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BGP is a path vector protocol used to carry routing information between autonomous systems.The term path vector comes from the fact that BGP routing information carries a sequence of AS numbers that identifies the path of AS's that a network prefix has traversed. The path information associated with the prefix is used to enable loop prevention.

BGP uses TCP as its transport protocol (port 179). This ensures that all the transport reliability (such as retransmission) is taken care of by TCP and does not need to be implemented in BGP, thereby simplifying the complexity associated with designing reliability into the protocol itself.

Routers that run a BGP routing process are often referred to as BGP speakers.Two BGP speakers that form a TCP connection between one another for the purpose of exchanging routing information, are referred to as neighbors or peers. Peer routers exchange open messages to determine the connection parameters.These messages are used to communicate values such as the BGP speaker's version number.

BGP also provides a mechanism to gracefully close a connection with a peer. In other words, in the event of a disagreement between the peers, be it resultant of configuration, incompatibility, operator intervention, or other circumstances, a NOTIFICATION error message is sent, and the peer connection does not get established or is torn down if it's already established. The benefit of this mechanism is that both peers understand that the connection could not be established or maintained and do not waste resources that would otherwise be required to maintain or blindly reattempt to establish the connection. The graceful close mechanism simply ensures that all outstanding messages, primarily NOTIFICATION error messages, are delivered before the TCP session is closed.

Initially, when a BGP session is established between a set of BGP speakers, all candidate BGP routes are exchanged. After the session has been established and the initial route exchange has occurred, only incremental updates are sent as network information changes.

Routes are advertised between a pair of BGP routers in UPDATE messages. The UPDATE message contains, among other things, a list of <length, prefix> tuples that indicate the list of destinations that can be reached via a BGP speaker. The UPDATE message also contains the path attributes, which include such information as the degree of preference for a particular route and the list of AS's that the route has traversed.

In the event that a route becomes unreachable, a BGP speaker informs its neighbors by withdrawing the invalid route. Withdrawn routes are part of the UPDATE message. These routes are no longer available for use. If information associated with a route has changed or a new path for the same prefix has been selected, a withdrawal is not required; it is enough to just advertise a replacement route.

If no routing changes occur, the routers exchange only KEEPALIVE packets.

KEEPALIVE messages are sent periodically between BGP neighbors to ensure that the connection is kept alive. KEEPALIVE packets (19 bytes each) should not cause any strain on the router CPU or link bandwidth because they consume a minimal amount of bandwidth.

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