Note: Routing

OpenLCB is intended to be fully routable, in that any OpenLCB message should be able to get from any source node to any destination node.

To reduce OpenLCB traffic on the individual OpenLCB segments, it's useful to forward messages only to segments where nodes are listening for them. The two ends of a gateway (or gateway-gateway link) can use OpenLCB messages to control which common messages should be forwarded over the link.

This note discusses some aspects of how this is done in a gateway, based on the common messages documented elsewhere. Many different methods are possible, and this note describes ways that things can be done, not how they must be done.

Addressed Messages

Each gateway maintains a list of nodes (NIDs) that it knows are present on the local connection, and a separate list of those NIDs that can be reached via the remote connection. (N.B.: The local/remote terminology is just to make the discussion easier to follow, and doesn't effect the protocol. The protocol is symmetric between the two sides)

When a node is seen on the local connection:

When a node is seen on the remote connection:

Messages arriving from the remote connection are forwarded to the local connection. (Nodes bouncing back and forth between “assigned to local” and “assigned to remote” may indicate a routing loop; nodes that do that just once may have been physically moved)

Addressed messages (with a destination Node ID) that are seen on the local connection are checked to see where the node is located.

Unaddressed Messages

Some unaddressed messages, such as "Initialization Complete", are rare enough that there is little cost to universally routing them. That also provides operating nodes knowledge of all the other nodes present on the OpenLCB.

Producer/Consumer Event Reports can be numerous enough that complete routing would be excessive. The message itself doesn't show an destination, however. A gateway can filter PCER messages from outgoing transmission if it knows there is no node listening at the remote end. To determine this, when a previously-unseen P/C Event ID occurs, it can be routed over the other-side connection followed by a "Identify Consumers" message with the same P/C Event ID. If any "Consumer Identity" messages come back, this PCER must continue to be routed. If none have returned after an appropriate time, the messages need not be routed any longer. (This is needed to handle connecting two live networks via a gateway; adding a node to a live network emits the “Consumer Identity/Identified” message automatically)

To allow live networks to be configured to use new P/C Event IDs, gateways need to be able to restart routing of a P/C Event ID at a later time. The "Identified Consumer" message triggers this, and node are therefore required to emit an "Identify Consmer" message when they first attach to the OpenLCB or if they are configured to consume a new Event Id. When an "Identified Consumer" is received from the remote side, PCER messages with that P/C Event ID must in the future be routed from the local side to the remote side.

Issues to Resolve

There needs to be a standard way to command remote gateway configuration, e.g. to set a "send everything, I want to see it all". That has to work on a IP-CAN-IP-CAN-IP multisegment link, so has to be done with common messages. Defined eventIDs would be one way to do this.


Some devices might want to consume or produce a large number of Event IDs. For example, a real time or fast clock might advertise time as a range of EventIDs; a bridge to another network type (XpressNet, LocoNet, etc) might want to send a lot of events to represent net traffic, etc. These need to be routed, identified, etc. This could be done with numerous “Identify Consumer” and “Identify Producer” messages, but this would take a lot of them.

Solving this is the purpose for the “Identify Produced Range” and “Identify Consumed Range” messages. They define a range of EventIDs using a mask on the lower order bits of the EventID. (This is not a general purpose mask or range system, to simplify the necessary routing algorithms; there are well-known algorithms for routing when a variable number of low-order bits have “don't care values”, as this is essentially the Internet routing problem)


Because multiple gateways can be connected to e.g. a single CAN segment, it's possible to create loops and other examples of multiple-path routing. These, in turn, can create multiple copies of OpenLCB messages unless gateways protect against this.

Remaining Issues

The routing discussion doesn't properly handle routing loops, e.g. a TCP/IP link with both ends on the same CAN segment. Most can be detected by seeing the same source Node ID coming from two different links or passing onto a segment that originates that same Node ID, but can all can be detected that way?

True loops, where a packet circulates around a series of links, can't be detected this way. They require e.g. a "steps taken" or "steps to live" field so that a gateway can detect that the same packet has reached the gateway with different values, hence via different routes. Or they can be detected (always? usually?) by detecting the same unique source Node ID coming from two different directions.

A time-to-live field would probably work for detecting routing problems. Unfortunately, OpenLCB CAN links don't have lots of space available to carry routing information. We need to keep the information in the CAN packets if CAN packets can come from one link, traverse CAN, and then go off through another gateway. How do we transfer time-to-live across e.g. intermediate CAN segments with very limited space? Is that required, or can we say that all CAN segments can only have one gateway to the outside world?

As an alternative to time-to-live, and as a way to detect and diagnose loops, each forwarding gateway using e.g. the binary link protocol across Ethernet could add a new messages header (instead of replacing the old one) of node, time and flags. One of the flags would be whether the content started with another header, so that this could be broken apart. This still doesn't detect loops that involve CAN segments, where these headers are lost, so maybe it's not worth it.

Alternately, verification done with special messages, either for testing routing, or as part of gateway initialization. We could define an “explore connection” message and protocol to do this.

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