How VLANs work

Traffic from multiple VLANs can traverse a link that interconnects two switches by using VLAN tagging. A VLAN tag is a unique identifier that indicates the VLAN to which a frame belongs. A VLAN tag is included in the header of every frame sent by an end-station on a VLAN.

On receiving a tagged frame, the switch inspects the frame header and, based on the VLAN tag, identifies the VLAN. The switch then forwards the frame to the destination in the identified VLAN. If the destination MAC address is unknown, the switch limits the flooding of the frame to ports that belong to the identified VLAN.


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For example, in this figure, if a member of VLAN 10 on Floor 1 sends a frame for a member of VLAN 10 on Floor 2, Switch 1 inspects the frame header for the VLAN tag (to determine the VLAN) and the destination MAC address. The destination MAC address is not known to Switch 1. Therefore, the switch forwards the frame to all other ports that belong to VLAN 10, that is, port 4 of Switch 2 and Switch 3. Similarly, Switch 2 and Switch 3 inspect the frame header. If the destination MAC address on VLAN 10 is known to either switch, that switch forwards the frame to the destination. The end-station on Floor 2 then receives the frame.