dev vxlan100 # ip -6 neigh add 2001:db8:ff::12 lladdr 50:54:33:00:00:0a dev vxlan100 # ip -6 neigh add 2001:db8:ff::13 lladdr 50:54:33:00:00:0b dev vxlan100 # bridge fdb append 50:54:33:00:00:09 dev vxlan100 dst 2001:db8:2::1 # bridge fdb append 50:54:33:00:00:0a dev vxlan100 dst 2001:db8:2::1 # bridge fdb append 50:54:33:00:00:0b dev vxlan100 dst 2001:db8:3::1
This setup eliminates head-end replication. However, protocols relying on multicast won’t work either. With some automation, this is a setup that should work well with containers: if there is a registry keeping a list of all IP and MAC addresses in use, a program could listen to it and adjust the FDB and the neighbor tables.
The VXLAN backend of Docker’s libnetwork is an example of this strategy (but it also uses the next method).
Unicast with dynamic L3 entries#
Linux can also notify a program an (L2 or L3) entry is missing. The program queries some central registry and dynamically adds the requested entry. However, for L2 entries, notifications are issued only if:
- the destination MAC address is not known;
- there is no all-zero entry in the FDB; and
- the destination MAC address is not a multicast or broadcast one.
These limitations prevent us to do a “unicast with dynamic L2 entries” scenario.
First, let’s create the VXLAN device with the
ip -6 link add vxlan100 type vxlan \ id 100 \ dstport 4789 \ local 2001:db8:1::1 \ nolearning \ l2miss \ l3miss \ proxy
Notifications are sent to programs listening to an
NETLINK_ROUTE protocol. This socket needs to be bound to
RTNLGRP_NEIGH group. The following is doing exactly that and
decodes the received notifications:
# ip monitor neigh dev vxlan100 miss 2001:db8:ff::12 STALE miss lladdr 50:54:33:00:00:0a STALE
The first notification is about a missing neighbor entry for the requested IP address. We can add it with the following command:
ip -6 neigh replace 2001:db8:ff::12 \ lladdr 50:54:33:00:00:0a \ dev vxlan100 \ nud reachable
The entry is not permanent so that we don’t need to delete it when it expires. If the address becomes stale, we will get another notification to refresh it.
Once the host receives our proxy answer for the neighbor discovery request, it can send a frame with the MAC we gave as a destination. The second notification is about the missing FDB entry for this MAC address. We add the appropriate entry with the following command:6
bridge fdb replace 50:54:33:00:00:0a \ dst 2001:db8:2::1 \ dev vxlan100 dynamic
The entry is not permanent either as it would prevent the MAC to migrate to the local VTEP (a dynamic entry cannot override a permanent entry).
This setup works well with containers and a global registry. However, there is a small latency penalty for the first connections. Moreover, multicast and broadcast won’t be available in the underlay network. The VXLAN backend for flannel, a network fabric for Kubernetes, is an example of this strategy.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution.
You should consider the multicast solution if:
- you are in an environment where multicast is available;
- you are ready to operate (and scale) a multicast network;
- you need multicast and broadcast inside the virtual segments; and
- you don’t have L2/L3 addresses available beforehand.
The scalability of such a solution is pretty good if you take care of not putting all VXLAN interfaces into the same multicast group (e.g. use the last byte of the VNI as the last byte of the multicast group).
When multicast is not available, another generic solution is BGP EVPN: BGP is used as a controller to ensure the distribution of the list of VTEPs and their respective FDBs. As mentioned earlier, an implementation of this solution is FRR. I explore this option in a separate post: VXLAN: BGP EVPN with FRR.
If you operate in a container-like environment where L2/L3 addresses are known beforehand, a solution using static and/or dynamic L2 and L3 entries based on a central registry and no source-address learning would also fit the bill. This provides a more security-tight solution (bound resources, MiTM attacks dampened down, inability to amplify bandwidth usage through excessive broadcast). Various environment-specific solutions are available7 or you can build your own.
Independently of the chosen strategy, here are a few important points to keep in mind when implementing a VXLAN overlay.
While you may expect VXLAN interfaces to only carry L2 traffic, Linux doesn’t disable IP processing. If the destination MAC is a local one, Linux will route or deliver the encapsulated IP packet. Check my post about the proper isolation of a Linux bridge.
VXLAN enforces isolation between tenants, but the traffic is unencrypted. The most direct solution to provide encryption is to use IPsec. Some container-based solutions may come with IPsec support out-of-the-box (notably Docker’s libnetwork, but flannel has a plan for it too). This is quite important for deployment over a public cloud.
The format of a VXLAN-encapsulated frame is the following:
VXLAN adds a fixed overhead of 50 bytes. If you also use IPsec, the overhead depends on many factors. In transport mode, with AES and SHA256, the overhead is 56 bytes. With NAT traversal, this is 64 bytes (additional UDP header). In tunnel mode, this is 72 bytes.
Some users will expect to be able to use an Ethernet MTU of 1500 for the overlay network. Therefore, the underlay MTU should be increased. If it is not possible, ensure the inner MTU (inside the containers or the virtual machines) is correctly decreased.8
While all the examples above are using IPv6, the ecosystem is not quite ready yet. The multicast L2-only strategy works fine with IPv6 but every other scenario currently needs some patches (1, 2, 3, 4).
From Linux 4.13, all the mentioned issues are solved. IPv6 is also more well-tested as Cumulus promotes IPv6 as the transport and signaling protocol for their own solutions.
On top of that, IPv6 may not have been implemented in VXLAN-related tools:
- Cumulus vxfld daemon does not support IPv6 as a transport layer
- flannel has absolutely no IPv6 support
- Docker’s libnetwork has no IPv6 support for the VXLAN backend
Linux VXLAN implementation doesn’t support IGMP snooping. Multicast traffic will be broadcasted to all VTEPs unless multicast MAC addresses are inserted into the FDB.
The underlay multicast network may still need some central components, like rendez-vous points for PIM-SM protocol. Fortunately, it’s possible to make them highly available and scalable (e.g. with Anycast-RP, RFC 4610). ↩︎
For this example and the following ones, a patch is needed for the
ipcommand (included in 4.11) to use IPv6 for transport. In the meantime, here is a quick workaround:↩︎
# ip -6 link add vxlan100 type vxlan \ > id 100 \ > dstport 4789 \ > local 2001:db8:1::1 \ > remote 2001:db8:2::1 # bridge fdb append 00:00:00:00:00:00 \ > dev vxlan100 dst 2001:db8:3::1
Directly adding the entry after the first notification would have been smarter to avoid unnecessary retransmissions. ↩︎
flannel and Docker’s libnetwork were already mentioned as they both feature a VXLAN backend. There are also some interesting experiments like BaGPipe BGP for Kubernetes which leverages BGP EVPN and is therefore interoperable with other vendors. ↩︎
There is no such thing as MTU discovery on an Ethernet segment. ↩︎