Inter-VLAN Routing Configuration

Virtual Local Area Network (VLAN), just as the name implies, allows Network Administrators to logically (virtually) segment a LAN into different broadcast domains.

The advent of VLAN brought about security, simplicity, and flexibility to the LAN. It also led to a reduction in the amount of administrative overhead required to manage a multi-switch environment. Imagine the enormous complexity that would have characterized today’s LAN – more switches, access points, routers, and of course more cables. This obviously leads to a higher total cost of ownership for every LAN setup.

A VLAN is a broadcast domain, which means computers on separate VLANs are unable to communicate without the intervention of a routing device. Whenever hosts in one VLAN need to communicate with hosts in another VLAN, the traffic must be routed through a routing device. This process is known as inter-VLAN routing. To successfully exchange information between VLANs, you need a router or a Layer 3 switch. There are three possible ways to implement inter-VLAN routing:

  1. Traditional Inter-VLAN Routing
  2. Router-on-a-Stick Inter-VLAN Routing
  3. Multilayer Switch Inter-VLAN Routing

We will explain each of them in detail, and show you how to configure them in your network.

Traditional Inter-VLAN Routing

This method of inter-VLAN routing relies on a router with multiple physical interfaces. Each interface is usually connected to the switch, one for each VLAN. The switch ports connected to the router are placed in access mode and each router interface can then accept traffic from the VLAN associated with the switch interface that it is connected to, and traffic can be routed to the other VLANs connected to the other interfaces. This means that each of the routers’ interface IP addresses would then become the default gateway address for each host in each VLAN.

Let’s take a look at the diagram shown in Figure 1.0 below. If Host A on VLAN 10, wants to send a message to Host B on VLAN 20, it would take the following steps:

  1. Host A checks whether the destination IP address is in its VLAN; if it is not, the traffic will be forwarded to its default gateway on interface Fa0/0 on the router.
  2. Host A then sends an ARP request to the switch to determine the MAC address of the Fa0/0 interface on the router. Once the router replies, Host A sends the frame to the router as a unicast message, where it is then directly forwarded out the trunk interface to the router.
  3. When the router receives the frame, it determines the destination IP address and interface from the routing table.
  4. The router then sends an ARP request out the interface connected to the destination VLAN (VLAN 20), which corresponds to interface Fa0/1 on the router.
  5. When the switch receives the message, it floods it to its ports, which then triggers Host B to reply with its MAC address.
  6. The router then uses the information gathered to forward the message finally to Host B on VLAN 20 as a unicast frame through the switch.
Traditional inter-VLAN routing
Figure 1.0 Traditional inter-VLAN routing

To configure traditional inter-VLAN routing on a Cisco device, in accordance with the diagram shown in Figure 1.0 above, use the IP addresses shown in Table 1.0 and follow the steps below:

Device

Interface

VLAN ID

IP Address

Subnet Mask

Default Gateway

Router

Fa0/0

VLAN 10

192.168.10.1

255.255.255.0

N/A

Fa0/1

VLAN 20

192.168.20.1

255.255.255.0

N/A

Host A

NIC

VLAN 10

192.168.10.10

255.255.255.0

192.168.10.1

Host B

NIC

VLAN 20

192.168.20.20

255.255.255.0

192.168.20.1 


Table 1.0 IP address details for Figure 1.0

Step 1: Create VLANs (VLANs 10 and 20) on the switch

Description

Command

Enter global configuration mode

Switch# conf t

Create VLAN 10

Switch(config)# vlan 10

Give a name to VLAN 10

Switch(config-vlan)# name Admin-dept

Create VLAN 20

Switch(config-vlan)# vlan 20

Give a name to VLAN 20

Switch(config-vlan)# name Finance-dept

Exit the VLAN config. mode

Switch(config-vlan)# exit 

Check if the VLANs were created

Switch # show vlan brief 

Step 2: Assign the VLANs to switch port

Description

Command

Enter global configuration mode

Switch# conf t

Enter interface config. mode for fa0/2

Switch(config)# interface fa0/2

Set the port to access mode

Switch(config-if)#switchport mode access

Assign VLAN 10 to interface fa0/2

Switch(config-if)#switchport access vlan 10

Exit the interface

Switch(config-if)# exit

Enter interface configuration for fa0/3

Switch(config)# interface fa0/3

Set the port to access mode

Switch(config-if)#switchport mode access

Assign VLAN 20 to interface fa0/3

Switch(config-if)#switchport access vlan 20

Exit the interface 

Switch(config-if)# exit 

Now at this stage, when you try to ping between Host A and Host B, the ping fails because the two PCs are on separate networks and the router is not yet configured for inter-VLAN routing, so they cannot communicate with one another. Our next step is to configure inter-VLAN routing to enable communication between the VLANs.

Step 3: Configure the IP addresses on the router

Description

Command

Enter global configuration mode

Router# conf t

Enter interface config. mode for fa0/0

Router(config)# interface fa0/0

Configure IP address and subnet mask

Router(config-if)#ip address 192.168.10.1 255.255.255.0

Activate the interface

Router(config-if)#no shutdown

Exit the interface

Router(config-if)#exit

Enter interface config. mode for fa0/1

Router(config)# interface fa0/1

Configure IP address and subnet mask

Router(config-if)# ip address 192.168.20.1 255.255.255.0

Activate the interface

Router(config-if)#no shutdown

Exit the interface 

Router(config-if)# exit

Save configuration

Router# copy running-config startup-config 


Now at this juncture, if you try to ping between Host A and Host B, it will be successful because the two VLANs are now interconnected through the router.

Traditional inter-VLAN routing happens to be the earliest form of inter-VLAN routing. However, this method of inter-VLAN routing is not efficient. It is archaic, and no longer employed in today’s switched networks. This is because routers have a limited number of physical interfaces that can be used to connect to different VLANs. Therefore, as the number of VLANs increases on a network, the approach of having one router physical interface per VLAN becomes unsustainable due to the inherent hardware limitations of a router. In order to overcome some of the issues associated with traditional inter-VLAN routing, a new method known as router-on-a-stick was invented.

Router-on-a-Stick Inter-VLAN Routing

A router-on-a-stick is a method of inter-VLAN routing in which the router is connected to the switch using a single physical interface, hence the name router-on-a-stick. Most modern inter-VLAN routing implementations are designed using this method. Unlike the traditional inter-VLAN routing method, router-on-stick does not require multiple physical interfaces on both the router and the switch. Instead, the router’s operating system makes it possible to configure the router interface to operate as a trunk link, which is then connected to a switch port that is configured in trunk mode. This implies that only one physical interface is required on the router and the switch to route packets between multiple VLANs. IEEE 802.1Q (Dot1q) protocol—which defines a system of VLAN tagging for Ethernet frames, is used to provide multi-vendor VLAN support. Prior to the introduction of the 802.1Q standard, several proprietary protocols such as Cisco Inter-Switch Link (ISL) and 3Com’s Virtual LAN Trunk (VLT), were used.

The single physical interface on the router is linked to logical (virtual) subinterfaces, which can be configured with multiple IP addresses that correspond to the VLANs on the switch. Each subinterface is configured for different subnets corresponding to their VLAN assignment to facilitate logical routing. The router performs inter-VLAN routing by accepting traffic from all the VLANs. It then determines the destination network based on the source and destination IP in the packets. After a routing decision is made based on the destination VLAN, it then forwards the data frames to the switch with the correct VLAN information through the same physical interface used to receive the traffic.

Let’s take a look at the diagram shown in Figure 2.0 below. If Host A on VLAN 10, wants to send a message to Host B on VLAN 20, the steps it would take are as follows:

  1. Host A sends its unicast traffic to the switch.
  2. The switch then tags the unicast traffic as originating on VLAN 10 and forwards it out its trunk link to the router.
  3. The router accepts the tagged unicast traffic on VLAN 10 and routes it to VLAN 20 using its configured subinterfaces.
  4. The unicast traffic is tagged with VLAN 20 as it is sent out the router interface to the switch.
  5. The switch removes the VLAN tag of the unicast frame and forwards the frame directly to Host B on port Fa0/3.
Router-on-a-stick inter-VLAN routing
Figure 2.0 Router-on-a-stick inter-VLAN routing

To configure router-on-a-stick inter-VLAN routing on a Cisco device, in accordance with the diagram shown in Figure 2.0 above, use the IP addresses shown in Table 2.0 and follow the steps below:

Device

Interface

VLAN ID

IP Address

Subnet Mask

Default Gateway

Router

Fa0/1.10

VLAN 10

192.168.10.1

255.255.255.0

N/A

Fa0/1.20

VLAN 20

192.168.20.1

255.255.255.0

N/A

Host A

NIC

VLAN 10

192.168.10.10

255.255.255.0

192.168.10.1

Host B

NIC

VLAN 20

192.168.20.20

255.255.255.0

192.168.20.1


Table 2.0 IP address details for Figure 2.0

Step 1: Create VLANs (VLANs 10 and 20) on the switch

Description

Command

Enter global configuration mode

Switch# conf t

Create VLAN 10

Switch(config)# vlan 10

Give a name to VLAN 10

Switch(config-vlan)# name Admin-dept

Create VLAN 20

Switch(config-vlan)# vlan 20

Give a name to VLAN 20

Switch(config-vlan)# name Finance-dept

Exit the VLAN config. mode

Switch(config-vlan)# exit 

Check if the VLANs were created

Switch # show vlan brief

Step 2: Assign the VLANs to switch ports

Description

Command

Enter global configuration mode

Switch#conf t

Enter interface configuration mode for fa0/2

Switch(config)# interface fa0/2

Set the port to access mode

Switch(config-if)#switchport mode access

Assign VLAN 10 to interface fa0/2

Switch(config-if)#switchport access vlan 10

Exit the interface

Switch(config-if)# exit

Enter interface configuration for fa0/3

Switch(config)# interface fa0/3

Set the port to access mode

Switch(config-if)#switchport mode access

Assign VLAN 20 to interface fa0/3

Switch(config-if)#switchport access vlan 20

Exit the interface 

Switch(config-if)# exit 

Enter interface configuration for fa0/1

Switch(config)# interface fa0/1

Set the port to trunk mode

Switch(config-if)#switchport mode trunk

Exit the interface

Switch(config-if)# exit 

Save configuration

Switch# copy running-config startup-config 

Step 3: Configure the IP addresses on the router

Description

Command

Enter global configuration mode

Router# conf t

Enter sub-interface config. mode for fa0/1.10

Router(config)# interface fa0/1.10

Set encapsulation type to 802.1Q and assign VLAN 10 to the virtual interface

Router(config-subif)# encapsulation dot1Q 10

Configure IP address and subnet mask

Router(config-subif)#ip address 192.168.10.1 255.255.255.0

Exit the sub-interface

Router(config-subif)#exit

Enter sub-interface config. mode for fa0/1.20

Router(config)# interface fa0/1.20

Set the encapsulation type to 802.1Q and assign VLAN 20 to the virtual interface.

Router(config-subif)# encapsulation dot1Q 20

Configure IP address and subnet mask

Router(config-subif)# ip address 192.168.20.1 255.255.255.0 

Exit the sub-interface

Router(config-subif)#exit

Enter interface config. mode for fa0/1

Router(config)# interface fa0/1

Activate the physical interface

Router(config-if)# no shutdown

Save configuration

Router# copy running-config startup-config 

Verify configuration

Router #show ip route

A ping between Host A and Host B will be successful because the two VLANs are now interconnected through the router.

The router-on-a-stick method of inter-VLAN routing also has some limitations, such as scalability and latency issues. To overcome these issues, Cisco developed a better alternative: The Multilayer Switch Inter-VLAN Routing.

Multilayer Switch Inter-VLAN Routing

Multilayer Switch Inter-VLAN Routing is a method of inter-VLAN routing in which a different kind of switch known as a multilayer switch is used to perform routing functions. A multilayer switch is a hybrid device that combines the functions of a switch with a router, which enables it to operate on both Layer 2 (L2) and Layer 3 (L3) of the OSI model, hence the name multilayer. Unlike the router-on-a-stick inter-VLAN routing method, a multilayer switch inter-VLAN routing does not require a dedicated router—everything happens inside the switch. Multilayer switches perform all VLAN routing functions on the network, thereby replacing the need for dedicated routers or trunk links.

To enable a multilayer switch to perform routing functions, logical (virtual) interfaces known as Switch Virtual Interface (SVI) are used, one for each VLAN. SVI, also known as the VLAN interface, is a virtual routed interface that connects a VLAN on the device to the Layer 3 routing engine within the same device and can be configured with multiple IP addresses that correspond to the VLANs on the switch. Each SVI is configured for different subnets corresponding to their assigned VLAN to facilitate logical routing.

When the multilayer switch receives a packet in a VLAN intended at the Layer 2 switch, the multilayer switch performs routing. Let’s take a look at the diagram shown in Figure 3.0 below:

Multilayer switch inter-VLAN routing
Figure 3.0 Multilayer switch inter-VLAN routing

If Host A in VLAN 10, wants to send a message to Host B in VLAN 20, the steps it would take are as follows:

  1. Host A sends its unicast traffic to the directly connected L2 switch.
  2. L2 switch tags the unicast traffic as originating on VLAN 10 and forwards it to the L3 switch via the trunk link.
  3. The L3 switch removes the VLAN tag and forwards the unicast traffic internally to the VLAN 10 virtual interface.
  4. The L3 switch internally routes the unicast traffic to its VLAN 20 virtual interface and then retags the traffic, which it then forwards back to the L2 switch via the trunk link.
  5. L2 switch removes the VLAN tag of the unicast frame and forwards the frame directly to Host B on port fa0/3.

To configure multilayer switch inter-VLAN routing on a Cisco device, in accordance with the diagram shown in Figure 3.0 above, use the IP addresses shown in Table 3.0 and follow the steps below:

Device

Interface

VLAN ID

IP Address

Subnet Mask

Default Gateway

L3 Switch

Fa0/0

N/A

192.0.0.1

255.255.255.0

192.0.0.2

SVI 10

VLAN 10

192.168.10.1

255.255.255.0

N/A

SVI 20

VLAN 20

192.168.20.1

255.255.255.0

N/A

Host A

NIC

VLAN 10

192.168.10.10

255.255.255.0

192.168.10.1

Host B

NIC

VLAN 20

192.168.20.20

255.255.255.0

192.168.20.1


Table 3.0 IP address detail for Figure 3.0

Step 1: Create VLANs (VLANs 10 and 20) on the L2 switch

Description

Command

Enter global configuration mode

L2-Switch# conf t

Create VLAN 10

L2-Switch(config)# vlan 10

Give a name to VLAN 10

L2-Switch(config-vlan)# name Admin-dept

Create VLAN 20

L2-Switch(config-vlan)# vlan 20

Give a name to VLAN 20

L2-Switch(config-vlan)# name Finance-dept

Exit the VLAN config mode

L2-Switch(config-vlan)# exit 

Check if the VLANs were created

L2-Switch#show vlan brief 

Step 2: Assign the VLANs to the L2 switch ports

Description

Command

Enter global configuration mode

L2-Switch# conf t

Enter interface config. mode for fa0/2

L2-Switch(config)# interface fa0/2

Set the port to access mode

L2-Switch(config-if)#switchport mode access

Assign VLAN 10 to interface fa0/2

L2-Switch(config-if)#switchport access vlan 10

Exit the interface

L2-Switch(config-if)# exit

Enter interface configuration for fa0/3

L2-Switch(config)# interface fa0/3

Set the port to access mode

L2-Switch(config-if)#switchport mode access

Assign VLAN 20 to interface fa0/3

L2-Switch(config-if)#switchport access vlan 20

Exit the interface 

L2-Switch(config-if)# exit 

Enter interface configuration for fa0/1

L2-Switch(config)# interface fa0/1

Set the encapsulation type to 802.1Q on the interface

L2-Switch(config-if)# switchport trunk encapsulation dot1q

Set the port to trunk mode

L2-Switch(config-if)# switchport mode trunk

Exit the interface

L2-Switch(config-if)# exit

Save all configuration

L2-Switch# copy running-config startup-config

Step 3: Enable L3 routing and create VLANs (VLANs 10 and 20) on the L3 switch

Description

Command

Enter global configuration mode

L2-Switch#conf t

Enable L3 routing 

L3-Switch(config) # ip routing

Create VLAN 10

L3-Switch(config)#vlan 10

Give a name to VLAN 10

L3-Switch(config-vlan)# name Admin-dept

Create VLAN 20

L3-Switch(config-vlan)# vlan 20

Give a name to VLAN 20

L3-Switch(config-vlan)# name Finance-dept

Exit the VLAN config mode

L3-Switch(config-vlan)# exit 

Enter interface configuration for fa0/1

L3-Switch(config)# interface fa0/1

Set the encapsulation type to 802.1Q on the interface

L3-Switch(config-if)# switchport trunk encapsulation dot1q

Set the port to trunk mode

L3-Switch(config-if)#switchport mode trunk

Exit the interface

L3-Switch(config-if)# exit

Save all configuration

L3-Switch)# copy running-config startup-config 

Step 4: Configure Switch VLAN Interfaces (SVI)

Description

Command

Enter global configuration mode 

L3-Switch# conf t

Create a virtual interface for VLAN 10 and enter interface configuration mode.

L3-Switch(config)# interface vlan10

Configure a static route to reach VLAN 10

L3-Switch(config-if)# ip address 192.168.10.1 255.255.255.0

Activate interface 

L3-Switch(config-if)# no shut

Exit the interface

L3-Switch(config-if)# exit

Create a virtual interface for VLAN 20 and enter interface configuration mode

L3-Switch(config)# interface vlan20

Configure a static route to reach VLAN 20

L3-Switch(config-if)# ip address 192.168.20.1 255.255.255.0

Activate interface

L3-Switch(config-if)# no shut 

Exit the interface

L3-Switch(config-if)# exit

Step 5: Configure a routed port for connecting to the firewall on the L3 switch

Description

Command

Enter global configuration mode 

L3-Switch# conf t 

Enter interface configuration for fa0/0

L3-Switch(config)# interface fa0/0

Interface description

L3-Switch(config-if)# description to Internet Firewall

Creates an L3 port on the switch’s physical port

L3-Switch(config-if)# no switchport

Configure IP address

L3-Switch(config-if)# ip address 192.0.0.1 255.255.255.252

Configure default route towards the firewall

L3-Switch(config)# ip route 0.0.0.0 0.0.0.0 192.0.0.2

Exit the interface

L3-Switch(config-if)# exit

Save all configuration

L3-Switch)# copy running-config startup-config 

Again, a ping between Host A and Host B will be successful because the two VLANs are now interconnected through the multilayer switch. Multilayer switch inter-VLAN routing is faster and more scalable than any other inter-VLAN routing implementation. This is because routers are limited by the number of available physical interfaces or ports, as well as the amounts of traffic that can be accommodated on the trunk link at one time. However, a multilayer switch does not totally replace the functionality of a router, as routers support a wide range of other supplementary features and capabilities. The table below is a comparison of the various inter-VLAN routing methods discussed.

Metric

Traditional Inter-VLAN Routing

Router-on-a-Stick

Multilayer Switch

Supported routing protocol on switch

Static routing

Static routing

Static and dynamic routing

Port Mode

Access mode

Trunk mode

Trunk mode

Bandwidth

No bandwidth contention

Bandwidth contention

No bandwidth contention 

Latency

High

Medium

Low

Scalability

Poor

Poor

Excellent

Number of physical interfaces

One physical interface per VLAN

One physical interface for many VLANs

One physical interface for many VLANs 

TCO

High

Medium

Low

Configuration Complexity

Low

Medium

High

Acceptability

Archaic – No longer implemented

Modern–widely implemented

Modern–widely implemented

Ideal for 

Legacy networks 

SME networks

Large enterprise networks


Table 4.0 Comparison of the various inter-VLAN routing method