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2.3. The Structure of Management Information

So far, we have used the term "management information" to refer to the operational parameters of SNMP-capable devices. However, we've said very little about what management information actually contains or how it is represented. The first step toward understanding what kind of information a device can provide is to understand how this data itself is represented within the context of SNMP. The Structure of Management Information Version 1(SMIv1, RFC 1155) does exactly that: it defines precisely how managed objects[7] are named and specifies their associated datatypes. The Structure of Management Information Version 2 (SMIv2, RFC 2578) provides enhancements for SNMPv2. We'll start by discussing SMIv1 and will discuss SMIv2 in the next section.

[7]For the remainder of this book "management information" will be referred to as "managed objects." Similarly, a single piece of management information (such as the operational status of a router interface) will be known as a "managed object."

The definition of managed objects can be broken down into three attributes:

Name
The name, or object identifier(OID), uniquely defines a managed object. Names commonly appear in two forms: numeric and "human readable." In either case, the names are long and inconvenient. In SNMP applications, a lot of work goes into helping you navigate through the namespace conveniently.

Type and syntax
A managed object's datatype is defined using a subset of Abstract Syntax Notation One(ASN.1). ASN.1 is a way of specifying how data is represented and transmitted between managers and agents, within the context of SNMP. The nice thing about ASN.1 is that the notation is machine-independent. This means that a PC running Windows NT can communicate with a Sun SPARC machine and not have to worry about things such as byte ordering.

Encoding
A single instance of a managed object is encoded into a string of octets using the Basic Encoding Rules(BER). BER defines how the objects are encoded and decoded so they can be transmitted over a transport medium such as Ethernet.

2.3.1. Naming OIDs

Managed objects are organized into a tree-like hierarchy. This structure is the basis for SNMP's naming scheme. An object ID is made up of a series of integers based on the nodes in the tree, separated by dots (.). Although there's a human-readable form that's more friendly than a string of numbers, this form is nothing more than a series of names separated by dots, each of which represents a node of the tree. So you can use the numbers themselves, or you can use a sequence of names that represent the numbers. Figure 2-2 shows the top few levels of this tree. (We have intentionally left out some branches of the tree that don't concern us here.)

Figure 2-2

Figure 2-2. SMI object tree

In the object tree, the node at the top of the tree is called the root, anything with children is called a subtree, and anything without children is called a leaf node. For example, Figure 2-2's root, the starting point for the tree, is called "Root-Node." Its subtree is made up of ccitt(0), iso(1), and joint(2). In this illustration, iso(1) is the only node that contains a subtree; the other two nodes are both leaf nodes. ccitt(0) and joint(2) do not pertain to SNMP, so they will not be discussed in this book.[8]

[8]The ccitt subtree is administered by the International Telegraph and Telephone Consultative Committee (CCITT); the joint subtree is administered jointly by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and CCITT. As we said, neither branch has anything to do with SNMP.

For the remainder of this book we will focus on the iso(1).org(3).dod(6 ).internet(1) subtree,[9] which is represented in OID form as 1.3.6.1 or as iso.org.dod.internet. Each managed object has a numerical OID and an associated textual name. The dotted-decimal notation is how a managed object is represented internally within an agent; the textual name, like an IP domain name, saves humans from having to remember long, tedious strings of integers.

[9]Note that the term "branch" is sometimes used interchangeably with "subtree."

The directory branch currently is not used. The management branch, or mgmt, defines a standard set of Internet management objects. The experimental branch is reserved for testing and research purposes. Objects under the private branch are defined unilaterally, which means that individuals and organizations are responsible for defining the objects under this branch. Here is the definition of the internet subtree, as well as all four of its subtrees:

internet      OBJECT IDENTIFIER ::= { iso org(3) dod(6) 1 }
directory     OBJECT IDENTIFIER ::= { internet 1 }
mgmt          OBJECT IDENTIFIER ::= { internet 2 }
experimental  OBJECT IDENTIFIER ::= { internet 3 }
private       OBJECT IDENTIFIER ::= { internet 4 }
The first line declares internet as the OID 1.3.6.1, which is defined as a subtree of iso.org.dod, or 1.3.6 (the ::= is a definition operator). The last four declarations are similar, but they define the other branches that belong to internet. For the directory branch, the notation { internet 1 } tells us that it is part of the internet subtree, and that its OID is 1.3.6.1.1. The OID for mgmt is 1.3.6.1.2, and so on.

There is currently one branch under the private subtree. It's used to give hardware and software vendors the ability to define their own private objects for any type of hardware or software they want managed by SNMP. Its SMI definition is:

enterprises   OBJECT IDENTIFIER ::= { private 1 }
The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) currently manages all the private enterprise number assignments for individuals, institutions, organizations, companies, etc.[10] A list of all the current private enterprise numbers can be obtained from ftp://ftp.isi.edu/in-notes/iana/assignments/enterprise-numbers. As an example, Cisco Systems's private enterprise number is 9, so the base OID for its private object space is defined as iso.org.dod.internet.private.enterprises.cisco, or 1.3.6.1.4.1.9. Cisco is free to do as it wishes with this private branch. It's typical for companies such as Cisco that manufacture networking equipment to define their own private enterprise objects. This allows for a richer set of management information than can be gathered from the standard set of managed objects defined under the mgmt branch.

[10]The term "private enterprise" will be used throughout this book to refer to the enterprises branch.

Companies aren't the only ones who can register their own private enterprise numbers. Anyone can do so, and it's free. The web-based form for registering private enterprise numbers can be found at http://www.isi.edu/cgi-bin/iana/enterprise.pl. After you fill in the form, which asks for information such as your organization's name and contact information, your request should be approved in about a week. Why would you want to register your own number? When you become more conversant in SNMP, you'll find things you want to monitor that aren't covered by any MIB, public or private. With your own enterprise number, you can create your own private MIB that allows you to monitor exactly what you want. You'll need to be somewhat clever in extending your agents so that they can look up the information you want, but it's very doable.

2.3.2. Defining OIDs

The SYNTAX attribute provides for definitions of managed objects through a subset of ASN.1. SMIv1 defines several datatypes that are paramount to the management of networks and network devices. It's important to keep in mind that these datatypes are simply a way to define what kind of information a managed object can hold. The types we'll be discussing are similar to those that you'd find in a computer programming language like C. Table 2-1 lists the supported datatypes for SMIv1.

Table 2-1. SMIv1 Datatypes

Datatype

Description

INTEGER
A 32-bit number often used to specify enumerated types within the context of a single managed object. For example, the operational status of a router interface can be up, down, or testing. With enumerated types, 1 would represent up, 2 down, and 3 testing. The value zero (0) must not be used as an enumerated type, according to RFC 1155.

OCTET STRING
A string of zero or more octets (more commonly known as bytes) generally used to represent text strings, but also sometimes used to represent physical addresses.

Counter
A 32-bit number with minimum value 0 and maximum value 232 - 1 (4,294,967,295). When the maximum value is reached, it wraps back to zero and starts over. It's primarily used to track information such as the number of octets sent and received on an interface or the number of errors and discards seen on an interface. A Counter is monotonically increasing, in that its values should never decrease during normal operation. When an agent is rebooted, all Counter values should be set to zero. Deltas are used to determine if anything useful can be said for successive queries of Counter values. A delta is computed by querying a Counter at least twice in a row, and taking the difference between the query results over some time interval.

OBJECT IDENTIFIER
A dotted-decimal string that represents a managed object within the object tree. For example, 1.3.6.1.4.1.9 represents Cisco Systems's private enterprise OID.

NULL
Not currently used in SNMP.

SEQUENCE
Defines lists that contain zero or more other ASN.1 datatypes.

SEQUENCE OF
Defines a managed object that is made up of a SEQUENCE of ASN.1 types.

IpAddress
Represents a 32-bit IPv4 address. Neither SMIv1 nor SMIv2 discusses 128-bit IPv6 addresses; this problem will be addressed by the IETF's SMI Next Generation (SMING) working group (see http://www.ietf.org/html.charters/sming-charter.html ).

NetworkAddress
Same as the IpAddress type, but can represent different network address types.

Gauge
A 32-bit number with minimum value 0 and maximum value 232 - 1 (4,294,967,295). Unlike a Counter, a Gauge can increase and decrease at will, but it can never exceed its maximum value. The interface speed on a router is measured with a Gauge.

TimeTicks
A 32-bit number with minimum value 0 and maximum value 232 - 1 (4,294,967,295). TimeTicks measures time in hundredths of a second. Uptime on a device is measured using this datatype.

Opaque
Allows any other ASN.1 encoding to be stuffed into an OCTET STRING.

The goal of all these object types is to define managed objects. In Chapter 1, "What Is SNMP?", we said that a MIB is a logical grouping of managed objects as they pertain to a specific management task, vendor, etc. The MIB can be thought of as a specification that defines the managed objects a vendor or device supports. Cisco, for instance, has literally hundreds of MIBs defined for its vast product line. For example, its Catalyst device has a separate MIB from its 7000 series router. Both devices have different characteristics that require different management capabilities. Vendor-specific MIBs typically are distributed as human-readable text files that can be inspected (or even modified) with a standard text editor such as vi.

TIP: Most modern NMS products maintain a compact form of all the MIBs that define the set of managed objects for all the different types of devices they're responsible for managing. NMS administrators will typically compile a vendor's MIB into a format the NMS can use. Once a MIB has been loaded or compiled, administrators can refer to managed objects using either the numeric or human-readable object ID.

It's important to know how to read and understand MIB files. The following example is a stripped-down version of MIB-II (anything preceded by -- is a comment):

RFC1213-MIB DEFINITIONS ::= BEGIN

          IMPORTS
                  mgmt, NetworkAddress, IpAddress, Counter, Gauge,
                  TimeTicks
                          FROM RFC1155-SMI
                  OBJECT-TYPE
                          FROM RFC 1212;

          mib-2      OBJECT IDENTIFIER ::= { mgmt 1 }

-- groups in MIB-II

          system       OBJECT IDENTIFIER ::= { mib-2 1 }
          interfaces   OBJECT IDENTIFIER ::= { mib-2 2 }
          at           OBJECT IDENTIFIER ::= { mib-2 3 }
          ip           OBJECT IDENTIFIER ::= { mib-2 4 }
          icmp         OBJECT IDENTIFIER ::= { mib-2 5 }
          tcp          OBJECT IDENTIFIER ::= { mib-2 6 }
          udp          OBJECT IDENTIFIER ::= { mib-2 7 }
          egp          OBJECT IDENTIFIER ::= { mib-2 8 }
          transmission OBJECT IDENTIFIER ::= { mib-2 10 }
          snmp         OBJECT IDENTIFIER ::= { mib-2 11 }
        
          -- the Interfaces table

          -- The Interfaces table contains information on the entity's
          -- interfaces. Each interface is thought of as being
          -- attached to a 'subnetwork.' Note that this term should
          -- not be confused with 'subnet,' which refers to an
          -- addressing-partitioning scheme used in the Internet
          -- suite of protocols.

          ifTable OBJECT-TYPE
              SYNTAX  SEQUENCE OF IfEntry
              ACCESS  not-accessible
              STATUS  mandatory
              DESCRIPTION
                  "A list of interface entries. The number of entries is
                   given by the value of ifNumber."
              ::= { interfaces 2 }

          ifEntry OBJECT-TYPE
              SYNTAX  IfEntry
              ACCESS  not-accessible
              STATUS  mandatory
              DESCRIPTION
                  "An interface entry containing objects at the subnetwork
                   layer and below for a particular interface."
              INDEX   { ifIndex }
              ::= { ifTable 1 }

          IfEntry ::=
              SEQUENCE {
                  ifIndex
                      INTEGER,
                  ifDescr
                      DisplayString,
                  ifType
                      INTEGER,
                  ifMtu
                      INTEGER,
                  ifSpeed
                      Gauge,
                  ifPhysAddress
                      PhysAddress,
                  ifAdminStatus
                      INTEGER,
                  ifOperStatus
                      INTEGER,
                  ifLastChange
                      TimeTicks,
                  ifInOctets
                      Counter,
                  ifInUcastPkts
                      Counter,
                  ifInNUcastPkts
                      Counter,
                  ifInDiscards
                      Counter,
                  ifInErrors
                      Counter,
                  ifInUnknownProtos
                      Counter,
                  ifOutOctets
                      Counter,
                  ifOutUcastPkts
                      Counter,
                  ifOutNUcastPkts
                      Counter,
                  ifOutDiscards
                      Counter,
                  ifOutErrors
                      Counter,
                  ifOutQLen
                      Gauge,
                  ifSpecific
                      OBJECT IDENTIFIER
              }

          ifIndex OBJECT-TYPE
              SYNTAX  INTEGER
              ACCESS  read-only
              STATUS  mandatory
              DESCRIPTION
                  "A unique value for each interface. Its value ranges
                   between 1 and the value of ifNumber. The value for each
                   each interface must remain constant at least from one 
                   reinitialization of the entity's network-management
                   system to the next reinitialization." 

              ::= { ifEntry 1 }

          ifDescr OBJECT-TYPE
              SYNTAX  DisplayString (SIZE (0..255))
              ACCESS  read-only
              STATUS  mandatory
              DESCRIPTION
                  "A textual string containing information about the
                   interface. This string should include the name of
                   the manufacturer, the product name, and the version
                   of the hardware interface."
              ::= { ifEntry 2 }

END
The first line of this file defines the name of the MIB, in this case RFC1213-MIB. (RFC 1213 is the RFC that defines MIB-II; many of the MIBs we refer to are defined by RFCs). The format of this definition is always the same. The IMPORTS section of the MIB is sometimes referred to as the linkage section. It allows you to import datatypes and OIDs from other MIB files using the IMPORTS clause. This MIB imports the following items from RFC1155-SMI (RFC 1155 defines SMIv1, which we discussed earlier in this chapter):

  • mgmt

  • NetworkAddress

  • IpAddress

  • Counter

  • Gauge

  • TimeTicks

It also imports OBJECT-TYPE from RFC 1212, the Concise MIB Definition, which defines how MIB files are written. Each group of items imported using the IMPORTS clause uses a FROM clause to define the MIB file from which the objects are taken.

The OIDs that will be used throughout the remainder of the MIB follow the linkage section. This group of lines sets up the top level of the mib-2 subtree. mib-2 is defined as mgmt followed by .1. We saw earlier that mgmt was equivalent to 1.3.6.1.2. Therefore, mib-2 is equivalent to 1.3.6.1.2.1. Likewise, the interfaces group under mib-2 is defined as { mib-2 2 }, or 1.3.6.1.2.1.2.

After the OIDs are defined, we get to the actual object definitions. Every object definition has the following format:

<name> OBJECT-TYPE
    SYNTAX <datatype>
    ACCESS <either read-only, read-write, write-only, or not-accessible>
    STATUS <either mandatory, optional, or obsolete>
    DESCRIPTION 
        "Textual description describing this particular managed object."
    ::= { <Unique OID that defines this object> }     
The first managed object in our subset of the MIB-II definition is ifTable, which represents a table of network interfaces on a managed device (note that object names are defined using mixed case, with the first letter in lowercase). Here is its definition using ASN.1 notation:

ifTable OBJECT-TYPE
    SYNTAX  SEQUENCE OF IfEntry
    ACCESS  not-accessible
    STATUS  mandatory
    DESCRIPTION
        "A list of interface entries. The number of entries is given by
         the value of ifNumber."
    ::= { interfaces 2 }
The SYNTAX of ifTable is SEQUENCE OF IfEntry. This means that ifTable is a table containing the columns defined in IfEntry. The object is not-accessible, which means that there is no way to query an agent for this object's value. Its status is mandatory, which means an agent must implement this object in order to comply with the MIB-II specification. The DESCRIPTION describes what exactly this object is. The unique OID is 1.3.6.1.2.1.2.2, or iso.org.dod.internet.mgmt.interfaces.2.

Let's now look at the SEQUENCE definition from the MIB file earlier in this section, which is used with the SEQUENCE OF type in the ifTable definition:

IfEntry ::=
    SEQUENCE {
        ifIndex
            INTEGER,
        ifDescr
            DisplayString,
        ifType
            INTEGER,
        ifMtu
            INTEGER,
        .
        .
        .
        ifSpecific
            OBJECT IDENTIFIER
    }
Note that the name of the sequence (IfEntry) is mixed-case, but the first letter is capitalized, unlike the object definition for ifTable. This is how a sequence name is defined. A sequence is simply a list of columnar objects and their SMI datatypes, which defines a conceptual table. In this case, we expect to find variables defined by ifIndex, ifDescr, ifType, etc. This table can contain any number of rows; it's up to the agent to manage the rows that reside in the table. It is possible for an NMS to add rows to a table. This operation is covered later, in Section 2.6.4, "The set Operation".

Now that we have IfEntry to specify what we'll find in any row of the table, we can look back to the definition of ifEntry (the actual rows of the table) itself:

ifEntry OBJECT-TYPE
    SYNTAX  IfEntry
    ACCESS  not-accessible
    STATUS  mandatory
    DESCRIPTION
        "An interface entry containing objects at the subnetwork layer
         and below for a particular interface."
    INDEX   { ifIndex }
    ::= { ifTable 1 }
ifEntry
defines a particular row in the ifTable. Its definition is almost identical to that of ifTable, except we have introduced a new clause, INDEX. The index is a unique key used to define a single row in the ifTable. It's up to the agent to make sure the index is unique within the context of the table. If a router has six interfaces, ifTable will have six rows in it. ifEntry's OID is 1.3.6.1.2.1.2.2.1, or iso.org.dod.internet.mgmt.interfaces.ifTable.ifEntry. The index for ifEntry is ifIndex, which is defined as:

ifIndex OBJECT-TYPE
    SYNTAX  INTEGER
    ACCESS  read-only
    STATUS  mandatory
    DESCRIPTION
        "A unique value for each interface. Its value ranges between
         1 and the value of ifNumber. The value for each interface
         must remain constant at least from one reinitialization of the
         entity's network-management system to the next reinitialization." 
       ::= { ifEntry 1 }
The ifIndex object is read-only, which means we can see its value, but we cannot change it. The final object our MIB defines is ifDescr, which is a textual description for the interface represented by that particular row in the ifTable. Our MIB example ends with the END clause, which marks the end of the MIB. In the actual MIB-II files, each object listed in the IfEntry sequence has its own object definition. In this version of the MIB we list only two of them, in the interest of conserving space.



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