I think I understand these concepts, but I'm a little rusty. Can someone give a concise, easy-to-understand explanation of these concepts? The planes are logical concepts, aren't they? Is this a Cisco only thing?

  • 3
    Data plane is usually called user plane in the mobile network business. Also, the term forwarding plane is occasionally used. Because this doesn't answer the question, I posted it as a comment so that people googling for the different terms can find this question.
    – juhist
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 18:30
  • Thanks! Very interesting. I can google this question myself, but there was no answer on this site :)
    – stets
    Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 19:45
  • 1
    Also "plane" just means "layer", if you were wondering. Commented Feb 3, 2017 at 11:01
  • Requirements for Separation of IP Control and Forwarding should be helpful.
    – Yihe
    Commented Apr 19, 2020 at 13:01

6 Answers 6


These terms are abstract logical concepts, much like the OSI model.

Data plane refers to all the functions and processes that forward packets/frames from one interface to another.

Control plane refers to all the functions and processes that determine which path to use. Routing protocols (such as OSPF, ISIS, EIGRP, etc...), spanning tree, LDP, etc are examples.

Management plane is all the functions you use to control and monitor devices.

These are mostly logical concepts but things like SDN (Software Defined Network) separate them into actual devices.

Finally, all manufacturers use these concepts.


Forwarding Plane - Moves packets from input to output

Control Plane - Determines how packets should be forwarded

Management Plane - Methods of configuring the control plane (CLI, SNMP, etc.)

Undestand the difference between Forwarding, Control and Management Plane


1 --- Data Plane:

These are software or hardware components of the router or switch related to routing/forwarding user data/traffic from one interface to another. In the case of routers, routing table and/or forwarding table (CEF in case of Cisco) and the routing logic constitute the data plane function. MAC Address Table and Switching logic comprise the data plane in the switches.

2 --- Control Plane: In the case of a router, these are functions/components of the router which are responsible for populating the routing table/forwarding table and hence enable the data plane functions. Examples are routing protocols such as OSPF, EIGRP, BGP, IS-IS, LDP, etc.

3 --- Management Plane:

These are components of the router that are used to manage the router/switch/device that are compliant with standard protocols such as SNMP, TELNET, SSH, NETCONF,etc

4 ---- Service Plane:

I am not absolutely sure about these, but I would assume that these might be fine distinction of management plane. For example, components that are used for automatic update or OS download and upgrade functions.

Please see the following image from Cisco Site:



Control Plane-

  1. Makes decisions about where traffic is sent
  2. Control plane packets are destined to or locally originated by the router itself
  3. The control plane functions include the system configuration, management, and exchange of routing table information
  4. Control plane packets are processed by the router to update the routing table information.

Data Plane-

  1. Also known as Forwarding Plane
  2. Forwards traffic to the next hop along the path to the selected destination network according to control plane logic
  3. Data plane packets go through the router
  4. The routers/switches use what the control plane built to dispose of incoming and outgoing frames and packets

Management Plane- User/ Operator/ Tools managing Network Infastructure


  1. management plane

Firewalls or routers for taking management access of devices through CLI or gui and SNMP protocol for monitoring the device status this management plane is used

2 )Control plane

Firewall or routers runs control plane for sharing routing information among adjacency devices for routing protocols like static ,RIP , OSPG and EIGRP , BGP to populate and advertise routing information among adjacency device this control plane is used.

3)Data plane

Data plane is used by firewalls or routers while forwarding packets or frames along with payload to destination this data plane is used. Before forwarding packets to destination controls planes will be used to give routing information based on this routing information data planes runs the router or firewall to forward packet to destination.


The control plane makes the decision about how traffic should be prioritized and secured and where it should be switched ie its means than its for configuration and management and the data plane decides where the packets arriving (destination)forwarding

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    Welcome to NE, Musaba . Management functions are considered to be in the management pane.
    – Ron Trunk
    Commented Jul 4, 2019 at 18:50

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