We are going to discuss Cisco’s proprietary extensions to STP algorithm, namely UplinkFast and BackBone Fast. Those two features aim to reduce the time it takes STP to re-activate topology after a link failure. While UplinkFast seems pretty intuitive, BB Fast is more complicated.

See more detailed overview at:



Look at Figure 1 above. It demonstrates a sample network topology (pretty poorly designed, by the way) with a backbone (core) and access layers. Everything is Layer 2 in this topology, and you can see the STP subset of the topology highlighted in green. UplinkFast extension was designed for use on access-layer switches, such as AC-SW1 and AC-SW2. Commonly, those switches have redundant uplinks to the core/distribution layer. If the primary uplink fails it would take 2xForward_Time for the backup uplink to come up. This is only in the case if the failure would be detected immediately, without aging the BPDU stored for the primary uplink. However, it makes sense to bring the secondary uplink up immediately, as soon as the primary’s failure has been detected, as there are no more uplinks. Even in case when the access-switch has more than two uplinks, we can still transition the next available uplink to the operational state, since the access-switch is not supposed to become a transit path for any traffic. If the access-switch could become a transit point, we cannot use the same trick, as this might introduce loops into the active topology. Therefore, we can quickly transition the backup link into the forwarding state if:

1) The switch has only two uplinks.
2) The switch has more than two uplinks, but the STP parameters are set in such way, that the switch would never become a transit node.

The second condition could be fulfilled if we set the STP priority of the switch to a value that makes it almost impossible to become a root bridge (numerically large value) plus increasing all ports STP cost, making all transit paths via this switch less preferred. This is what Cisco calls “UplinkFast” feature. When you enable it on a switch, the failure of the root port will transition the secondary uplink (alternate port) into forwarding state almost immediately.

The last component of UplinkFast feature is quick MAC-address table re-learning. Since the primary uplink has failed, the core switches might lose the MAC addresses associated with the access switch. This will result in connectivity disruption, till the time the addresses are re-learned via the secondary path. Thus, in addition to bringing the secondary uplink up quickly, the switch will also flood it with dummy multicast frames, sourced from all the MAC addresses known to the switch. This will allow the upstream switches (the destination is multicast) to quickly re-learn the MAC addresses via the new path. Of course, the penalty is excessive network flooding with multicast frames.


In the previous post, we described how STP handles inferior BPDUs. In short, classic algorithm simply ignores the potentially useful information conveyed by inferior BPDUs. Look at Figure 2 below.


What if the link between BB-SW2 and BB-SW3 fails? First, since BB-SW2 is the root, the failure of the designated port will only cause a topology change even. However, things are more complicated for BB-SW3, since it loses the root port. BB-SW3 will invalidate the currently know root bridge information, and try looking for another alternative. Since the port on BB-SW4 connected to BB-SW3 is blocking, there is now new information. Thus BB-SW3 declares itself the root of the STP and starts sending inferior BPDUs to BB-SW4. If the latter would be a classic STP switch, it would ignore the inferior information until the BPDU stored with the blocked port expires (around Max_Age seconds). However, with BackBone fast enable, the switch that receives inferior information will attempt to verify if this failure affected its own connection to the root (e.g. whether the current root bridge is actually dead or we lost the connection to it just like our neighbor).

1) The switch selects the root port and all alternate ports (all upstream ports) as the candidate paths to the current root. In case of BB-SW4 there is just one root link to BB-SW2 and there is ALN path via BB SW3. The switch then sends out special RLQ (Root Link Query) BPDUs out of the selected ports, in our case to BB-SW4 and BB-SW3. What these BPDUs contain is the following (among other fields):

a) The Bridge ID of the querying switch (local switch BID)
b) The Bridge ID of our current Root Bridge (or what the querying switch thinks is the current root bridge).

2) Every switch that receives the RLQ, checks the Root Bridge ID in the query.
2.1) If this is the same BID that receiving switch consider to be the root, it relays the RLQ upstream, across its root port.
2.2) If the switch receiving the RLQ is the root bridge itself, it floods a positive RLQ response out of ALL its designated (downstream) ports. In our situation, this is the case, and BB-SW2 immediately responds to BB-SW4.
2.3) If the switch receiving the RLQ considers a different bridge to be the root of the topology, it immediately responds with a negative RLQ, flooded out of all designated (downstream) ports.

3) RLQ responses are flooded by every switch downstream out of all designated ports. Only the switch that sees itself as the originator of the RLQ will not flood the responses further. This is how the RLQ responses are eventually delivered to the querying bridge.

4) When the originating switch receives a negative response on any upstream port, it immediately invalidates the information stored with this port, and moves it to the Listening state, starting BPDU exchange. This happens with the port connected to BB-SW3 in our case. If the answer is positive, the information stored with the port is considered to be valid. The switch waits for responses on all upstream ports, retaining or invalidating the respective stored BPDUs.

5) If ALL responses were negative, the querying switch deduces loss of the connectivity to the old root. The querying switch declares itself as the new root and starts propagating this information out of all ports, listening for better BPDUs at the same time.

6) If at least ONE response was positive, the querying switch assumes that it still has healthy connection to the current root, unblocks the ports that have received negative responses. This allows the switch to start sending information about the current root to the switch that thinks it lost connection to the root bridge. In our case, BB-SW4 receives a positive response from BB-SW2 and immediately unblocks the port to BB-SW3, starting to relay BB-SW2 configuration BPDUs.

Therefore, the overall effect of BB Fast is proactive testing of the current topology and quick invalidation of the outdated information. Backbone Fast allows saving up to Max_Age seconds of waiting to expire the old root bridge information and thus reduce the convergence time to 2xForward_Time. The BB Fast feature is only useful on switches that are capable of becoming a transit node, i.e. the switches that form the core (backbone) of the bridged network. Of course, since BB Fast uses special RLQ BPDUs, it must be explicitly enabled in all participating Cisco switches.

Finally, a quick question to think about after reading this post: Is if OK to enable the UplinkFast feature on all switches forming the “ring” topology ?

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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17 Responses to “Understanding STP Convergence, Part II”

  1. Joshua Walton says:

    Nice post, Petr.

  2. Andrew says:

    I’ll try to answer your question: it is OK because we’ll never get a loop since after any link failure this will be a broken ring hence no loop in topology.

  3. kaushal says:

    very clear information……….
    Thanks for this post

  4. Roshan lal says:

    Hi All,

    How does the RLQ BPDUs is different than other BPDUs in packet format.

    I mean, how does bridge identifies the BPDU as RLQ. Can you please send me the packet format of RLQ.

    Roshan Lal

  5. Ananth Kumar R says:

    Hi Petr,

    I think it should not be a problem to enable UplinkFast on all switches in the Ring , UPlinkFast is local decision, just to bring the backup port.

    Kind Regards,

  6. Deepali Mane says:

    Hi All,
    It is ok by enabling uplinkfast and backbonefast on the switches but can it create any problem in sensitive nework environment by enabling uplinkfast?
    As dummy multicast frames sent by uplinkfast enabled switches from all the mac addresses known to the switch which allow upstream switches quickly to re-learn the mac addresses from new link.

    Deepali Mane

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  8. Joseph says:


  9. Nav says:

    Hi Petr

    I would like to discuss about UplinkFast. Lets suppose in the above diagram if AC-SW1 is connected to BB-SW3 via Hub or fiber converter. If link breaks at AC-SW1′s side and BB-SW3 could not detect the failure. AC-SW1 will immediately put its block port into forwarding mode and will start sending dummy multicast packets.

    1. Will BB-SW3 accept multicast packets and change its CAM table entries?
    2. Or will this situation be resolved by TCN BPDUs?
    3. And how long AC-SW1 will continue sending multicast packets?
    4. Or We can’t use UplinkFast in this kind of situation?

    That would be very kind of you, if you can shed some light on above questions.

    Thanks Petr.

    • @Nav,

      With UplinkFast, AC-SW1 will star flooding dummy multicast frames out of the previously blocked port. The frames will pass through SW4 and up to BB-SW1 – the root. Eventually, BB-SW3 will learn of the “moved” MAC addresses as reachable via BB-SW1 and restore connectivity forwarding via the root bridge. The TCN event will also kick in, but it will just shorten the MAC address table entry lifetime, and wont affect the convergence much in this scenario.

      Notice how this is different from RSTP, where a switchover to alternate port will generate a TCN even that flushes MAC address tables, thus allowing for fast connectivity restoration via unicast flooding. Thus, MAC address move signaling is not required in RSTP.

      The exact duration of the multicast frame flooding depends on the size of the CAM table at AC-SW1 and configure flooding rate – every MAC address is sent at least once, but I’m not exactly sure about that.

      • Nav says:

        Hi Petr

        First of all I would like to say thanks for answering my question. Four days back I hear about you. Since that time I am reading your blog and become big fan of you.

        Actually I would like to extend UplinkFast diagram.
        Suppose AC-SW1 is linked to BB-SW3 through Hub, and link goes down on AC-SW1’s side. BB-SW3 does not detect the loss of carrier. Now how UplinkFast will converge this failure.
        (Similar situation as you described in STP convergence Part 1, directly connected link failure, point 2) or (as you said If upstream bridge does not detect the failure in your PDF, page 9)

        I have a strong hope you will answer my question.

        Thanks very much Petr.

        • @Nav,

          I think I just answered that in my previous reply: even though BB-SW3 does NOT detect link failure, the uplink-fast dummy frames flooded by AC-SW1 will make BB-SW3 re-learn the old MAC addresses on the link to BB-SW1 and restore forwarding quickly. BB-SW3 will keep the port to AC-SW1 unblocked as it believe it is designated bridge on this link.

  10. Nav says:

    Thanks very much Petr

  11. Kirill says:

    Thank you for accessible explanation!

  12. Stavan says:

    Excellent details….would have literally “burnt out” learning these concepts explained in such simple words by you…….!!!!
    Thanks a tonn…!!!


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