Understanding RSTP Port States and Port Roles

Understanding RSTP Port States and Port Roles

Rapid Spanning Tree Protocol (RSTP), defined in IEEE 802.1w, is an enhancement of the original Spanning Tree Protocol (STP). RSTP significantly improves the convergence time after a network topology change by introducing several new concepts and features.

RSTP Port States

RSTP defines three port states:

  1. Discarding: This state prevents the forwarding of frames to ensure no loops exist in the network. It replaces the Disabled, Blocking, and Listening states in traditional STP.

    • Example: When a new switch port is initialized, it starts in the Discarding state to avoid temporary loops during its transition.
  2. Learning: In this state, the switch begins to learn MAC addresses from incoming frames but does not forward them.

    • Example: After a port is verified to be loop-free, it enters the Learning state to populate the MAC address table before starting to forward frames.
  3. Forwarding: The port sends and receives all data traffic. The port can now forward frames and learn MAC addresses.

    • Example: A stable port that is part of the active topology will be in the Forwarding state, allowing normal data transmission.

RSTP Port Roles

RSTP introduces several port roles that determine how a port participates in the spanning tree:

  1. Root Port (RP): The port with the best path to the root bridge.

    • Example: On a non-root switch, the port with the lowest cost path to the root switch is the Root Port.
  2. Designated Port (DP): The port that provides the best path to a specific network segment.

    • Example: Each network segment has one Designated Port that leads to the root bridge.
  3. Alternate Port (AP): A backup path to the root bridge, different from the one used by the Root Port.

    • Example: If the Root Port fails, the Alternate Port can quickly take over to maintain the network’s connectivity.
  4. Backup Port (BP): A backup for the Designated Port on the same network segment.

    • Example: On the same segment, if the Designated Port fails, the Backup Port will take its place.

Mapping of Port Roles and Port States

Understanding which port roles can exist in specific port states and vice versa is crucial for configuring and troubleshooting RSTP networks. Here’s a detailed explanation of the relationships between RSTP port roles and port states:

  1. Root Port (RP)

    • States:
      • Discarding: Initially, the Root Port can be in the Discarding state when it is first identified and is not yet ready to forward frames.
      • Learning: The Root Port transitions to the Learning state to start populating the MAC address table.
      • Forwarding: Finally, the Root Port enters the Forwarding state to actively participate in the network traffic.
  2. Designated Port (DP)

    • States:
      • Discarding: When a Designated Port is initialized or recalculating, it can be in the Discarding state.
      • Learning: The Designated Port moves to the Learning state to learn MAC addresses.
      • Forwarding: The Designated Port is in the Forwarding state to serve the network segment it is responsible for.
  3. Alternate Port (AP)

    • States:
      • Discarding: An Alternate Port remains in the Discarding state until it needs to take over as the Root Port.
  4. Backup Port (BP)

    • States:
      • Discarding: A Backup Port is also typically in the Discarding state as it serves as a redundant path on the same segment.

Port States and Corresponding Roles

  1. Discarding State

    • Roles:
      • Root Port: Initially in the Discarding state before moving to Learning and then Forwarding.
      • Designated Port: Starts in the Discarding state upon initialization or recalculation.
      • Alternate Port: Typically remains in the Discarding state as a standby.
      • Backup Port: Usually stays in the Discarding state until needed.
  2. Learning State

    • Roles:
      • Root Port: Enters Learning to build the MAC address table before Forwarding.
      • Designated Port: Transitions to Learning to populate the MAC address table.
  3. Forwarding State

    • Roles:
      • Root Port: Moves to Forwarding to handle traffic to and from the root bridge.
      • Designated Port: Enters Forwarding to manage traffic for the segment it serves.

Built-in RSTP Features

RSTP introduces several enhancements to improve network performance and reliability:

  1. UplinkFast: Speeds up the transition time for access ports to reduce convergence time in the event of a primary link failure.

    • Example: Useful in access layer switches where a backup uplink is configured.
  2. BackboneFast: Reduces convergence time by allowing a switch to detect a failure in the network core and rapidly change its port states accordingly.

    • Example: Ideal for core or distribution layer switches in a hierarchical network design.
  3. PortFast: Immediately transitions a port to the Forwarding state when it is connected to an end device, bypassing the typical waiting period.

    • Example: Used for ports connected to end-user devices like computers or printers to speed up their connection process.

RSTP BPDU Handling

In RSTP, all switches generate Bridge Protocol Data Units (BPDUs) for the purpose of maintaining network topology information. This is a significant change from classic STP, where only the root bridge generates and sends BPDUs.

  • Example: This proactive BPDU handling by all switches allows faster detection and response to network topology changes.

RSTP Link Types

RSTP defines three link types to optimize port role transitions:

  1. Point-to-Point: Links that connect directly to another switch.

    • Example: Trunk links between switches, allowing rapid convergence and minimal delay.
  2. Edge Ports: Ports connected to end devices, not to another switch.

    • Example: Ports connected to desktop computers or servers; these ports should be configured with PortFast.
  3. Shared: Ports connected to network segments shared with other devices.

    • Example: Legacy hubs or non-bridging devices; these ports might have slower convergence times.


Rapid Spanning Tree Protocol (RSTP) enhances network stability and efficiency by providing faster convergence times and improved network topologies. Understanding RSTP’s port states, port roles, and built-in features such as UplinkFast, BackboneFast, and PortFast can significantly optimize network performance. Additionally, the proactive BPDU generation by all switches and the categorization of link types help in maintaining a robust and resilient network infrastructure.

By leveraging these RSTP capabilities, network administrators can ensure a highly available and efficient network environment, minimizing downtime and enhancing overall network performance.

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