What is Intermediate System - Intermediate System (IS-IS)?

The IS-IS (Intermediate System - Intermediate System) protocol is one of a family of IP Routing protocols, and is an Interior Gateway Protocol (IGP) for the Internet, used to distribute IP routing information throughout a single Autonomous System (AS) in an IP network.

IS-IS is a link-state routing protocol, which means that the routers exchange topology information with their nearest neighbors. The topology information is flooded throughout the AS, so that every router within the AS has a complete picture of the topology of the AS. This picture is then used to calculate end-to-end paths through the AS, normally using a variant of the Dijkstra algorithm. Therefore, in a link-state routing protocol, the next hop address to which data is forwarded is determined by choosing the best end-to-end path to the eventual destination.

The main advantage of a link state routing protocol is that the complete knowledge of topology allows routers to calculate routes that satisfy particular criteria. This can be useful for traffic engineering purposes, where routes can be constrained to meet particular quality of service requirements. The main disadvantage of a link state routing protocol is that it does not scale well as more routers are added to the routing domain. Increasing the number of routers increases the size and frequency of the topology updates, and also the length of time it takes to calculate end-to-end routes. This lack of scalability means that a link state routing protocol is unsuitable for routing across the Internet at large, which is the reason why IGPs only route traffic within a single AS.

IS-IS was originally devised as a routing protocol for CLNP, but has been extended to include IP routing; the extended version is sometimes referred to as Integrated IS-IS.

Each IS-IS router distributes information about its local state (usable interfaces and reachable neighbors, and the cost of using each interface) to other routers using a Link State PDU (LSP) message. Each router uses the received messages to build up an identical database that describes the topology of the AS.

From this database, each router calculates its own routing table using a Shortest Path First (SPF) or Dijkstra algorithm. This routing table contains all the destinations the routing protocol knows about, associated with a next hop IP address and outgoing interface.

  • The protocol recalculates routes when network topology changes, using the Dijkstra algorithm, and minimises the routing protocol traffic that it generates.
  • It provides support for multiple paths of equal cost.
  • It provides a multi-level hierarchy (two-level for IS-IS) called "area routing," so that information about the topology within a defined area of the AS is hidden from routers outside this area. This enables an additional level of routing protection and a reduction in routing protocol traffic.
  • All protocol exchanges can be authenticated so that only trusted routers can join in the routing exchanges for the AS.
Learn more: view the specification of our IS-IS protocol stack.

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Networking software Layer 3 IP Routing

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