This document describes the internal workings of BIRD, its architecture, design decisions and rationale behind them. It also contains documentation on all the essential components of the system and their interfaces.
Routing daemons are complicated things which need to act in real time to complex sequences of external events, respond correctly even to the most erroneous behavior of their environment and still handle enormous amount of data with reasonable speed. Due to all of this, their design is very tricky as one needs to carefully balance between efficiency, stability and (last, but not least) simplicity of the program and it would be possible to write literally hundreds of pages about all of these issues. In accordance to the famous quote of Anton Chekhov "Shortness is a sister of talent", we've tried to write a much shorter document highlighting the most important stuff and leaving the boring technical details better explained by the program source itself together with comments contained therein.
When planning the architecture of BIRD, we've taken a close look at the other existing routing daemons and also at some of the operating systems used on dedicated routers, gathered all important features and added lots of new ones to overcome their shortcomings and to better match the requirements of routing in today's Internet: IPv6, policy routing, route filtering and so on. From this planning, the following set of design goals has arisen:
- Support all the standard routing protocols and make it easy to add new ones. This leads to modularity and clean separation between the core and the protocols.
- Support both IPv4 and IPv6 in the same source tree, re-using most of the code. This leads to abstraction of IP addresses and operations on them.
- Minimize OS dependent code to make porting as easy as possible. Unfortunately, such code cannot be avoided at all as the details of communication with the IP stack differ from OS to OS and they often vary even between different versions of the same OS. But we can isolate such code in special modules and do the porting by changing or replacing just these modules. Also, don't rely on specific features of various operating systems, but be able to make use of them if they are available.
- Allow multiple routing tables. Easily solvable by abstracting out routing tables and the corresponding operations.
- Offer powerful route filtering. There already were several attempts to incorporate route filters to a dynamic router, but most of them have used simple sequences of filtering rules which were very inflexible and hard to use for non-trivial filters. We've decided to employ a simple loop-free programming language having access to all the route attributes and being able to modify the most of them.
- Support easy configuration and re-configuration. Most routers use a simple configuration language designed ad hoc with no structure at all and allow online changes of configuration by using their command-line interface, thus any complex re-configurations are hard to achieve without replacing the configuration file and restarting the whole router. We've decided to use a more general approach: to have a configuration defined in a context-free language with blocks and nesting, to perform all configuration changes by editing the configuration file, but to be able to read the new configuration and smoothly adapt to it without disturbing parts of the routing process which are not affected by the change.
- Be able to be controlled online. In addition to the online reconfiguration, a routing daemon should be able to communicate with the user and with many other programs (primarily scripts used for network maintenance) in order to make it possible to inspect contents of routing tables, status of all routing protocols and also to control their behavior (disable, enable or reset a protocol without restarting all the others). To achieve this, we implement a simple command-line protocol based on those used by FTP and SMTP (that is textual commands and textual replies accompanied by a numeric code which makes them both readable to a human and easy to recognize in software).
- Respond to all events in real time. A typical solution to this problem is to use lots of threads to separate the workings of all the routing protocols and also of the user interface parts and to hope that the scheduler will assign time to them in a fair enough manner. This is surely a good solution, but we have resisted the temptation and preferred to avoid the overhead of threading and the large number of locks involved and preferred a event driven architecture with our own scheduling of events. An unpleasant consequence of such an approach is that long lasting tasks must be split to more parts linked by special events or timers to make the CPU available for other tasks as well.
The requirements set above have lead to a simple modular architecture containing the following types of modules:
- Core modules
implement the core functions of BIRD: taking care of routing tables, keeping protocol status, interacting with the user using the Command-Line Interface (to be called CLI in the rest of this document) etc.
- Library modules
form a large set of various library functions implementing several data abstractions, utility functions and also functions which are a part of the standard libraries on some systems, but missing on other ones.
- Resource management modules
take care of resources, their allocation and automatic freeing when the module having requested shuts itself down.
- Configuration modules
are fragments of lexical analyzer, grammar rules and the corresponding snippets of C code. For each group of code modules (core, each protocol, filters) there exist a configuration module taking care of all the related configuration stuff.
- The filter
implements the route filtering language.
- Protocol modules
implement the individual routing protocols.
- System-dependent modules
implement the interface between BIRD and specific operating systems.
- The client
is a simple program providing an easy, though friendly interface to the CLI.
BIRD has been written in GNU C. We've considered using C++, but we've preferred the simplicity and straightforward nature of C which gives us fine control over all implementation details and on the other hand enough instruments to build the abstractions we need.
The modules are statically linked to produce a single executable file (except for the client which stands on its own).
The building process is controlled by a set of Makefiles for GNU Make, intermixed with several Perl and shell scripts.
The initial configuration of the daemon, detection of system features and selection of the right modules to include for the particular OS and the set of protocols the user has chosen is performed by a configure script generated by GNU Autoconf.
The parser of the configuration is generated by the GNU Bison.
The documentation is generated using
SGMLtools with our own DTD
and mapping rules which produce both an online version in HTML and
a neatly formatted one for printing (first converted
from SGML to LaTeX and then processed by TeX and
get a PostScript file).
The comments from C sources which form a part of the programmer's
documentation are extracted using a modified version of the
If you want to work on BIRD, it's highly recommended to configure it
--enable-debug switch which enables some internal consistency
checks and it also links BIRD with a memory allocation checking library
if you have one (either
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