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IPv6 routing

Updated: January 21, 2005

Applies To: Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2003 R2, Windows Server 2003 with SP1, Windows Server 2003 with SP2

IPv6 routing

Routing is the process of forwarding packets between connected network segments. For IPv6-based networks, routing is the part of IPv6 that provides forwarding capabilities between hosts that are located on separate segments within a larger IPv6-based network.

IPv6 is the mailroom in which IPv6 data sorting and delivery occur. Each incoming or outgoing packet is called an IPv6 packet. An IPv6 packet contains both the source address of the sending host and the destination address of the receiving host. Unlike link-layer addresses, IPv6 addresses in the IPv6 header typically remain the same as the packet travels across an IPv6 network.

Routing is the primary function of IPv6. IPv6 packets are exchanged and processed on each host by using IPv6 at the Internet layer.

Above the IPv6 layer, transport services on the source host pass data in the form of TCP segments or UDP messages down to the IPv6 layer. The IPv6 layer creates IPv6 packets with source and destination address information that is used to route the data through the network. The IPv6 layer then passes packets down to the link layer, where IPv6 packets are converted into frames for transmission over network-specific media on a physical network. This process occurs in reverse order on the destination host.

IPv6 layer services on each sending host examine the destination address of each packet, compare this address to a locally maintained routing table, and then determine what additional forwarding is required. IPv6 routers are attached to two or more IPv6 network segments that are enabled to forward packets between them.

IPv6 routers

IPv6 network segments, also known as links or subnets, are connected by IPv6 routers, which are devices that pass IPv6 packets from one network segment to another. This process is known as IPv6 routing and is shown in the following illustration.

IPv6 routing

IPv6 routers provide the primary means for joining together two or more physically separated IPv6 network segments. All IPv6 routers have the following characteristics:

  • IPv6 routers are physically multihomed hosts.

    A physically multihomed host is a network host that uses two or more network connection interfaces to connect to each physically separated network segment.

  • IPv6 routers provide packet forwarding for other IPv6 hosts.

    IPv6 routers are distinct from other hosts that use multihoming. An IPv6 router must be able to forward IPv6-based communication between networks for other IPv6 network hosts.

You can implement IPv6 routers by using a variety of hardware and software products, including a computer running a member of the Windows Server 2003 family with the IPv6 protocol. Routers that are dedicated hardware devices running specialized software are common. Regardless of the type of IPv6 routers that you use, all IPv6 routing relies on a routing table to communicate between network segments.

Routing tables

IPv6 hosts use a routing table to maintain information about other IPv6 networks and IPv6 hosts. Network segments are identified by using an IPv6 network prefix and prefix length. In addition, routing tables provide important information for each local host regarding how to communicate with remote networks and hosts.

For each computer on an IPv6 network, you can maintain a routing table with an entry for every other computer or network that communicates with that local computer. In general, this is not practical, and a default router is used instead.

Before a computer sends an IPv6 packet, it inserts its source IPv6 address and the destination IPv6 address (for the recipient) into the IPv6 header. The computer then examines the destination IPv6 address, compares it to a locally maintained IPv6 routing table, and takes appropriate action. The computer does one of three things:

  • It passes the packet to a protocol layer above IPv6 on the local host.

  • It forwards the packet through one of its attached network interfaces.

  • It discards the packet.

IPv6 searches the routing table for the route that is the closest match to the destination IPv6 address. The most specific to the least specific route is determined in the following order:

  1. A route that matches the destination IPv6 address (a host route with a 128-bit prefix length).

  2. A route that matches the destination with the longest prefix length.

  3. The default route (the network prefix ::/0).

If a matching route is not found, the destination is determined to be an on-link destination.

For more information, see The IPv6 routing table.

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