Using a Router for Switching

We all know that Routers are Layer3 devices and switches are Layer2. So how can a Layer 3 device be used to connect two or more devices at Layer2 ?

In this blog, I will explore the mechanisms that make it possible to use a routing device as a switch.

The test setup

We start with a simple setup with three Linux Network Namespaces connected in series. The middle node acting as a Router and the end nodes acting as the devices that needs a layer 2 connectivity.

Use the following script for setting up the Namespaces and connections.!api/2.0/snippets/xchandan/Bazz4/0a29fd79dc2ad2be4c816f8db788abfed3ac9282/files/


The script adds the following IP addresses to the device nodes.

Device Interface IP Address
Node_1 node_if0
Node_2 node_if0
Vrouter1 vr_if1




In this setup, we have two Layer2 broadcast domain A and B connected using the router.


It doesn’t work, testing what’s is going on

Now we have two devices in the same Subnet connected using a Router instead of a switch. Start a ping form one device node to the other and predictably this does not work. But running tcpdump can give you an insight on to the traffic flow.

node_1 > ping
PING ( 56(84) bytes of data.
From icmp_seq=1 Destination Host Unreachable
From icmp_seq=2 Destination Host Unreachable
From icmp_seq=3 Destination Host Unreachable
--- ping statistics ---
5 packets transmitted, 0 received, +3 errors, 100% packet loss, time 4024ms

And following is the tcpdump output

vrouter1 > sudo tcpdump -i vr_if1 -n
tcpdump: WARNING: vr_if1: no IPv4 address assigned
tcpdump: verbose output suppressed, use -v or -vv for full protocol decode
listening on vr_if1, link-type EN10MB (Ethernet), capture size 65535 bytes
13:29:08.265464 ARP, Request who-has tell, length 28
13:29:09.263145 ARP, Request who-has tell, length 28
13:29:10.263058 ARP, Request who-has tell, length 28
13:29:11.280501 ARP, Request who-has tell, length 28
13:29:12.278951 ARP, Request who-has tell, length 28

The ARP requests are not resolving.

As the device nodes are part of the same subnet, when we try to ping one of the device node from another, the first device node sends ARP queries to find the Layer2 address for the destination IP. ARP uses Layer2 broadcast to for finding the MAC address of the destination. As our destination is not part of the same Layer2 domain the ARP query broadcast will never reach it and will never be answered.

The missing link that will make it work

We saw in the previous section the problem of unresolved ARP queries.

So how do we rescue this situation?

To make this setup work we will need to enable Proxy ARP on the Router. When Proxy ARP is enabled on the router interfaces, the interface starts responding to the ARP query requests from the device nodes with its own MAC (Layer2) address. In a way, it proxies for a device(with the destination IP) which is actually not present on the Layer2 network.

To enable proxy ARP on the router, use the following commands.

vrouter1 > echo 1 > /proc/sys/net/ipv4/conf/vr_if1/proxy_arp
vrouter1 > echo 1 > /proc/sys/net/ipv4/conf/vr_if2/proxy_arp

Taste of success

So now the ARP problem is resolved. The device node gets a reply of its ARP query with a MAC address which actually belongs to the interface of the router. The device now knows what MAC address associated to the destination IP.

But the pings are still failing.

This is because we have solved only half the problem.

What does the Router do with the packet that it received? Once the Layer2 frame arrives on the router, it removes the Layer2 header and looks at the IP address. It obviously does not hold the destination IP.

So, the router does what the router does with any other IP packet, looks up the routing table.

To make the ping work, we will have to add host routes to the destination IP address on the router.

The following commands will achieve our goal.

vrouter1 > ip route add dev vr_if1
vrouter1 > ip route add dev vr_if2

This is how the routing table on the router looks like

vrouter1 > route -n
Kernel IP routing table
Destination     Gateway         Genmask         Flags Metric Ref    Use Iface UH    0      0        0 vr_if1 UH    0      0        0 vr_if2

One more thing to keep in mind. Don’t forget to enable IP forwarding on your router.

vrouter1 > echo 1 > /proc/sys/net/ipv4/ip_forward

Finally, we can test the end to end traffic flow 🙂


node_1 > ping
PING ( 56(84) bytes of data.
64 bytes from icmp_seq=1 ttl=63 time=0.167 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=2 ttl=63 time=0.061 ms
--- ping statistics ---
2 packets transmitted, 2 received, 0% packet loss, time 999ms
rtt min/avg/max/mdev = 0.061/0.114/0.167/0.053 ms




Published by

Chandan Dutta Chowdhury

Software Engineer

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