Convergence and Scalability Issues in OSPF and IS-IS

This seems to be the favorite question that every newbie has! There is no unequivocal answer to this and it all depends upon the kind of network and the topology. Having said this, lets try to see how the two IGPs can be compared.


This protocol is limited by the maximum number of LSPs that each IS-IS router can issue. This is 256 as its LSP ID is 1 octet long. The total number of IP prefixes carried by IS-IS can be easily computed and it comes to O(31000). However, RFC 3786 describes mechanisms to relax the limit on the number of LSP fragments, thereby increasing the number of IP prefixes that can be carried within IS-IS.

I have however, never seen any network carrying more than O(30K) IP prefixes inside IS-IS. Do let me know if you’re aware of networks where you see IS-IS carrying more than 30K routes.

I say this because this is a reasonable number for any sane IS-IS deployment and it will not run out of space unless someone actually injects the entire (or even partial) BGP feed into the IGP. In that case we will run out of space at about 20% of the way into redistribution and not be able to advertise the rest. It is for this reason that this practice has now been deprecated and the RFC 1745 which lays down the rules for BGP- OSPF interaction, has been moved to the HISTORICAL status.

There are 8 bits to define a pseudonode number in the LSPID which means that a router can be a Designated Intermediate System (DIS) for only 256 LANs. Additionally there is also a limitation on the number of routers that can be advertised in pseudonode LSP of the DIS. Dont worry – RFC 3786 fixes this!

RFC 3373 OTOH proposes a new TLV thats carried in the IIH PDUs that can increase the number of point-to-point adjacencies from 256 on a single router.

The “Remaining lifetime” field which gives the number of seconds before LSP is considered expired is 16 bits wide.

This gives the life time of the LSP as 2^16/60/60 Hrs = 18.7 Hrs

Thus the LSP issued by a router needs to be refreshed after every 18.7 Hrs. So youre not going to see a lot of IS-IS control packets being regenerated in a stable topology.


In theory, OSPF topology is limited by the number of links that can be advertised in the Router LSA as each router gets only one Router LSA and it cant be bigger than 64K which is the biggest an IP packet can be. The same constraint applies to the Network LSA also.

Each link in the router can take up at most 24 bytes. Thus, number of links which can be supported is given by (64 * 1024) / 24 = 2370

However, if we take the minimum link size per link (12 bytes) then the maximum is about 2 * 2370 = O(5000) links

To be more specific, we can have O(2300) p2p and p2mp links (not considering virtual links, etc) and O(5000) broadcast/NMBA links described in OSPF’s Router LSA and its Network LSA.

Thus each Router LSA can carry some 5000 links information in it. It is hard to imagine a router having 5000 neighbors but there are already routers with 400 neighbors in some ISPs, and it may not take long to reach the order of the magnitude limited by OSPF.

The Network LSAs are generated by the designated router (DR) for each broadcast network it is connected to. To have scaling problems it should have 2730 * 6 times neighbors on that interface. This is even less probable and hence there are no scalability problems with OSPF per se.

All other LSAs apart from Type 1 and Type 2 hold single prefixes. Because there is no limit to the number of such LSAs, a large number of inter-area and externals can be generated depending upon the memory resources of the router.

Each LSA has an LS Age field which is counted upwards starting from zero. Its life is an architectural constant which says one hour. When an LSA’s LS age field reaches MaxAge, it is reflooded in an attempt to flush the LSA from the routing domain. One hour seems like a long time but if one originates 50,000 LSAs then OSPF will be refreshing on an average of just 36ms!

Total number of LSAs to be refreshed = 50,000

Time by which all the LSAs must be refreshed = LSRefreshTime = 30mins = 1800 secs

Rate at which the LSAs need to be refreshed = 1800/50000 = 36ms

However, if the refreshes are perfectly spread out across time and perfectly batched, the actual update transmission rate may be on the order of one packet per second.

There is however a “do-not-age” LSA which in theory can be pressed into service and which never gets aged. However, such LSAs will be eventually purged from the LS database if they become stale after being held for at least 60 minutes and the originator not reachable for the same period. Moreover it is not backward compatible and if one deploys that in the network today with some routers not supporting this then the network can really get weird. So there isn’t really much that can be done using these unless the whole network is changed!

Theoretically, both the routing protocols are scalable and there should not be any issues with either one of these if implemented properly. Both have similar stability and convergence properties. Practically, providers must go with what their vendors suggest since the vendors are best aware of how each protocol has been implemented on their platforms.

I discuss more of this here.


About Manav Bhatia

Manav Bhatia is a SDN/NFV dataplane architect at Ionos Networks and has co-authored several IETF standards on routing protocols, BFD, IPv6, security, etc. He is also a member of IETF Routing Area Directorate where he helps the Area Directors review the IETF standards for their impact on the Routing Area. View all posts by Manav Bhatia

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