Three STP Timers

The previous section mentioned that a bridge spends 15 seconds in each of the Listening and Learning states by default. In all, the Spanning-Tree Protocol is controlled by the three timers documented in Table 6-5.

Table 6-5. STP Timers


Primary Purpose


Hello Time

Time between sending of Configuration BPDUs by the Root Bridge

2 Secs

Forward Delay

Duration of Listening and Learning states


Max Age

Time BPDU stored


The Hello Time controls the time interval between the sending of Configuration BPDUs. 802.1D specifies a default value of two seconds. Note that this value really only controls Configuration BPDUs as they are generated at the Root Bridge—other bridges propagate BPDUs from the Root Bridge as they are received. In other words, if BPDUs stop arriving for 2-20 seconds because of a network disturbance, non-Root Bridges stop sending periodic BPDUs during this time. (If the outage lasts more than 20 seconds, the default Max Age time, the bridge invalidates the saved BPDUs and begins looking for a new Root Port.) However, as discussed in the "Topology Change Notification BPDUs" section later, all bridges use their locally configured Hello Time value as a TCN retransmit timer.

Forward Delay is the time that the bridge spends in the Listening and Learning states. This is a single value that controls both states. The default value of 15 seconds was originally derived assuming a maximum network size of seven bridge hops, a maximum of three lost BPDUs, and a Hello Time interval of two seconds (see the section "Tuning Forward Delay" in Chapter 7 for more detail on how Forward Delay is calculated). As discussed in the "Topology Change Notification BPDUs" section, the Forward Delay timer also controls the bridge table age-out period after a change in the active topology.

Max Age is the time that a bridge stores a BPDU before discarding it. Recall from the earlier discussions that each port saves a copy of the best BPDU it has seen. As long as the bridge receives a continuous stream of BPDUs every 2 seconds, the receiving bridge maintains a continuous copy of the BPDU's values. However, if the device sending this best BPDU fails, some mechanism must exist to allow other bridges to take over.

For example, assume that the Segment 3 link in Figure 6-12 uses a hub and Cat-B:Port-1/2's transceiver falls out. Cat-C has no immediate notification of the failure because it's still receiving Ethernet link from the hub. The only thing Cat-C notices is that BPDUs stop arriving. Twenty seconds (Max Age) after the failure, Cat-C:Port-1/2 ages out the stale BPDU information that lists Cat-B as having the best Designated Port for Segment 3. This causes Cat-C:Port-1/2 to transition into the Listening state in an effort to become the Designated Port. Because Cat-C:Port-1/2 now offers the most attractive access from the Root Bridge to this link, it eventually transitions all the way into Forwarding mode. In practice, it takes 50 seconds (20 Max Age + 15 Listening + 15 Learning) for Cat-C to take over after the failure of Port 1/2 on Cat-B.

In some situations, bridges can detect topology changes on directly connected links and immediately transition into the Listening state without waiting Max Age seconds. For example, consider Figure 6-13.

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