While legacy inter-VLAN routing requires multiple physical interfaces on both the router and the switch, a more common, present-day implementation of inter-VLAN routing does not. Instead, some router software permits configuring a router interface as a trunk link, meaning only one physical interface is required on the router and the switch to route packets between multiple VLANs.

“Router-on-a-stick” is a type of router configuration in which a single physical interface routes traffic between multiple VLANs on a network. As seen in the figure, the router is connected to switch S1 using a single, physical network connection (a trunk).

The router interface is configured to operate as a trunk link and is connected to a switch port that is configured in trunk mode. The router performs inter-VLAN routing by accepting VLAN-tagged traffic on the trunk interface coming from the adjacent switch, and then internally routing between the VLANs using subinterfaces. The router then forwards the routed traffic, VLAN-tagged for the destination VLAN, out the same physical interface as it used to receive the traffic.

Subinterfaces are software-based virtual interfaces, associated with a single physical interface. Subinterfaces are configured in software on a router and each subinterface is independently configured with an IP address and VLAN assignment. Subinterfaces are configured for different subnets corresponding to their VLAN assignment to facilitate logical routing. After a routing decision is made based on the destination VLAN, the data frames are VLAN-tagged and sent back out the physical interface.

Click the Play button in the figure to view an animation of how a router-on-a-stick performs its routing function.

As seen in the animation:

1. PC1 on VLAN 10 is communicating with PC3 on VLAN 30 through router R1 using a single, physical router interface.

2. PC1 sends its unicast traffic to switch S2.

3. Switch S2 then tags the unicast traffic as originating on VLAN 10 and forwards the unicast traffic out its trunk link to switch S1.

4. Switch S1 forwards the tagged tra