This HowTo attempts to give some insight into the basics of setting up multicast routing. Both static multicast routing, with SMCRoute, and dynamic multicast routing, with mrouted and pimd.

For some use-cases, in particular link-local multicast, it may not be possible to use multicast routing, then I recommend trying out:

Make sure to check out the FAQ for the most common problems.

Good Luck!
– Joachim


To understand multicast routing one needs to first understand how multicast on a LAN works. In this HowTo the LAN is usually referred to as Layer-2 and routing (between LANs) as Layer-3.

Layer-2 vs Layer-3

First, without any form of regulation multicast is broadcast, which is inherently bad. We don’t want to route broadcast, but even on a LAN we want to keep broadcast to a minimum. Before switches we had hubs which caused all traffic to be broadcast. We can do better, not just for the sake of security but also to increase bandwidth.

Enter IGMP and MLD, the control protocol for multicast on a LAN, for IPv4 and IPv6 respectively. Essentially they act as a subscription based protocol, every N seconds sending out a Query to all nodes on the LAN; “Anyone want multicast?”, to which a node can reply; “Yes please, I’d like to have”. MLD (IPv6) works in a similar way.

Most managed switches today support IGMP Snooping which is just a fancy way of saying: this switch does not flood multicast like broadcast on all ports. However, it also means that everyone on a LAN that want multicast have to be able to request it.

Multicast Distribution Point

On a LAN with many IGMP Snooping capable switches a Querier election will take place. The switch (or router) with the lowest IP address wins, unless that address is The elected IGMP querier on a LAN becomes the distribution point for all multicast. All other switches on the LAN must forward both known and unknown multicast to the Querier.

Usually the network IP plan (design) is set in such a way that the router has the lowest IP address on the LAN, so that it will always be the elected IGMP querier, hence receiving all multicast so it can route it as required.

Multicast Router Ports

In a network with redundant/multiple multicast routers one cannot rely solely on the IGMP querier election. Instead, most managed switches have a setting called Multicast Router Ports where you can configure on which ports to also flood all multicast.

This feature can also be used to forward multicast to nodes that do not speak IGMP/MLD. But since it will forward all multicast it is usually better to set up static FDB entries per multicast group on the switch instead.

Many switches are limited to filtering multicast based on the multicast MAC equivalent. In our case of it would be mapped to 01:00:5e:01:02:03. For more on this, and the limitations it brings, see RFC1112.

PIM-SM :: IGMP v2 vs. PIM-SSM :: IGMP v3

In the beginning there was darkness and DVMRP conquered the earth. The God of all multicast, which is Steve Deering, was pleased. Then light came upon us, gods were overthrown and PIM-SM was invented.

The story continues but becomes a bit of a blur because so much happened in such a short time frame. There are RFCs that tell the tale better, go read up on them. What eventually came out of it was this:

IGMP v2 was an OK protocol, a client requested a group,, and it was unblocked by switches leading up to the Querier and multicast was received.

PIM-SM was OK, many routers could agree on what groups each of them had, set up a distribution tree with magic distribution point/routers, called rendez-vous points (RPs), for one or more, but not necessarily all multicast groups. This could be tweaked by hand as well to optimize distribution.

But what if we had multiple senders for the same group? A ridiculous thought at first, but as deployments grew a need for optimizing also based on the sender (source) grew as well. Enter PIM-SSM for layer-3 and IGMP v3 on layer-2. The biggest change is the ability to forward multicast based on source and group, called (S,G). An end node on a LAN could now send an IGMP report requesting (,

What is TTL and Why Can’t I Route Multicast?

The single most common problem with routing multicast that everybody runs into is the TTL.

The TTL is the Time To Live field in the IP header of a frame.

$ tcpdump -i lo -vvv icmp
tcpdump: listening on lo, link-type EN10MB (Ethernet), capture size 262144 bytes
20:36:50.146377 IP (tos 0x0, ttl 1, id 0, offset 0, flags [DF], proto ICMP (1), length 84) > ICMP echo request, id 16746, seq 20, length 64
20:36:51.146380 IP (tos 0x0, ttl 1, id 0, offset 0, flags [DF], proto ICMP (1), length 84) > ICMP echo request, id 16746, seq 21, length 64

The TTL for broadcast and multicast is by default 1, which means that a router should not forward the frame beyond the originating LAN. Again, without any regulation multicast is broadcast and we do not want to route broadcast!

The singular best way to fix this problem is for the sender to set a higher TTL. Set it only as high as the number of hops you want this to be forwarded!

Multicast is used for A LOT of protocols, many of which was only ever intended to be either link-local or limited to the LAN. Check with the appropriate standard (RFCs are freely available online) before attempting something foolish that may cause unintended side effects.

For such cases when you want to connect two remote sites and make them into one big LAN you might be better off using, e.g. a bridged SSL VPN on layer-2.

However, when you absolutely cannot change the TTL at the sender and bridging the two LANs is out of the question, then you can try using the firewall. On Linux systems you can mangle matching frames with the following magic rule(s):

iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -d -j TTL --ttl-inc 1

or, if the sender runs on a system with Linux you can change the frame as it egresses:

iptables -t mangle -A OUTPUT -d -j TTL --ttl-set 128

The group can also be a range, so is possible to enter, and as is shown in these examples, either --ttl-set or --ttl-inc can be used to adjust the TTL value.

Reverse Path Forwarding

Dynamic multicast routing protocols like DVMRP and PIM-SM rely on something called Reverse Path Forwarding to build a multicast distribution tree.

The unicast routing table has the destination in focus, i.e. how to forward an inbound frame towards the destionation address.

A multicast router builds tables to instead find the reverse path, from the receiver (who requests multicast) to the source of the multicast distribution tree.

mrouted uses its built-in RIP to construct its distribution tree, and pimd relies on an external routing protocol like OSPF, RIP, or even a manually set up routing table on each router.

Note: A common problem with multicast forwarding on Linux based routers is rp_filter. Many systems has this by default set to ‘strict’ mode, to protect against DDOS attacks, which may cause major problems for pimd and mrouted. If the reverse path to the source of multicast cannot be determined the frames will be dropped by the kernel. See the FAQ below for more information.

CORE Network Simulator

These days I do most of my multicast testing with CORE, which is readily available i Debian/Ubuntu as simple as:

sudo apt-get install core-gui

CORE is very simple to get started with:

  1. Fire up the GUI
  2. Drag and drop a few router icons to the grid
  3. Connect them
  4. BOOM you now have IP addresses automatically assigned!
  5. Press the Play button – routers are now starting up

Play around a bit to try it out, it’s awesome! I usually start pimd, mrouted, and smcroute manually with a script. (You can access the shell of each router by right-clicking on them.) The host file system is reachable from each router in CORE, even though they are isolated and have their own network namespaces.

For more info on network simulation, like the equally awesome GNS3 for instance, see Brian Linkletter’s Reviews.

Roll your own Cloud

The below setup is done using four Ubuntu 12.04 LTS virtual machines running the linux-virtual kernel package. In the HowTo I mention both pimd and mrouted, since they work out-of-the-box w/o any config changes, but you could just as easily use SMCRoute for the same purpose.

When setting up virtual machines and virtual networking there are many pitfalls and several requirements for the host to consider. The most important one, that needs pointing out, is a bug in the IGMP snooping code in the Linux bridging code: the bridge handles the special case 224.0.0.* well, but all unknown multicast streams outside of that segment should also be forwarded as-is to all multicast routers. Since this does not work with the current IGMP snooping code in the Linux 3.13 kernel bridge code you must disable snooping:

host# echo 0 > /sys/devices/virtual/net/virbr1/bridge/multicast_snooping
host# echo 0 > /sys/devices/virtual/net/virbr2/bridge/multicast_snooping
host# echo 0 > /sys/devices/virtual/net/virbr3/bridge/multicast_snooping

Disabling IGMP snooping on the hosts’ virbr3 is not really necessary, but is done anyway for completeness, and also because I re-use the same setup in other test cases as well.

It is of course not recommended to disable IGMP snooping on a bridge, but if it’s buggy you really don’t have a choice. Please check this for yourself since it depends on the kernel you run.

    R1                        R2                        R3                        R4
.--------.                .--------.                .--------.                .--------.
|eth0    | |eth0    | |eth0    |   |eth0    |
|      .1|----------------|.2    .1|----------------|.2    .1|----------------|.2      |
|    eth1|     virbr1     |    eth1|     virbr2     |    eth1|    virbr3      |        |
'--------'                '--------'                '--------'                '--------'

This setup, or another more advanced, can be used for trying out SMCRoute, pimd and mrouted. Remember there is only one multicast routing socket, so for each router (Rn) you have to choose one of:

  1. pimd -c pimd.conf
  2. mrouted -c mrouted.conf
  3. smcroute -f smcroute.conf

The default configuration files delivered with pimd and mrouted usually suffice, see their respective manual pages or the comments in each .conf file for help.

When you start mrouted, you’re usually ready to go immediately. But in the case of pimd, wait for routers to peer. Then you can test your setup using multicast ping from R1 to a tcpdump on R4:

R1# ping -I eth1 -t 3
R4# tcpdump -i eth0

As soon as the PIM routers R2 and R3 have peered you should start seeing ICMP traffic reaching R4. If you don’t, then check the underlying routing protocol, e.g. RIP or OSPF, to make sure the reverse path is known – this is required for PIM since, unlike DVMRP (mrouted) which sort of has RIP built-in, PIM relies on a unicast routing protocol to have populated the routing table.

Now, to the actual test case. The first command for R1 adds a route for all multicast packets, that is necessary for all tools where you cannot set the outbound interface for the multicast stream, in our case iperf.

R1# ip route add dev eth1
R1# iperf -u -c -T 3
R4# iperf -s -u -B

The -T option is important since it tells iperf to raise the TTL to 3, the default TTL for multicast is otherwise 1 due to its broadcast like nature.

The desired output from iperf is as follows:

R1# iperf -u -c -T 3
Client connecting to, UDP port 5001
Sending 1470 byte datagrams
Setting multicast TTL to 3
UDP buffer size:  160 KByte (default)
[  3] local port 55731 connected with port 5001
[ ID] Interval       Transfer     Bandwidth
[  3]  0.0-10.0 sec  1.25 MBytes  1.05 Mbits/sec
[  3] Sent 893 datagrams

R4# iperf -s -u -B
Server listening on UDP port 5001
Binding to local address
Joining multicast group
Receiving 1470 byte datagrams
UDP buffer size:  160 KByte (default)
[  3] local port 5001 connected with port 55731
[ ID] Interval       Transfer     Bandwidth        Jitter   Lost/Total Datagrams
[  3]  0.0-10.0 sec  1.25 MBytes  1.05 Mbits/sec   0.268 ms    0/  893 (0%)

To achieve the same using SMCRoute you need to setup the multicast routing rules manually. The easiest way to do this is to update /etc/smcroute.conf and and start/restart smcroute, or send SIGHUP to an already running daemon. The below example makes use of the source-less (*,G) approach, since we in our limited setup have full control over all multicast senders. There is a slight setup cost associated with this: the time it takes the kernel to notify SMCRoute about a new source and before the actual multicast route is written to the kernel. In most cases this is acceptable.

In smcroute.conf on R2:

mgroup from eth0 group
mroute from eth0 group to eth1

In smcroute.conf on R3:

mgroup from eth0 group
mroute from eth0 group to eth1

Now, start smcroute on each of R2 and R4 and then proceed to start iperf on R4 and R1, as described above. You should get the same result as with mrouted and pimd.

That’s it. Have fun!


  1. It doesn’t work?

    Check the TTL.

  2. Why does the TTL in multicast default to 1?

    Because multicast is classified as broadcast, which inherently is dangerous. Without proper limitation, like switches with support for IGMP Snooping, multicast IS broadcast.

  3. I cannot change the TTL of the multicast sender, what can I do?!

    Ouch, then you may have to use some firewall mangling technique. Here is how you could do it on Linux with iptables:

     iptables -t mangle -A PREROUTING -d GROUP[/LEN] -j TTL --ttl-set 64

    Where GROUP is the multicast group address of the stream you want to change the TTL of, with an optional prefix length LEN if you want to specify a range of groups. From this RedHat mailing list entry.

  4. I want to use the loopback interface, but it doesn’t show in pimd?

    Some interfaces, like lo or tunN, do not have the MULTICAST interface flag set by default. It should work if you enable it:

     ip link set lo multicast on
     ip link set tun1 multicast on
  5. It still doesn’t work?!

    Check your network topology, maybe a switch between the sender and the receiver doesn’t properly support IGMP snooping.

    For virtual/cloud setups, see above for disabling IGMP snooping entirely in the Linux kernel bridge.

  6. The PIM routers seem to have peered, and they list the multicast groups I want to forward, the TTL is OK, but I see no traffic?

    Could be your underlying routing protocol (RIP/OSPF) does not know the reverse path to the source. Make sure the sender’s network is listed in the routing table on the receiving sides routing table.

    Also, on Linux you might get bitten by the rp_filter. It can be modified in your system /etc/sysctl.conf file. Check it with:

     # sysctl -ar '\.rp_filter'
     net.ipv4.conf.all.rp_filter = 0
     net.ipv4.conf.default.rp_filter = 0
     net.ipv4.conf.eth0.rp_filter = 0
     net.ipv4.conf.eth1.rp_filter = 0
     net.ipv4.conf.lo.rp_filter = 1
     net.ipv4.conf.pimreg.rp_filter = 0

  7. What’s the routing performance of pimd/mrouted/smcroute?

    N/A. Neither of them take active part in the actual forwarding of multicast frames. This is what the kernel or dedicated routing HW does. The routing daemons pimd/mrouted/smcroute only manipulate the multicast routing table(s) of the operating system’s kernel.

  8. Do you have any example of how to set up GRE and pimd?

    Yes, for all the gory details see this howto