802.1s Multiple Spanning Tree Protocol (MSTP)

The switches covered in this guide use the IEEE 802.1s Multiple Spanning Tree Protocol (MSTP) standard.

The 802.1D and 802.1w spanning tree protocols operate without regard to a network's VLAN configuration, and maintain one common spanning tree throughout a bridged network. Thus, these protocols map one loop-free, logical topology on a given physical topology. The 802.1s Multiple Spanning Tree protocol (MSTP) uses VLANs to create multiple spanning trees in a network, which significantly improves network resource utilization while maintaining a loop-free environment.

While the per-VLAN spanning tree approach adopted by some vendors overcomes the network utilization problems inherent in using STP or RSTP, using a per-VLAN technology with multiple VLANs can overload the switch's CPU. MSTP on the switches covered in this guide complies with the IEEE 802.1s standard, and extends STP and RSTP functionality to map multiple independent spanning tree instances onto a physical topology. With MSTP, each spanning tree instance can include one or more VLANs and applies a separate, per-instance forwarding topology. Thus, where a port belongs to multiple VLANs, it may be dynamically blocked in one spanning tree instance, but forwarding in another instance. This achieves load-balancing across the network while keeping the switch's CPU load at a moderate level (by aggregating multiple VLANs in a single spanning tree instance). MSTP provides fault tolerance through rapid, automatic reconfiguration if there is a failure in a network's physical topology.

With MSTP-capable switches, you can create a number of MST regions containing multiple spanning tree instances. This requires the configuration of a number of MSTP-capable switches. However, it is not necessary to do this. You can enable MSTP on an MSTP-capable switch and a spanning tree instance is created automatically. This instance always exists by default when spanning tree is enabled, and is the spanning tree instance that communicates with STP and RSTP environments. The MSTP configuration commands operate exactly like RSTP commands and MSTP is backward-compatible with the RSTP-enabled and STP-enabled switches in your network.


Spanning tree interprets a switch mesh as a single link. Because the switch automatically gives faster links a higher priority, the default MSTP parameter settings are usually adequate for spanning tree operation. Because incorrect MSTP settings can adversely affect network performance, do not change the MSTP settings from their default values unless you have a strong understanding of how spanning tree operates.

In a mesh environment, the default MSTP timer settings (Hello Time and Forward Delay) are usually adequate for MSTP operation. Because a packet crossing a mesh may traverse several links within the mesh, using smaller-than-default settings for the MSTP Hello Time and Forward Delay timers can cause unnecessary topology changes and end-node connectivity problems.