Fiber distributed data interface (FDDI)

The Fiber Distributed Data Interface (FDDI) specifies a 100-Mbps token-passing, dual-ring LAN using fiber-optic cable. FDDI is frequently used as high-speed backbone technology because of its support for high bandwidth and greater distances than copper. It should be noted that relatively recently, a related copper specification, called Copper Distributed Data Interface (CDDI), has emerged to provide 100-Mbps service over copper. CDDI is the implementation
of FDDI protocols over twisted-pair copper wire. This chapter focuses mainly on FDDI specifications and operations, but it also provides a high-level overview of CDDI.

FDDI uses dual-ring architecture with traffic on each ring flowing in opposite directions (called counter-rotating). The dual rings consist of a primary and a secondary ring. During normal operation, the primary ring is used for data transmission, and the secondary ring remains idle. As will be discussed in detail later in this chapter, the primary purpose of the dual rings is to provide superior reliability and robustness. Figure 8-1 shows the counter-rotating primary and secondary FDDI rings.


FDDI was developed by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) X3T9.5 standards committee in the mid-1980s. At the time, high-speed engineering workstations were beginning to tax the bandwidth of existing local-area networks (LANs) based on Ethernet and Token Ring. A new LAN media was needed that could easily support these workstations and their new distributed applications. At the same time, network reliability had become an increasingly important issue as system managers migrated mission-critical applications from large computers to networks. FDDI was developed to fill these needs. After completing the FDDI specification, ANSI submitted FDDI to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), which created an international version of FDDI that is completely compatible with the ANSI standard version.

FDDI Transmission Media

FDDI uses optical fiber as the primary transmission medium, but it also can run over copper cabling. As mentioned earlier, FDDI over copper is referred to as Copper-Distributed Data Interface (CDDI). Optical fiber has several advantages over copper media. In particular, security, reliability, and performance all are enhanced with optical fiber media because fiber does not emit electrical signals. A physical medium that does emit electrical signals (copper) can be tapped and therefore would permit unauthorized access to the data that is transiting the medium. In addition, fiber is immune to electrical interference from radio frequency interference (RFI) and electromagnetic interference (EMI). Fiber historically has supported much higher bandwidth (throughput potential) than copper, although recent technological advances have made copper capable of transmitting at 100 Mbps. Finally, FDDI allows 2 km between stations using multimode fiber, and even longer distances using a single mode.

FDDI defines two types of optical fiber: single-mode and multimode. A mode is a ray of light that enters the fiber at a particular angle. Multimode fiber uses LED as the light-generating device, while single-mode fiber generally uses lasers.

Multimode fiber allows multiple modes of light to propagate through the fiber. Because these modes of light enter the fiber at different angles, they will arrive at the end of the fiber at different times. This characteristic is known as modal dispersion. Modal dispersion limits the bandwidth and distances that can be accomplished using multimode fibers. For this reason, multimode fiber is generally used for connectivity within a building or a relatively geographically contained environment.

Single-mode fiber allows only one mode of light to propagate through the fiber. Because only a single mode of light is used, modal dispersion is not present with single-mode fiber. Therefore, single-mode fiber is capable of delivering considerably higher performance connectivity over much larger distances, which is why it generally is used for connectivity between buildings and within environments that are more geographically dispersed.

FDDI Specifications

FDDI specifies the physical and media-access portions of the OSI reference model. FDDI is not actually a single specification, but it is a collection of four separate specifications, each with a specific function. Combined, these specifications have the capability to provide high-speed connectivity between upper-layer protocols such as TCP/IP and IPX, and media such as fiber-optic cabling.

FDDI's four specifications are the Media Access Control (MAC), Physical Layer
Protocol (PHY), Physical-Medium Dependent (PMD), and Station Management (SMT) specifications. The MAC specification defines how the medium is accessed, including frame format, token handling, addressing, algorithms for calculating cyclic redundancy check (CRC) value, and error-recovery mechanisms. The PHY specification defines data encoding/decoding procedures, clocking requirements, and framing, among other functions. The PMD specification defines the characteristics of the transmission medium, including fiber-optic links, power levels, bit-error rates, optical components, and connectors. The SMT specification defines FDDI station configuration, ring configuration, and ring control features, including station insertion and removal, initialization, fault isolation and recovery, scheduling, and statistics collection.

FDDI is similar to IEEE 802.3 Ethernet and IEEE 802.5 Token Ring in its relationship with the OSI model. Its primary purpose is to provide connectivity between upper OSI layers of common protocols and the media used to connect network devices. Figure 8-3 illustrates the four FDDI specifications and their relationship to each other and to the IEEE-defined Logical Link Control (LLC) sublayer. The LLC sublayer is a component of Layer 2, the MAC layer, of the OSI reference model.

FDDI Station-Attachment Types

One of the unique characteristics of FDDI is that multiple ways actually exist by which to connect FDDI devices. FDDI defines four types of devices: single-attachment station (SAS), dual-attachment station (DAS), single-attached concentrator (SAC), and dual-attached concentrator (DAC).

An SAS attaches to only one ring (the primary) through a concentrator. One of the primary advantages of connecting devices with SAS attachments is that the devices will not have any effect on the FDDI ring if they are disconnected or powered off. Concentrators will be covered in more detail in the following discussion.

Each FDDI DAS has two ports, designated A and B. These ports connect the DAS to the dual FDDI ring. Therefore, each port provides a connection for both the primary and the secondary rings. As you will see in the next section, devices using DAS connections will affect the rings if they are disconnected or powered off. Figure 8-4 shows FDDI DAS A and B ports with attachments to the primary and secondary rings.

FDDI Frame Fields

The following descriptions summarize the FDDI data frame and token fields illustrated in Figure 8-10.

Preamble—Gives a unique sequence that prepares each station for an upcoming frame.

Start delimiter—Indicates the beginning of a frame by employing a signaling pattern that differentiates it from the rest of the frame.

Frame control—Indicates the size of the address fields and whether the frame contains asynchronous or synchronous data, among other control information.

Destination address—Contains a unicast (singular), multicast (group), or broadcast (every station) address. As with Ethernet and Token Ring addresses, FDDI destination addresses are 6 bytes long.

Source address—Identifies the single station that sent the frame. As with Ethernet and Token Ring addresses, FDDI source addresses are 6 bytes long.

Data—Contains either information destined for an upper-layer protocol or control information.

Frame check sequence (FCS)—Is filed by the source station with a calculated cyclic redundancy check value dependent on frame contents (as with Token Ring and Ethernet). The destination address recalculates the value to determine whether the frame was damaged in transit. If so, the frame is discarded.

End delimiter—Contains unique symbols; cannot be data symbols that indicate the end of the frame.

Frame status—Allows the source station to determine whether an error occurred; identifies whether the frame was recognized and copied by a receiving station.

provides a standard for data transmission in a local area network that can extend in range up to 200 kilometers (124 miles). Although FDDI protocol is a token ring network, it does not use the IEEE 802.5 token ring protocol as its basis; instead, its protocol is derived from the IEEE 802.4 token bus timed token protocol. In addition to covering large geographical areas, FDDI local area networks can support thousands of users. As a standard underlying medium it uses optical fiber (though it can use copper cable, in which case one can refer to CDDI). FDDI uses a dual-attached, counter-rotating token ring topology.

FDDI, as a product of American National Standards Institute X3T9.5 (now X3T12), conforms to the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model of functional layering of LANs using other protocols. FDDI-II, a version of FDDI, adds the capability to add circuit-switched service to the network so that it can also handle voice and video signals. Work has started to connect FDDI networks to the developing Synchronous Optical Network SONET.

A FDDI network contains two token rings, one for possible backup in case the primary ring fails. The primary ring offers up to 100 Mbit/s capacity. When a network has no requirement for the secondary ring to do backup, it can also carry data, extending capacity to 200 Mbit/s. The single ring can extend the maximum distance; a dual ring can extend 100 km (62 miles). FDDI has a larger maximum-frame size than standard 100 Mbit/s Ethernet, allowing better throughput.

Designers normally construct FDDI rings in the form of a "dual ring of trees" (see network topology). A small number of devices (typically infrastructure devices such as routers and concentrators rather than host computers) connect to both rings - hence the term "dual-attached". Host computers then connect as single-attached devices to the routers or concentrators. The dual ring in its most degenerate form simply collapses into a single device. Typically, a computer-room contains the whole dual ring, although some implementations have deployed FDDI as a Metropolitan area network.

FDDI requires this network topology because the dual ring actually passes through each connected device and requires each such device to remain continuously operational (the standard actually allows for optical bypasses, but network engineers consider these unreliable and error-prone). Devices such as workstations and minicomputers that might not come under the control of the network managers are not suitable for connection to the dual ring.

As an alternative to using a dual-attached connection, a workstation can obtain the same degree of resilience through a dual-homed connection made simultaneously to two separate devices in the same FDDI ring. One of the connections becomes active while the other one is automatically blocked. If the first connection fails, the backup link takes over with no perceptible delay.

Due to their speed, cost and ubiquity, fast Ethernet and (since 1998) Gigabit Ethernet have largely made FDDI redundant.

FDDI standards include:

  • ANSI X3.166-1989, Physical Medium Dependent (PMD) -- also ISO 9314-3
  • ANSI X3.148-1988, Physical Layer Protocol (PHY) -- also ISO 9314-1
  • ANSI X3.139-1987, Media Access Control (MAC) -- also ISO 9314-2
  • ANSI X3.229-1994, Station Management (SMT) -- also ISO 9314-6
  • ANSI X3.184-1993, Single Mode Fiber Physical Medium Dependent (SMF-PMD) -- also ISO 9314-4