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The control plane is that part of a network which carries information necessary to establish and control the network. It is part of the theoretical framework used to understand the flow of information packets between network interfaces. References to the control plane are often included in diagrams to give a visual representation of network infrastructure.
The control plane defines the topology of a network. It is a significant concept in network routing technology. One telecom vendor calls it “the brains of the router.” It is responsible for establishing links between routers and for exchanging protocol information. A variety of routing protocols are used to define connections and manage their behavior.
Three planes are generally recognized in telecommunications: control, data and management. In this context, a “plane” is an area of operations. The control plane, which is associated with signaling, is distinct from the data plane, which carries user information. The management plane is used to manage devices and carries administrative traffic. It is considered a subset of the control plane.
In conventional networks, each of these planes are implemented into the firmware of a router. In software-defined networking (SDN), the control and data planes are decoupled, allowing for greater flexibility and dynamic control of the network architecture. Both control and data planes can then be managed through software controls.