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  • Three PCs.
  • One for openvswitch (with a 4-port ethernet card).
  • Two for hosts.
  • OVS version 1.9


kernel module

insmod datapath/linux/openvswitch.ko

When we load the openvswitch's kernel module, it will register four generic netlink event including datapath, vport, flow and packet.


In the datapath.c, we can see those four generic netlink type.


Take the vport for example, there're four command we can excute via this netlink type. If we want the kernel to create a new port, we can send the vport type netlink with the command OVS_VPORT_CMD_NEW , and the command handler (doit) ovs_vport_cmd_new will be excuted to create the new vport.



ovsdb-server ... ovs-vswitchd --pidfile --detach

  • First, the ovsdb-server will start a database daemon, In addition, there're some user-space tool will work with it, like ove-vsctl, ovs-ofctl..etc.
  • The user-space process ovs-vswitchd play a importmant role about openflow in OpenvSwitch. It will parse the openflow protocol and handle it (you can use the keyword ofproto to find the resource about it)


  • Process openflow messages
  • Manage the datapath (which actually in kernel space)
  • Maintain two flow table (exactly flow & wildcard flow)


Adding bridge

ovs-vsctl add-br br0

When we excute the ovs-vsctl, it will send a command to ovsdb and the DB will store this information. After that, the ovsdb will pass the command to ovs-vswitchd, and the ovs-vswitch send the netlink with datapath type to the kernel. Since we have installed the kernel module before, the datapath will receive the netlink and excute the corresponding command handler. In this case, it will excute ovs_dp_cmd_new. Finally, the datapath will be created and it will be managed by ovs-vswitchd.


  • Maintain one flow table (exactly flow) This study is based on the OVS v1.9
  • Act as the software switch (look up flow, forward the packet)


Adding vports

ovs-vsctl add-port br0 eth1

Like the above discussion about datapath, ovs-vswitchd send the netlink to the kernel. In the command handler ovs_vport_cmd_new.

1.Find the the struct net_device object in the kernel by the user typing interface name (eth1) 2.Modify the receive_handler of that net_device to the OpenvSwitch's packet handler.



ovs-vsctl set-controller br0

  • Set the controller setting and it will be done in ovs-vswitchd.


##In the following example, we use a simple case to explain how the ping works

Target command

hostA ping hostB

We devide the picture into two parts by the red line.

Upper Part

  • This part show the physical view of thie case.
  • The middle PC has installed the Ubuntu 12.04 and OVS 1.9.
  • The left PC connect to the OVS's nic eth1
  • The right PC connect to the OVS's nic eth2

Lower Part

  • This part show the system view of the switch PC (middle one)
  • We use the dash-line to separate the user-space and kernel-space.


After the OVS receives the ICMP packet from the left PC. What will happen about OVS?


  1. The NIC eth1 receives the ICMP packet.
  2. Call the receive_handler to handler this ICMP packet.
  3. Do flow_lookup, it will look up the flow table maintained by the kernel-space. All the flow entry in this table is exactly flow entry, which means there're no any wildcard. This architecture will speed up the look-up since we don't need to consider the wildcard field. In the OpenvSwtich, it use the struct sw_flow_key to present a exactly flow.
  4. If we find the flow entry in the flow table, excute its flow actiojn.
  5. Otherwise, we need the help from controller. so the datapath.ko will send this flow to the user-space via the f unction upcall (actually, it's a netlink message)

What will happen when the ovs-vswitch receive the flow from the kernel-space.


  • Both exactly matching flow and wildcard matching flow are stored in the user-space (by Openflow protocol).
  • Since the exactly matching has high priority than wildcard matching, we need to lookup the exactly macthing flow table first.
  • Look up the flow entry in the user-space by exactly matching, if we find it, send two netlink message to the kernel (we will discuss these two nelitnkj message later)
  • Otherwise, look up the flow entry by wildcard matching, if we find it, generate a corrsponding exactly flow entry and send two netlink message to the kernel.
  • If we can't find any flow entry in the flow-table, we issue a Packet_In to the controller.

After the kernel-space receive those two netlink message which sending from user-space.

  1. Excute the flow_actiojn about that flow entry.
  2. Insert that exactly mactching flow into the kernel's flow-table. That will create the cache for that connection and crease the processing time for nect packets.



  • There is a limitation about the size of flow table in kernel, it use the cache (exactly macthing) to speed up the look-up.For the recently activity connection, those packets can be handled quickly.
  • The flow-table in the user-space is the same as the what the controller see. It support the wildcard matching. We can reduce the size of flow entries by wildcard matching but it will bring the overhaed for look-up


  1. You can use the ovs-dpctl dump-flows to dump the flow table of kernel-space
  2. This article is based on the OVS v1.9 and the architecture has some change after v1.11