Understanding MPLS – What You Need To Know

Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) is a mechanism in high-performance telecommunications networks directing data from one node to another based on short path labels rather than long network addresses, avoiding complex lookups in a routing table. As its name suggests, MPLS can encapsulate packets of various network protocols, as well as virtual links (paths) that connect distant nodes. Keep reading to learn about MPLS in detail.


MPLS is a switching technology used to get packets from one place to another through a series of hops while meeting specific requirements, such as performance and security. MPLS uses labels to make forwarding decisions instead of looking up IP addresses in a routing table.

MPLS was originally designed to speed up network traffic flow and avoid complex lookups in forwarding tables of routers. It accomplishes this by attaching short, fixed-length header information to each packet that guides it through the network. The additional header information is called a label, which enables switches along the path to making forwarding decisions based on the label content rather than looking up destination addresses in a table. This results in faster and simpler routing.

MPLS supports various types of service levels with associated service level agreements (SLAs) to ensure performance requirements are met. MPLS can be configured as an internetworking technology or as a backbone for virtual private networks (VPNs).

How Does it Work?

MPLS works by encoding a data flow from one router to another within short fixed-length labels. This is different from conventional IP routing, which analyzes the entire IP header before forwarding an IP packet. The primary advantage of MPLS is that it conserves router resources and keeps routers from having to perform lengthy lookups in IP routing tables. As more applications get deployed on the Internet, more routers are needed, and MPLS can be used as a congestion control mechanism by allowing routers to offload some of their work onto switches that simply read labels instead of doing complex analyses of IP headers.