The algorithm as presented up to this point will always allow a host or gateway to calculate a correct routing table. However, that is still not quite enough to make it useful in practice. The proofs referred to above only show that the routing tables will converge to the correct values in finite time. They do not guarantee that this time will be small enough to be useful, nor do they say what will happen to the metrics for networks that become inaccessible.

It is easy enough to extend the mathematics to handle routes becoming inaccessible. The convention suggested above will do that. We choose a large metric value to represent "infinity". This value must be large enough that no real metric would ever get that large. For the purposes of this example, we will use the value 16. Suppose a network becomes inaccessible. All of the immediately neighboring gateways time out and set the metric for that network to 16. For purposes of analysis, we can assume that all the neighboring gateways have gotten a new piece of hardware that connects them directly to the vanished network, with a cost of 16. Since that is the only connection to the vanished network, all the other gateways in the system will converge to new routes that go through one of those gateways. It is easy to see that once convergence has happened, all the gateways will have metrics of at least 16 for the vanished network. Gateways one hop away from the original neighbors would end up with metrics of at least 17; gateways two hops away would end up with at least 18, etc. As these metrics are larger than the maximum metric value, they are all set to 16. It is obvious that the system will now converge to a metric of 16 for the vanished network at all gateways.

Unfortunately, the question of how long convergence will take is not amenable to quite so simple an answer. Before going any further, it will be useful to look at an example (taken from [2]). Note, by the way, that what we are about to show will not happen with a correct implementation of RIP. We are trying to show why certain features are needed. Note that the letters correspond to gateways, and the lines to networks.

A-----B \ / \ \ / | C / all networks have cost 1, except | / for the direct link from C to D, which |/ has cost 10 D |<=== target network

Each gateway will have a table showing a route to each network.

However, for purposes of this illustration, we show only the routes from each gateway to the network marked at the bottom of the diagram.

D: directly connected, metric 1 B: route via D, metric 2 C: route via B, metric 3 A: route via B, metric 3

Now suppose that the link from B to D fails. The routes should now adjust to use the link from C to D. Unfortunately, it will take a while for this to this to happen. The routing changes start when B notices that the route to D is no longer usable. For simplicity, the chart below assumes that all gateways send updates at the same time. The chart shows the metric for the target network, as it appears in the routing table at each gateway.

time ------> D: dir, 1 dir, 1 dir, 1 dir, 1 ... dir, 1 dir, 1 B: unreach C, 4 C, 5 C, 6 C, 11 C, 12 C: B, 3 A, 4 A, 5 A, 6 A, 11 D, 11 A: B, 3 C, 4 C, 5 C, 6 C, 11 C, 12 dir = directly connected unreach = unreachable

Here's the problem: B is able to get rid of its failed route using a timeout mechanism. But vestiges of that route persist in the system for a long time. Initially, A and C still think they can get to D via B. So, they keep sending updates listing metrics of 3. In the next iteration, B will then claim that it can get to D via either A or C. Of course, it can't. The routes being claimed by A and C are now gone, but they have no way of knowing that yet. And even when they discover that their routes via B have gone away, they each think there is a route available via the other. Eventually the system converges, as all the mathematics claims it must. But it can take some time to do so. The worst case is when a network becomes completely inaccessible from some part of the system. In that case, the metrics may increase slowly in a pattern like the one above until they finally reach infinity. For this reason, the problem is called "counting to infinity".

You should now see why "infinity" is chosen to be as small as possible. If a network becomes completely inaccessible, we want counting to infinity to be stopped as soon as possible. Infinity must be large enough that no real route is that big. But it shouldn't be any bigger than required. Thus the choice of infinity is a tradeoff between network size and speed of convergence in case counting to infinity happens. The designers of RIP believed that the protocol was unlikely to be practical for networks with a diameter larger than 15.

There are several things that can be done to prevent problems like this. The ones used by RIP are called "split horizon with poisoned reverse", and "triggered updates".