Ethernet switch device driver model (switchdev)

Copyright © 2014 Jiri Pirko <>

Copyright © 2014-2015 Scott Feldman <>

The Ethernet switch device driver model (switchdev) is an in-kernel driver model for switch devices which offload the forwarding (data) plane from the kernel.

Figure 1 is a block diagram showing the components of the switchdev model for an example setup using a data-center-class switch ASIC chip. Other setups with SR-IOV or soft switches, such as OVS, are possible.

                       User-space tools

 user space                   |
 kernel                       | Netlink
               |         Network stack                        |
               |           (Linux)                            |
               |                                              |

                     sw1p2     sw1p4     sw1p6
                sw1p1  +  sw1p3  +  sw1p5  +          eth1
                  +    |    +    |    +    |            +
                  |    |    |    |    |    |            |
               +--+----+----+----+----+----+---+  +-----+-----+
               |         Switch driver         |  |    mgmt   |
               |        (this document)        |  |   driver  |
               |                               |  |           |
               +--------------+----------------+  +-----------+
 kernel                       | HW bus (eg PCI)
 hardware                     |
               |         Switch device (sw1)   |
               |  +----+                       +--------+
               |  |    v offloaded data path   | mgmt port
               |  |    |                       |
                  |    |    |    |    |    |
                  +    +    +    +    +    +
                 p1   p2   p3   p4   p5   p6

                       front-panel ports

                              Fig 1.

Include Files

#include <linux/netdevice.h>
#include <net/switchdev.h>


Use “depends NET_SWITCHDEV” in driver’s Kconfig to ensure switchdev model support is built for driver.

Switch Ports

On switchdev driver initialization, the driver will allocate and register a struct net_device (using register_netdev()) for each enumerated physical switch port, called the port netdev. A port netdev is the software representation of the physical port and provides a conduit for control traffic to/from the controller (the kernel) and the network, as well as an anchor point for higher level constructs such as bridges, bonds, VLANs, tunnels, and L3 routers. Using standard netdev tools (iproute2, ethtool, etc), the port netdev can also provide to the user access to the physical properties of the switch port such as PHY link state and I/O statistics.

There is (currently) no higher-level kernel object for the switch beyond the port netdevs. All of the switchdev driver ops are netdev ops or switchdev ops.

A switch management port is outside the scope of the switchdev driver model. Typically, the management port is not participating in offloaded data plane and is loaded with a different driver, such as a NIC driver, on the management port device.

Switch ID

The switchdev driver must implement the net_device operation ndo_get_port_parent_id for each port netdev, returning the same physical ID for each port of a switch. The ID must be unique between switches on the same system. The ID does not need to be unique between switches on different systems.

The switch ID is used to locate ports on a switch and to know if aggregated ports belong to the same switch.

Port Netdev Naming

Udev rules should be used for port netdev naming, using some unique attribute of the port as a key, for example the port MAC address or the port PHYS name. Hard-coding of kernel netdev names within the driver is discouraged; let the kernel pick the default netdev name, and let udev set the final name based on a port attribute.

Using port PHYS name (ndo_get_phys_port_name) for the key is particularly useful for dynamically-named ports where the device names its ports based on external configuration. For example, if a physical 40G port is split logically into 4 10G ports, resulting in 4 port netdevs, the device can give a unique name for each port using port PHYS name. The udev rule would be:

SUBSYSTEM=="net", ACTION=="add", ATTR{phys_switch_id}=="<phys_switch_id>", \
        ATTR{phys_port_name}!="", NAME="swX$attr{phys_port_name}"

Suggested naming convention is “swXpYsZ”, where X is the switch name or ID, Y is the port name or ID, and Z is the sub-port name or ID. For example, sw1p1s0 would be sub-port 0 on port 1 on switch 1.

Port Features


If the switchdev driver (and device) only supports offloading of the default network namespace (netns), the driver should set this feature flag to prevent the port netdev from being moved out of the default netns. A netns-aware driver/device would not set this flag and be responsible for partitioning hardware to preserve netns containment. This means hardware cannot forward traffic from a port in one namespace to another port in another namespace.

Port Topology

The port netdevs representing the physical switch ports can be organized into higher-level switching constructs. The default construct is a standalone router port, used to offload L3 forwarding. Two or more ports can be bonded together to form a LAG. Two or more ports (or LAGs) can be bridged to bridge L2 networks. VLANs can be applied to sub-divide L2 networks. L2-over-L3 tunnels can be built on ports. These constructs are built using standard Linux tools such as the bridge driver, the bonding/team drivers, and netlink-based tools such as iproute2.

The switchdev driver can know a particular port’s position in the topology by monitoring NETDEV_CHANGEUPPER notifications. For example, a port moved into a bond will see it’s upper master change. If that bond is moved into a bridge, the bond’s upper master will change. And so on. The driver will track such movements to know what position a port is in in the overall topology by registering for netdevice events and acting on NETDEV_CHANGEUPPER.

L2 Forwarding Offload

The idea is to offload the L2 data forwarding (switching) path from the kernel to the switchdev device by mirroring bridge FDB entries down to the device. An FDB entry is the {port, MAC, VLAN} tuple forwarding destination.

To offloading L2 bridging, the switchdev driver/device should support:

  • Static FDB entries installed on a bridge port
  • Notification of learned/forgotten src mac/vlans from device
  • STP state changes on the port
  • VLAN flooding of multicast/broadcast and unknown unicast packets

Static FDB Entries

The switchdev driver should implement ndo_fdb_add, ndo_fdb_del and ndo_fdb_dump to support static FDB entries installed to the device. Static bridge FDB entries are installed, for example, using iproute2 bridge cmd:

bridge fdb add ADDR dev DEV [vlan VID] [self]

The driver should use the helper switchdev_port_fdb_xxx ops for ndo_fdb_xxx ops, and handle add/delete/dump of SWITCHDEV_OBJ_ID_PORT_FDB object using switchdev_port_obj_xxx ops.

XXX: what should be done if offloading this rule to hardware fails (for example, due to full capacity in hardware tables) ?

Note: by default, the bridge does not filter on VLAN and only bridges untagged traffic. To enable VLAN support, turn on VLAN filtering:

echo 1 >/sys/class/net/<bridge>/bridge/vlan_filtering

Notification of Learned/Forgotten Source MAC/VLANs

The switch device will learn/forget source MAC address/VLAN on ingress packets and notify the switch driver of the mac/vlan/port tuples. The switch driver, in turn, will notify the bridge driver using the switchdev notifier call:

err = call_switchdev_notifiers(val, dev, info, extack);

Where val is SWITCHDEV_FDB_ADD when learning and SWITCHDEV_FDB_DEL when forgetting, and info points to a struct switchdev_notifier_fdb_info. On SWITCHDEV_FDB_ADD, the bridge driver will install the FDB entry into the bridge’s FDB and mark the entry as NTF_EXT_LEARNED. The iproute2 bridge command will label these entries “offload”:

$ bridge fdb
52:54:00:12:35:01 dev sw1p1 master br0 permanent
00:02:00:00:02:00 dev sw1p1 master br0 offload
00:02:00:00:02:00 dev sw1p1 self
52:54:00:12:35:02 dev sw1p2 master br0 permanent
00:02:00:00:03:00 dev sw1p2 master br0 offload
00:02:00:00:03:00 dev sw1p2 self
33:33:00:00:00:01 dev eth0 self permanent
01:00:5e:00:00:01 dev eth0 self permanent
33:33:ff:00:00:00 dev eth0 self permanent
01:80:c2:00:00:0e dev eth0 self permanent
33:33:00:00:00:01 dev br0 self permanent
01:00:5e:00:00:01 dev br0 self permanent
33:33:ff:12:35:01 dev br0 self permanent

Learning on the port should be disabled on the bridge using the bridge command:

bridge link set dev DEV learning off

Learning on the device port should be enabled, as well as learning_sync:

bridge link set dev DEV learning on self
bridge link set dev DEV learning_sync on self

Learning_sync attribute enables syncing of the learned/forgotten FDB entry to the bridge’s FDB. It’s possible, but not optimal, to enable learning on the device port and on the bridge port, and disable learning_sync.

To support learning, the driver implements switchdev op switchdev_port_attr_set for SWITCHDEV_ATTR_PORT_ID_{PRE}_BRIDGE_FLAGS.

FDB Ageing

The bridge will skip ageing FDB entries marked with NTF_EXT_LEARNED and it is the responsibility of the port driver/device to age out these entries. If the port device supports ageing, when the FDB entry expires, it will notify the driver which in turn will notify the bridge with SWITCHDEV_FDB_DEL. If the device does not support ageing, the driver can simulate ageing using a garbage collection timer to monitor FDB entries. Expired entries will be notified to the bridge using SWITCHDEV_FDB_DEL. See rocker driver for example of driver running ageing timer.

To keep an NTF_EXT_LEARNED entry “alive”, the driver should refresh the FDB entry by calling call_switchdev_notifiers(SWITCHDEV_FDB_ADD, …). The notification will reset the FDB entry’s last-used time to now. The driver should rate limit refresh notifications, for example, no more than once a second. (The last-used time is visible using the bridge -s fdb option).

STP State Change on Port

Internally or with a third-party STP protocol implementation (e.g. mstpd), the bridge driver maintains the STP state for ports, and will notify the switch driver of STP state change on a port using the switchdev op switchdev_attr_port_set for SWITCHDEV_ATTR_PORT_ID_STP_UPDATE.

State is one of BR_STATE_*. The switch driver can use STP state updates to update ingress packet filter list for the port. For example, if port is DISABLED, no packets should pass, but if port moves to BLOCKED, then STP BPDUs and other IEEE 01:80:c2:xx:xx:xx link-local multicast packets can pass.

Note that STP BDPUs are untagged and STP state applies to all VLANs on the port so packet filters should be applied consistently across untagged and tagged VLANs on the port.

Flooding L2 domain

For a given L2 VLAN domain, the switch device should flood multicast/broadcast and unknown unicast packets to all ports in domain, if allowed by port’s current STP state. The switch driver, knowing which ports are within which vlan L2 domain, can program the switch device for flooding. The packet may be sent to the port netdev for processing by the bridge driver. The bridge should not reflood the packet to the same ports the device flooded, otherwise there will be duplicate packets on the wire.

To avoid duplicate packets, the switch driver should mark a packet as already forwarded by setting the skb->offload_fwd_mark bit. The bridge driver will mark the skb using the ingress bridge port’s mark and prevent it from being forwarded through any bridge port with the same mark.

It is possible for the switch device to not handle flooding and push the packets up to the bridge driver for flooding. This is not ideal as the number of ports scale in the L2 domain as the device is much more efficient at flooding packets that software.

If supported by the device, flood control can be offloaded to it, preventing certain netdevs from flooding unicast traffic for which there is no FDB entry.

IGMP Snooping

In order to support IGMP snooping, the port netdevs should trap to the bridge driver all IGMP join and leave messages. The bridge multicast module will notify port netdevs on every multicast group changed whether it is static configured or dynamically joined/leave. The hardware implementation should be forwarding all registered multicast traffic groups only to the configured ports.

L3 Routing Offload

Offloading L3 routing requires that device be programmed with FIB entries from the kernel, with the device doing the FIB lookup and forwarding. The device does a longest prefix match (LPM) on FIB entries matching route prefix and forwards the packet to the matching FIB entry’s nexthop(s) egress ports.

To program the device, the driver has to register a FIB notifier handler using register_fib_notifier. The following events are available:

FIB_EVENT_ENTRY_ADD used for both adding a new FIB entry to the device, or modifying an existing entry on the device.
FIB_EVENT_ENTRY_DEL used for removing a FIB entry
FIB_EVENT_RULE_DEL used to propagate FIB rule changes


struct fib_entry_notifier_info {
        struct fib_notifier_info info; /* must be first */
        u32 dst;
        int dst_len;
        struct fib_info *fi;
        u8 tos;
        u8 type;
        u32 tb_id;
        u32 nlflags;

to add/modify/delete IPv4 dst/dest_len prefix on table tb_id. The *fi structure holds details on the route and route’s nexthops. *dev is one of the port netdevs mentioned in the route’s next hop list.

Routes offloaded to the device are labeled with “offload” in the ip route listing:

$ ip route show
default via dev eth0 dev sw1p1  proto kernel  scope link  src offload via dev sw1p1  proto zebra  metric 20 offload dev sw1p2  proto kernel  scope link  src offload via dev sw1p2  proto zebra  metric 20 offload  proto zebra  metric 30 offload
        nexthop via  dev sw1p1 weight 1
        nexthop via  dev sw1p2 weight 1 via dev sw1p1  proto zebra  metric 20 offload via dev sw1p2  proto zebra  metric 20 offload dev eth0  proto kernel  scope link  src

The “offload” flag is set in case at least one device offloads the FIB entry.

XXX: add/mod/del IPv6 FIB API

Nexthop Resolution

The FIB entry’s nexthop list contains the nexthop tuple (gateway, dev), but for the switch device to forward the packet with the correct dst mac address, the nexthop gateways must be resolved to the neighbor’s mac address. Neighbor mac address discovery comes via the ARP (or ND) process and is available via the arp_tbl neighbor table. To resolve the routes nexthop gateways, the driver should trigger the kernel’s neighbor resolution process. See the rocker driver’s rocker_port_ipv4_resolve() for an example.

The driver can monitor for updates to arp_tbl using the netevent notifier NETEVENT_NEIGH_UPDATE. The device can be programmed with resolved nexthops for the routes as arp_tbl updates. The driver implements ndo_neigh_destroy to know when arp_tbl neighbor entries are purged from the port.