Virtual routing and forwarding (VRF) is a technology included in IP (Internet Protocol) network routers that allows multiple instances of a routing table to exist in a router and work simultaneously. This increases functionality by allowing network paths to be segmented without using multiple devices. Because traffic is automatically segregated, VRF also increases network security and can eliminate the need for encryption and authentication. Internet service providers (ISPs) often take advantage of VRF to create separate virtual private networks (VPNs) for customers; thus the technology is also referred to as VPN routing and forwarding.
VRF acts like a logical router, but while a logical router may include many routing tables, a VRF instance uses only a single routing table. In addition, VRF requires a forwarding table that designates the next hop for each data packet, a list of devices that may be called upon to forward the packet, and a set of rules and routing protocols that govern how the packet is forwarded. These tables prevent traffic from being forwarded outside a specific VRF path and also keep out traffic that should remain outside the VRF path.
The simplest form of VRF implementation is VRF Lite. In this implementation, each router within the network participates in the virtual routing environment in a peer-based fashion. While simple to deploy and appropriate for small to medium enterprises and shared data centres, VRF Lite does not scale to the size required by global enterprises or large carriers, as there is the need to implement each VRF instance on every router.