What Came First: VLANs or VRFs?

One of my friends sent me this question:

Do you remember if VLANs came first or was it VRFs?

I remember VLANs using ISL (pre-802.1q encapsulation) on early Cisco Ethernet switches (mid 90s), the earliest reference I could track down on Wikipedia is from 1988.

The first time I've seen multiple independent routing tables on the same device (VRFs) was in IOS 12.0T (the initial MPLS/VPN release) released sometimes in 2000 (at least according to when my MPLS/VPN book was published).

There might have been other products out there using VRF-like constructs before MPLS/VPN (Shasta comes to mind, but it started in 1998), so it looks like VLANs predate VRFs by a decade or so.

Have I missed something? Were there networking devices with multiple routing and forwarding tables before 1998… apart from IBM mainframes running two partitions ;) Please write a comment if you remember them.


  1. I don't think there was anything pre 1998. Cisco Tag Switching (RFC 2105) came out around 1997/1998 and that became MPLS in the end. That's what gave us VRFs and VRF-Lite is simplified version of MPLS VRFs.
  2. What is it good for knowing which was first? Wow Ivan is even working on sundays, what an attitude.
  3. It isn't really everything people mean when they say VRF, but CONFIG_IP_MULTIPLE_TABLES went into Linux with 2.1.68, so 1997.
  4. I think it has nothing to do with Cisco or so; VLANS where introduced by companies like Kalpana, Grand Junction and bought by Cisco in 1994 and after, not introduced by them; others where 3Com, Synoptics, so it was arround 1993/94 when first VLANs where introduced; there where as well proprietary solutions for switching as well as for routing; I remember Fibronics with a simple virtualized switch solution; but this firts IP switch company unfortunately I dont remenber; all long before VR's at all; and there was also an early standard in Ethernet for the protocolltype; some NIC vendors allowed it arround 1992 to code the type by the adapter in flash ROM; this allowed to have multiple virtual networks on the same cable; was nice thinking at this time; it's light years back by talking about assingning cnames to v6 and container networking;
  5. I remember 3Com switches in the early-mid 90s that had local VLANs but not trunking technologies (no ISL, not 802.1q)
  6. As i recall that is correct. In 2000, Dan Tappan was writing the VRF code in cisco. I wanted VR for "virtual router" he and Eric Rosen wanted "Virtual Forwarder". The compromise became VRF. ("Virtual router Forwarder")
    And of course I could type "sh ip vr" as an abbreviation...
  7. I remember this technology first emerging too, although I couldn't put an exact date to it. I must be showing my age, but I remember the very first computer going on sale too!
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