Cisco: Port-channel load-balancing explanation [Part I]

Port-channel (or etherchannel) is a great way to increase the transport capacity between 2 switches or between a switch and an end device that suport load balancing (e.g. server). Today I don’t want to focus on how the Port-channel are configured, but more on how they load-balance the traffic over the multiple interfaces included in a bundle.

To configure the port-channel load balance, you have to be in the config mode and issue:

port-channel load-balance method


port-channel load-balance method module slot

the method can be one of the following:


Not every Cisco device support all this methods, due to hardware / IOS restrictions. Today I plan to explain the first six of this methods and in a future post the next six ones.
The understanding of the port-channel load-balance methods is not a difficult topic, rather a tricky one. That’s why I draw some basic scenarios to help you remember better each load-balance method.

I have to admit that for me was a little bit hard to remember them and how they work, so if I’ll make any mistake or you don’t understand something, please let me know in comments or by contact form.


Loads distribution on the destination IP address. It does not take into consideration the source of the packets, but only the IP destination. If the destination is the same, the packet will be forwarded over the same wire (port Fa0/1 in the image below):

As you can see the packet from Src to Dst IP A, will always take the path through port Fa0/1 in Port-channel 1. In this load-balancing mode, paths through ports Fa0/2 and Fa0/3 are not a valid choice.


Loads distribution on the destination MAC address. If destination mac-address is reachable only through one of the three ports bundled in the port-channel, then only that interface is considered a path for all the packets sent to the same mac destination:

In the image above mac-address A is reachable through port Fa0/1, so that port is considered as an acceptable path.


By keyword “port” we understand here TCP or UDP port and not physical interface. Communication for the same port (e.g. port 80) will be load-balanced over one single physical port (Fa0/1)¬† in port-channel 1. Data transfer for another port (e.g. port 25) will be directed through another interface (Fa0/2) and so on, in a round-robin manner.


Loads distribution on the source transfer or XOR-destination IP address. What this method does is to pair source and destination IP address and send all the traffic that match this rule over one physical port in port-channel. The advantage of this method over the above one is granularity. With the above method the traffic to one destination, was sent over one physical port in port-channel without taking into consideration the source. With this method, the packets to the same destination can be forwarded over different interfaces in port-channel if they are coming from different IP source.

In the example above, you see that packets with source A and destination A are fowarded over port Fa0/1. for the same destination A, but source B, a different path is taken over Fa0/2. However from the same source B to the same destination A, Fa0/3 is not a reliable path, as the traffic for this pair is already forwarded over Fa0/2.


Here we have the same principle  like in the src-dst-ip, with the difference that mac-address is considered as the load-balancing element instead of IP address:


Loads distribution on the source XOR-destination port. Port (UDP and TCP protocol) is the element taking into consideration when load-balancing in port-channel:

Even if this may look like the src-dst-mac and src-dst-ip methods actually it is different. You see above that it’s possible to load balance peer-to-peer communication (pc-to-pc if you want) if this communication is taking place over different ports. In the picture above we have port 25 and port 80 communication involving 2 machines. You can see that the traffic from source A to destination port 80 is taking port Fa0/1. From the same source to destination port 25 is taking path through interface Fa0/2. However, the same communication cannot be sent over interface Fa0/3 (as it’s already sent over Fa0/2 as part of the load-balance process). This method add even more granularity.

Come back for the next six methods of port-channel load-balance feature.

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Calin is a network engineer, with more than 20 years of experience in designing, installing, troubleshooting, and maintaining large enterprise WAN and LAN networks.

11 thoughts on “Cisco: Port-channel load-balancing explanation [Part I]”

  1. Hi Eugene!

    Sorry for delay, but I had a small vacation :), and I didn't touched any electronic device connected to Internet. I will take care of the 2nd part ASAP.

  2. On src-dst-port, can I make port 80-traffic split over the three links in the scenario above? How?

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