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The Spanning Tree Protocol (STP) is a link management protocol preventing media access control (MAC) bridge loops and broadcast delays on any local area network (LAN). Bridge loops are network loops created by multiple active station paths. STP is a data link layer protocol standardized by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 802.1D.
The Spanning Tree Protocol allows network designers to maintain automatic path redundancy in the event of active link failure, while also preventing bridge loops. Bridge loops occur when more than one computer in a network attempts to respond to a signal, which can result in flooding the network. STP determines which machine should receive – and therefore respond to – each incoming signal.
The Spanning Tree Protocol was succeeded by the Rapid Spanning Tree Protocol (RSTP) in 2001. RSTP is much faster than STP, but still retains backward compatibility with the original protocol.