References:NIL Network Documentation Framework

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By Ivan Pepelnjak

The NIL Network Documentation framework is an open standard-based framework that provides flexible network device configuration management and generation of network-wide documentation.

Figure 1: NIL Network Documentation Framework architecture

The main elements of the framework are:

  • Configuration collector elements that convert device-specific configuration formats into XML. Common XML schemas are used for all network devices, resulting in a unified document format that can be used by a variety of aggregator elements.
  • Documentation aggregation elements that read the device configuration documents and summarize them into a network-wide documentation. All aggregation elements generate output documents in XML format to preserve the document semantics and ensure target format independence.
  • Target format translators that convert the XML documents into Word files (using Office Open XML format), web pages (using XHTML format) or even colon-delimited or CSV-formatted text files that can be used by a wide variety of tools.

Configuration collector elements

The configuration collector elements use numerous methods to collect device configurations, including:

  • Device configuration files (when the network devices store their configuration in text file format).
  • NETCONF calls to download running or startup configuration from NETCONF-compliant devices.
  • SOAP calls to collect configuration data from devices that provide SOAP API.

Device configuration files are parsed and converted into an XML document. Results of NETCONF calls are usually translated into target XML schema using an XSLT translator.

Documentation aggregator elements

The documentation aggregator elements read multiple device configuration documents (already converted into the XML format) belonging to the same network, extract aggregator-specific data (for example, interface IP addresses, IP subnets and IP routing protocol definitions) and summarize the collected data into output XML documents.

The output XML documents use standard XML schemas (where available) or NIL-developed schemas where the standards are not yet available. The aggregator XML schemas focus on the semantic preservation – the easy access to the semantics of the output data is more important than its presentation or suitability for any particular target format.

Target format translators

The target format translators convert aggregator results or individual device configurations into desired format (usually Office Open XML, XHTML or text file). Most commonly, the translators would convert the aggregation results (for example, IP routing documentation) into multiple output formats as needed by the customers.

Figure 2: Aggregator outputs are transformed into multiple output formats

Alternatively, multiple translators can use the same XML document (for example, the device configuration in XML format) to render different aspects of the same document. The following figure displays a sample scenario where three different translators use the same router configuration data to generate an interface table (in Word document), a list of BGP neighbors and their configuration (in HTML) and a list of voice routing prefixes in a text file.

Figure 3: Multiple translators use the same router configuration document
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