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VLAN Tagging

Trunk Links are designed to pass frames (packets) from all VLANs, allowing to connect multiple
switches together and independently configure each port to a specific VLAN. However, how
these packets run through the Trunk Links and network backbone, eventually finding their way
to the destination port without getting mixed or lost with the rest of the packets flowing through
the Trunk Links. This is process belongs to the world of VLAN Tagging!
VLAN Tagging
VLAN Tagging, also known as Frame Tagging, is a method developed by Cisco to help identify
packets travelling through trunk links. When an Ethernet frame traverses a trunk link, a special
VLAN tag is added to the frame and sent across the trunk link. As it arrives at the end of the
trunk link the tag is removed and the frame is sent to the correct access link port according to the
switch's table, so that the receiving end is unaware of any VLAN information. The diagram
below illustrates the process described above:

There are two 3500 series Catalyst switches and one Cisco 3745 router connected via the Trunk
Links. The Trunk Links allow frames from all VLANs to travel throughout the network
backbone and reach their destination regardless of the VLAN the frame belongs to. On the other
side, the workstations are connected directly to Access Links (ports configured for one VLAN
membership only), gaining access to the resources required by VLAN's members. Again, when

a switch's uplink is always a Trunk Link and any normal port where you would usually connect a workstation. router interfaces. to allow frames from multiple VLANs to run across the network backbone. as illustrated below: Despite this extra overhead. You'll find more information on VLAN implementations on our last page of the VLAN topic. You may also be interested in knowing that ISL is what we call. finding their way to their destination. but encapsulating the Ethernet frame with a new 26 byte ISL header and adding an additional 4 byte frame check sequence (FCS) field at the end of frame. server interface cards to create a trunk to a server and much more. that is. meaning. ISL is available and supported naturally on Cisco products only. This means that the protocol does not alter the Ethernet frame as shown above in our previous diagram ... we are describing it based on the way it has been configured. the VLAN Highway as we like to call it. InterSwitch Link (ISL) ISL is a Cisco propriety protocol used for FastEthernet and Gigabit Ethernet links only. What you might not have known though is that there is more than one method to 'tag' these frames as they run through the Trunk Links or . This is stressed because a lot of people think that it's the other way around.placing the VLAN Tag inside the Ethernet frame. Being a propriety protocol. This is because a port can be configured as an Access Link or Trunk Link (in the case where it's 100Mbits or faster). an 'external tagging process'. ISL is capable of supporting up to 1000 VLANs and does not introduce any delays in data transfers between Trunk Links. The protocol can be used in various equipments such as switch ports.we call a port 'Access Link' or 'Trunk Link'. . is an Access Link port! VLAN Tagging Protocol We're now familiar with the term 'Trunk Link' and its purpose.

These include:  Support of up to 4096 VLANs  Insertion of a 4-byte VLAN tag with no encapsulation  Smaller final frame sizes when compared with ISL Amazingly enough.1q The 802.1q tagging method supports a whopping 4096 VLANs (as opposed to 1000 VLANs ISL supports). In addition to the compatability issue. what we call a 'giant' or 'jumbo' frame! Lastly. IEEE 802. . The 802. ISL uses Per VLAN Spanning Tree (PVST) which runs one instance of the Spanning Tree Protocol (STP) per VLAN.1q tagging method is by far the most popular and commonly used even in Cisco oriented network installations mainly for compatability with other equipment and future upgrades that might tend towards different vendors. the 802. The encapsulation method mentioned above also happens to be the reason why only ISL-aware devices are able to read it. This is the actual frame that runs through a trunk link between two Cisco devices when configured to use ISL as their trunk tagging protocol.1q standard is of course an alternative to Cisco's ISL.1q standard was created by the IEEE group to address the problem breaking large networks into smaller and manageable ones through the use of VLANs. we won't provide further details here. This method allows us to optimise the root switch placement for each available VLAN while supporting neat features such as VLAN load balancing between multiple trunks. and because of the addition of an ISL header and FCS field. there are several more reasons for which most engineers prefer this method of tagging. and one that all vendors implement on their network equipment to ensure compatibility and seamless integration with the existing network infrastructure. As with all 'open standards' the IEEE 802. Ethernet's maximum frame size is 1518 bytes. Since the ISL's header fields are covered on a separate page.In the above diagram we can see an ISL frame encapsulating an Ethernet II frame. the frame can end up being 1548 bytes long! For those who can't remember. a large amount indeed which is merely impossible to deplet in your local area network. making an ISL frame of 1548 bytes.

ensuring maximum compatability. while the maximum Ethernet II frame size now becomes 1522 bytes. As you may have already concluded yourself. the maximum Ethernet frame is considerably smaller in size (by 26 bytes) when using the IEEE 802. Cisco recommends you use ISL tagging when in a Cisco native environment. visit our protocol page where further details are given.1q approach is much safer. the switch maintains one instance of the Spanning Tree Protocol (STP) per VLAN. which is certainly not something a network administrator would want. If you require more information on the tag's fields. right after the Source MAC Address as illustrated in the diagram below: Because of the extra 4-byte tag.  It is imperative that the VLAN for an IEEE 802.1q tagging method rather than ISL. LAN Emulation (LANE) . it does come with its restrictions:  In a Cisco powered network. otherwise network loops are likely to occur. but as outlined earlier. It's best to either disable or enable STP on all VLANs. most network engineers and administrators believe that the IEEE802. is not a good idea because network loops might be created. but this is not true.1q VLAN trunk without disabling it on the rest of the available VLANs. And because not everything in this world is perfect.  Cisco always advises that disabling a STP instance on one 802. there will also be 10 instances of STP running amongst the switches. In the case of non-Cisco switches. This means that if you have 10 VLANs in your network. no matter how good the 802.The 4-byte tag we mentioned is inserted within the existing Ethernet frame.1q trunk is the same for both ends of the trunk link.1q tagging protocol might seem. In fact. This difference in size might also be interpreted by many that the IEEE 802.1q tagging method is much faster than ISL. the minimum Ethernet II frame size increases from 64 bytes to 68 bytes. then only 1 instance of STP is maintained for all VLANs.

The LAN Emulation Server with the help of the LANE Client.0. emulating Layer 2 protocols (DataLink layer) and transporting higher layer protocols such as TCP/IP. LANE has been supported by Cisco since 1995 and Cisco's ISO release 11. LANE is not very common and you will most probably never see it implemented in small to mid-sized networks. The LANE Client works with the LAN Emulation Server (LES) to handle all messages and packets flowing through the network.LAN Emulation was introduced to solve the need of creating VLANs over WAN links. this is no reason to ignore it. allowing network managers to define workgroups based on logical function. but briefly covering it so we can grasp the concept. regardless of their location and distance. the WAN network becomes totally transparent to the end users: Every LAN or native ATM host. we are now able to create VLANs between remote offices. The LANE specification defines a LAN Emulation Configuration Server (LECS). ensuring that the end clients are not aware of the WAN network infrastructure and therefore making it transparent. rather than physical's actually been around since 1995!). maps MAC addresses to ATM addresses. . like the switch or router shown in the diagram. that resides within the ATM network and allows network administrators to control which LANs are combined to form VLANs. With this new technology (so to speak . connects to the ATM network via a special software interface called 'LAN Emulation Client'. Just keep in mind that we won't be looking at it in much depth. When implemented between two point-to-point links. a service running inside an ATM switch or a physical server connected to the ATM switch. however. IPX/SPX without modification.

802. When intalling the appropriate switch modules and with the use of the 802. This backbone interconnects all major network switches.10 SAID field. allowing the frame to transit trunk links as described: . The links between the switches and the backbone can either be Access type links (meaning one VLAN passes through them) or Trunk links (all VLANs are able to pass through them). all Ethernet VLANs are able to run over the FDDI network.10 network is created. This implementation is usually found on Cisco's high-end switch models such as the Catalyst 5000 series where special modules are installed inside the switches. Lastly. the special FDDI modules mentioned above support both single VLANs (non-trunk) and multiple VLANs (trunk). the switches have an Ethernet port belonging to VLAN 6. along with the SAID field in which the VLAN ID is inserted. and to 'connect' these ports we map each switch's Ethernet module with its FDDI module. connecting them to an FDDI backbone. and as such. The diagram above shows two Catalyst switches connected to a FDDI backbone. a mapping between the Ethernet VLAN and 802. At both ends.10 (FDDI) Tagging VLAN frames on Fiber Distributed Data Interface (FDDI) networks is quite common in large scale networks. the diagram below shows the IEEE 802. To provide further detail.10 frame. providing a fully redundant network. The various modules available for the Cisco Catalyst switches allow the integration of Ethernet into the FDDI network.

that's normal:) You'll be surprised to find out that the Cisco switch in the previous diagram must process the Ethernet II frame and convert it before placing it on the IEEE 802. During this stage.It's okay if your impressed or seem confused with the structure of the above frame. The most important bit to remember here is the SAID field and its purpose.10 frame.10 backbone or trunk. the original Ethernet II frame is converted to an Ethernet SNAP frame and then finally to an IEEE 802. . This conversion is required to maintain compatibility and reliability between the two different topologies.