A first xBGP plugin

5 minute read

An xBGP compliant implementation such as our forks of BIRD and FRRouting supports a simple API that enables network operators and researchers to extend it. The xBGP API is defined and briefly documented in xbgp_plugin_api.h. In this post, we start with a very simple xBGP extension that we implement using a plugin.

The BGP specifications define the format of the BGP messages. The UPDATE message is the most complex BGP message since it contains the information about the new routes. BGP supports different BGP Path Attributes that are defined in various RFCs. Each of these path attributes is identified using a one byte integer. IANA maintains a list with all the known path attributes.

For our first example, we simply assume that a network operator would like to ignore the BGP UPDATE messages that contain an unknown attribute. A practical example of this usage is when problems with the processing of BGP Path attribute 128 caused the failure of BGP sessions. To support this feature, we retrieve the list of allocated BGP path attribute identifiers from IANA. We use it to create the is_known_attr macro that checks this validity.

#include "ubpf_api.h"
#include "bytecode_public.h"

#define is_known_attr(code) ( \
    ((code) == RESERVED_ATTR_ID) || \
    ((code) == ORIGIN_ATTR_ID) || \
    ((code) == AS_PATH_ATTR_ID) || \

This filter needs to be attached to the xBGP implementation at the code point where it parses an incoming BGP message, i.e., at location 1 in the figure below.

BGP insertion points

The next step is to write a small C function that parses the received message and checks the attributes that it contains.

uint64_t parse_attribute(args_t *args UNUSED) {

    uint8_t *code;
    code = get_arg(0); // argument 0 is the code attribute received from the neighbor.

    if (!code) {
        // unable to retrieve the argument (internal failure)
        return EXIT_FAILURE;

    if (!is_known_attr(*code)) {
        return EXIT_FAILURE;

    return 0;

You can experiment with this simple plugin as follows. Save your plugin as valid_attr.c.

First, the C program must be compiled to an eBPF bytecode. This can be done with the clang compiler. However for the sake of simplicity, we provide a Makefile that contains the prebuilt commands to successfully compile your plugins.

Clone our GitHub repository:

$ git clone https://github.com/pluginized-protocols/xbgp_plugins.git

The libxbgp folder must also be cloned. It contains headers that are required to interact with the eBPF userspace virtual machine. For example, they contain functions to allocate memory, retrieve arguments (get_arg) from the host implementation and using base functions such as htonl, ntohl, etc.

All your plugins must be located in the cloned folder because it contains the required headers that define the xBGP API used by the plugins.

Inside the xbgp_plugins folder, execute the following command:

$ make LIBXBGP=<path/to/the/libxbgp cloned repository>

This command will browse the entire folder and its subfolders recursively to find any .c files. For each .c file, the clang compiler will produce the associated object (.o) file. This will be the eBPF bytecode of your plugin.

Take the valid_attr.o associated with the function written previously. You are now ready to inject it inside one xBGP compliant BGP implementation. In this tutorial, we provide the steps to successfully update the FRRouting BGPD daemon. The steps are similar for BIRD routing.

Our modified version of FRR BGPD requires that each .o must be located in <config_frr_dir>/frr/plugins. By default, and depending on the compilation of FRRouting, the default configuration folder is /etc/frr/plugins.

The next step is to update the manifest. This manifest is a json formatted file that is read by the daemon at startup to include all the plugins that it contains. It is located at <config_frr_dir>/frr/plugins/manifest.json. Modify it as follows:

  "jit_all": false,
  "plugins": {
    "filter_invalid_attr": {
      "extra_mem": 128,
      "shared_mem": 0,
      "obj_code_list": {
        "invalid_attr": {
          "obj": "invalid_attr.o",
          "jit": true
  "insertion_points": {
    "bgp_decode_attr": {
      "replace": {
        "0": "invalid_attr"

This manifest contains several required fields :

  • plugins: contains the definition of all that plugins that must be loaded at startup time.
    • <plugin_name>: the identifier of the plugin. In this example, we use filter_invalid_attr
      • extra_mem: how many *bytes* to allocate for the API function. Some functions need extra memory to allocate data retrieved from the host implementation. Other functions such as ctx_malloc rely on this memory space.
      • shared_mem: how many *bytes* to allocate for the memory space shared among the pluglets of the same plugin. This memory space is used by functions of type shared_memory.
      • obj_code_list: contains the list of the pluglets that belong to the same plugin. Each pluglet must have a unique identifier. In the example, we use the identifier invalid_attr.
        • <pluglet_identifier>: the identifier associated with the actual eBPF bytecode object.
          • obj: the real name of the file containing the eBPF bytecode.
          • jit: whether or not the pluglet must be converted to x86_64 machine code (can be omitted. Default: false).
  • insertion_points: this object field defines the location of each pluglet of a given plugin inside the host BGP implementation. This field takes a list of insertion point identifiers. We want that our plugin composed of one pluglet is executed at bgp_decode_attr.
    • <insertion_point_id>: defines the list of pluglets that must be executed at this insertion_point
      • <replace|pre|post>: contains all the pluglets that will be executed in the replace, pre or post part of the insertion_point.
        • <execution order (int)>: the value associated to the int is the pluglet identifier defined in the plugin part of the manifest. In our example we want to execute the invalid_attr.o bytecode as the first pluglet of this insertion point. In the case of multiple insertion point the execution order field determines the order of execution. Pluglet 0 is executed first, then 1, …

Once the manifest has been saved and the pluglets saved in the <config_frr_dir>/etc/plugins file, you are now ready to start the BGP daemon.

To observe the filter behavior, we recommend that you use ExaBGP to generate custom attributes.

Finally, we provide a Dockerfile that includes our modified version of both BIRD and FRRouting, as well as a compiler (clang) to generate eBPF bytecodes. Currently, you need to manually to start the BGP from inside the docker. We will continue to maintain the docker to improve its configuration.