IP multicasting is an extension of Link Layer multicast to IP internets. Using IP multicasts, a single datagram can be addressed to multiple hosts without sending it to all. In the extended case, these hosts may reside in different address domains. This collection of hosts is called a multicast group. Each multicast group is represented as a Class D IP address. An IP datagram sent to the group is to be delivered to each group member with the same best- effort delivery as that provided for unicast IP traffic. The sender of the datagram does not itself need to be a member of the destination group.
The semantics of IP multicast group membership are defined in [INTERNET:4]. That document describes how hosts and routers join and leave multicast groups. It also defines a protocol, the Internet Group Management Protocol (IGMP), that monitors IP multicast group membership.
Forwarding of IP multicast datagrams is accomplished either through static routing information or via a multicast routing protocol. Devices that forward IP multicast datagrams are called multicast routers. They may or may not also forward IP unicasts. Multicast datagrams are forwarded on the basis of both their source and destination addresses. Forwarding of IP multicast packets is described in more detail in Section [5.2.1]. Appendix D discusses multicast routing protocols.