UDLD (Unidirectional Link Detection) is Cisco proprietary extension for detecting a mis-configured link. The idea behind it is pretty strighforward – allow two switches to verify if they can both send and receive data on a point-to-point connection. Consider a network with two switches, A and B connected by two links: “A=B”. Naturally, if “A” is the root of spanning tree, one of the ports on “B” will be blocking, constantly receiving BPDUs from “A”. If this link would turn uni-directional and “B” would start missing those BPDUs, the port will eventually unblock, forming a loop betwen “A” and “B”. Note that the problem with unidirectional links usually occurs on fiber-optical connections and is not common on UTP (wired) connections, where link pulses are used to monitor the connection integrity.
The confusion about UDLD is that Cisco provides quite unclear description of the feature operations be it on CatOS or IOS platform. So here is a short overview of how UDLD works.
1) Both UDLD peers (switches) discover each other by exchanging special frames sent to well-known MAC address 01:00:0C:CC:CC:CC. (Naturally, those frames are only understood by Cisco switches). Each switch sends it’s own device ID along with the originator port ID and timeout value to it’s peer. Additionally, a switch echoes back the ID of it’s neighbor (if the switch does see the neighbor). Since some versions of CatOS and IOS you can change UDLD timers globally.
2) If no echo frame with our ID has been seen from the peer for a certain amount of time, the port is suspected to be unidirectional. What happens next depends on UDLD mode of operations.
3) In “Normal” mode, if the physical state of port (as reported by Layer 1) is still up, UDLD marks this port as “Undetermined”, but does NOT shut down or disable the port, which continues to operate under it’s current STP status. This mode of operations is informational and potentially less disruptive (though it does not prevent STP loops). You can review the “undetermined” ports using CLI show commands when troubleshooting the STP issues though.
3) If UDLD is set to “Agressive” mode, once the switch loses it’s neighbor it actively tries to re-establish the relationship by sending a UDLD frame 8 times every 1 second (surpisingly this coincides with TCP keepalives retry values used by FCIP on Cisco MDS storage switches . If the neighbor does not respond after that, port is considered to be unidirectional and brought to “Errdisable” state. (Note that you can configure “errdisable recovery” to make switch automatically recover from such issues)
4) UDLD “Aggressive” will only brings link to errdisable state when it detects “Bidirectional” to “Unidirectional” state transition. In order for a link to become “Bidirectional”, UDLD process should first hear an echo packet with it’s own ID from a peer on the other side. This prevents link from becoming errdisabled when you configure “Aggressive” mode just on one side. The UDLD state of such link will be “Unknown”.
5) UDLD “Aggressive” inteoperates with UDLD “Normal” on the other side of a link. This type of configuration means that just one side of the link will be errdisabled once “Unidirectional” condition has been detected.
To complete this overview, remember that UDLD is designed to be a helper for STP. Therefore, UDLD should be able to detect an unidirectional link before STP would unblock the port due to missed BPDUs. Thus, when you configure UDLD timers, make sure your values are set so that unidirectional link is detected before “STP MaxAge + 2xForwardDelay” expires. Additionally, notice that UDLD function is similar to STP Loopguard and Bridge Assurance feature found in newer switches. The benefit of UDLD is that it operates at physical port-level, whereas STP may not be able to detect a malfunctioning link bundled in an Etherchannel. This is why you normally use all features together – they don’t replace but truly complement each other.
About Petr Lapukhov, 4xCCIE/CCDE:
Petr Lapukhov's career in IT begain in 1988 with a focus on computer programming, and progressed into networking with his first exposure to Novell NetWare in 1991. Initially involved with Kazan State University's campus network support and UNIX system administration, he went through the path of becoming a networking consultant, taking part in many network deployment projects. Petr currently has over 12 years of experience working in the Cisco networking field, and is the only person in the world to have obtained four CCIEs in under two years, passing each on his first attempt. Petr is an exceptional case in that he has been working with all of the technologies covered in his four CCIE tracks (R&S, Security, SP, and Voice) on a daily basis for many years. When not actively teaching classes, developing self-paced products, studying for the CCDE Practical & the CCIE Storage Lab Exam, and completing his PhD in Applied Mathematics.
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