What is Border Gateway Protocol (BGP)?

By Hal Werner

Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) is a standardized exterior gateway protocol designed to exchange routing and reachability information between autonomous systems (AS) on the Internet. The protocol is often classified as a path vector protocol but is sometimes also classed as a distance-vector routing protocol. The BGP makes routing decisions based on paths, network policies, or rule-sets configured by a network administrator and is involved in making core routing decisions.

BGP neighbors, called peers, are established by manual configuration between routers to create a TCP session on port 179. A BGP speaker sends 19-byte keep-alive messages every 60 seconds to maintain the connection. Among routing protocols, BGP is unique in using TCP as its transport protocol.

When BGP runs between two peers in the same AS, it is referred to as Internal BGP (iBGP). When it runs between different autonomous systems, it is called External BGP (eBGP). Routers on the boundary of one AS exchanging information with another AS are called board eBGP peers and are typically connected directly, while iBGP peers can be interconnected through other intermediate routers. Other deployment topologies are also possible, such as running eBGP peering inside a VPN tunnel, allowing two remote sites to exchange routing information in a secure and isolated manner. The main difference between iBGP and eBGP peering is in the way the routes were received from one peer and are propagated to other peers. For instance, new routes learned from an eBGP peer are typically redistributed to all other iBGP peers as well as all eBGP peers (if transit mode is enabled on the router). However, if new routes were learned on an iBGP peering, then they are re-advertised only to all other iBGP peers. The route-propagation rules effectively require that all iBGP peers inside an AS are interconnected in a full mesh.