Open vSwitch: Introduction – Part 1

This post turned out to be much longer than I planned. So I decided to split it into two posts.

This part covers:

  • Overview
  • Installation
  • Simple scenario walkthrough (connecting a virtual machine through ovs bridge to the internet)
  • Basic commands ( add/delete bridge, add/delete ports, show configuration, etc)

The second part covers:

  • Components (ovsdb-server, ovs-vswitch, ovs kernel module)
  • Utilities (ovs-vsctl, ovs-ofctl, ovs-appctl, etc)
  • Modes (normal & flow)

What is Open vSwitch?

Open vSwitch is a multilayer software/virtual switch used to interconnect virtual machines in the same host and between different hosts.

The goal of the project (as specified in the official documentation): “Implement a production quality switch platform that supports standard management interfaces and opens the forwarding functions to programmatic extension and control.”

It is a very popular project, used in a variety of SDN solutions. You’ll probably bump into it soon or later when deep diving into projects such as OpenStack and OpenDaylight.

OpenvSwitch supports many of the features you already familiar with, assuming you worked with switches before:

  • VLAN tagging
  • LACP
  • STP
  • QOS
  • Tunneling protocols (GRE, VXLAN)

Virtual Switch Overview

Before we deep dive into OpenvSwitch (I’ll refer to it as ovs from now on)  and learn how to use ovs commands, let’s start with a basic overview of how it looks when you configured one bridge with one interface and multiple ports on your system

As you can see in the drawing, there is one bridge named ‘my_bridge’ which was created using openvswitch.  You can have more than one bridge on your system, using  ‘ovs-vsctl add-br’ command, which we will cover later.

Each bridge can have multiple ports and each port consists of one or more interfaces. In our example, there is one port named ‘Bond’, which is an actual bond of two physical interfaces (eth0 and eth1).

First ovs command that we’ll use is ‘ovs-vsctl show’. This command will print the contents of the ovs database (in other words, your switches configuration).

Basically everything that you can see in the drawing (note that in a  fresh new environment, you would not see anything except for ovs version and id.).

> ovs-vsctl show

Bridge my_bridge
    Port "Bond"
        Interface "eth0"
        Interface "eth1"
 ovs_version: "2.5.0"


Before you can start using ovs, you need to install it on your system. The following commands should work on Fedora/CentOS/RHEL.

> yum install -y openvswitch
> systemctl start openvswitch

If openvswitch isn’t provided by one of your repositories, try to download it directly from here.

You should now be able to use the ‘ovs-vsctl show’ command which we already used in the overview section.

> sudo ovs-vsctl show

    ovs_version: "2.5.0"

Connect a virtual machine through Open vSwitch bridge

I can show you several random ovs commands, but I believe in learning through specific exercises. So let’s say our goal is to connect a newly created VM to the internet, but we want to connect it through an ovs bridge. Our goal is to achieve something similar to the following diagram

I’m going to assume you already have a VM with eth0, so we will not cover the creation of it, in this post.

Add a new bridge

The first thing we should do, is to create an ovs bridge. The way to create and configure bridges is by using the ‘ovs-vsctl add-br’ command.

> sudo ovs-vsctl add-br my_bridge

By using the above command, we added a new bridge, named ‘my_bridge’.

We can then use then ‘ovs-vsctl show’ command to verify our bridge was created.

> ovs-vsctl show

    Bridge my_bridge
        Port my_bridge
            Interface my_bridge
                type: internal
    ovs_version: "2.5.0"

As you can see in the above output, there is now a new bridge named ‘my_bridge’. It has one port, which is an internal (according to the type) and it mapped to an interface called ‘my_bridge’.

Now let’s bring the ‘my_bridge’ interface up.

> ip link set my_bridge up
> ip a

3: my_bridge: <BROADCAST,MULTICAST,UP,LOWER_UP> mtu 1500 qdisc noqueue state UNKNOWN qlen 1
   link/ether 9a:15:b7:cc:29:4e brd ff:ff:ff:ff:ff:ff
   inet6 fe80::9815:b7ff:fecc:294e/64 scope link 
      valid_lft forever preferred_lft forever

Note that our newly created bridge is not directly connected to our physical interface (eth0). Let’s change it.

Add existing interface to the bridge

Let’s connect eth0 interface to ‘my_bridge’ (Warning: you’ll lose any connectivity to the internet after executing the following command)

> sudo ovs-vsctl add-port my_bridge eth0

We  just lost connectivity to the external world. Check by yourself (the most popular check today is probably pinging

This is because eth0 is now connected to our bridge and not  to the default IP stack of the system. Our system still trying to reach the external network directly through eth0. In order to recover our connectivity to the external network, we need to do two things:

  1. Remove eth0 address, since we no longer reach the internet directly through eth0
  2. Assign my_bridge with address so we can reach the internet through it ( the flow would be: IP stack -> my_bridge -> eth0).

Let’s start by removing eth0 current address

> ip addr del dev eth0

Verify with ‘ip a’ that eth0 indeed has no IP address.

Next, we will run dhclient to configure ‘my_bridge’, so it can be allocated with an IP address

> dhclient my_bridge

Now that ‘my_bridge’ has an IP address, we should be able to reach the internet once again.

> ip a

4: my_bridge: <BROADCAST,MULTICAST,UP,LOWER_UP> mtu 1500 qdisc noqueue state UNKNOWN 
    link/ether ce:8b:5b:a7:a8:4f brd ff:ff:ff:ff:ff:ff
    inet brd scope global dynamic my_bridge
       valid_lft 3478sec preferred_lft 3478sec
    inet6 fe80::cc8b:5bff:fea7:a84f/64 scope link 
       valid_lft forever preferred_lft forever

> ping

PING ( 56(84) bytes of data.
64 bytes from icmp_seq=1 ttl=56 time=105 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=2 ttl=56 time=105 ms

Add TAP device

Let’s add a new interface which we’ll later connect to our virtual machine.

> ip tuntap add mode tap virt_port

# Bring the interface up
> ip link set virt_port up

You might not be familiar with TUN, TAP interfaces, so let’s take a second to explain what they are exactly.

TUN, TAP devices are entirely virtual in contrast to other devices on your system (e.g eth0) which associated with a physical address.

A TUN device operates in the third  OSI layer (network) and used mostly for routing traffic, while a TAP device operates in the second OSI layer (data link) and used to process Ethernet frames.

Now let’s add our newly created device to our ovs bridge

> sudo ovs-vsctl add-port my_bridge virt_port

We can verify now with ‘ovs-vsctl show’ that our ports are connected to ‘my_bridge

> sudo ovs-vsctl show

    Bridge my_bridge
        Port my_bridge
            Interface my_bridge
                type: internal
        Port "virt_port"
            Interface "virt_port"
    ovs_version: "2.5.0"

This is the state we reached

Connect a bridge port to the VM

The last step is to connect our newly created device ‘virt_port’ to our virtual machine.

This step implementation depends on the virtualization solution you are using. Personally, I’m using libvirt.

With libvirt, you go to the virtual machine properties (the light bulb icon) and click at the bottom on ‘add hardware’ button.

Next, you choose ‘Network’ and in ‘Network source’ you choose the ‘virt _port’ device and ‘Bridge’ for ‘Source mode’  as can seen in the following image

Congrats, we reached our goal. The virtual machine is now able to reach the internet, through our ovs bridge ‘my_bridge’.

I highly recommend to test the connectivity with a simple check of ‘ping’. In case it doesn’t work, try to repeat the steps above or post a comment on this post and I’ll try to assist.

Delete a bridge

Now that we finished with our small exercise, we can cleanup the environment.

To delete an existing bridge, use the ‘ovs-vsctl del-br’  command.

> ovs-vsctl del-br <bridge_name>

Note that it will also remove any related ports and interfaces.

Delete ports

To remove only a specific port, you can use the following command

> ovs-vsctl del-port <port_name>

Command reference

I gathered all the commands we used in this post, for an easier reference

ovs-vsctl show                               # Print summary of the ovs database content (bridges, interfaces, ports, etc)
ovs-vsctl add-br <bridge_name>               # Add a new bridge
ovs-vsctl del-br <bridge_name>               # Delete existing bridge
ovs-vsctl add-port <bridge_name> <port_name> # Add a new port in the specified bridge

ip a (= 'ip addr' = 'ip address')            # Displays addresses and their properties
ip addr del <IP address/CIDR> dev <device>   # Remove the specified address from the specified device
ip set link <interface_name> up              # Bring an interface up
ip tuntap add mode tap <device_name>         # Add TAP device


Q: You described a virtual switch and the technology is called ‘openvswitch’, but the actual commands use the word ‘bridge’, why?

A: Switch is a bridge with multiple ports, don’t let it confuse you, ‘switch’ and ‘bridge’ are usually used interchangeably.

Q: Is it possible to add two ports to a bridge with one command?

A: Yes. It can be done with ‘ovs-vsctl add-port <bridge_name> <port1> — add-port <bridge> <port2>

6 thoughts on “Open vSwitch: Introduction – Part 1

  1. This is very nice information. Thank you.
    few questions- If I have this OVS based interface connecting my VM to external world. How can I trace from VM ifconfig eth0 interface connecting to which host interface (ip address, ip link show interface)?


  2. It says
    “Unable to complete install: ‘error creating macvtap interface macvtap0@virt_port (52:54:00:8a:7f:fe): Device or resource busy'” when I try to connect the tap to my VM. Do I miss something? Is there any way to check whether my configuration is correct? The steps before “Add TAP device” are working properly.


  3. Hello,
    Please how can a permanent ip address be added to an internal vlan interface created on OpenVSwitch?
    I created vlan10 and added an ip address using
    ifconfig vlan10 netmask
    However after a reboot, the ip address disappears and I have to configure it again.
    Can I have some help?


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