Northbound Interface


A Northbound Interface is a term used in networking and software-defined technologies, referring to the communication between a higher-level, abstracted layer and a lower-level, more concrete layer in an architecture. This interface is typically an Application Programming Interface (API), which allows the higher-level management systems (such as orchestrations, automation tools, or administration consoles) to access and control lower-level components, like switches and routers. In essence, it is a connection point between the network services and the applications managing them.

Key Takeaways

  1. Northbound interfaces are used in network management systems to provide a communication link between the management platform and higher-level systems like orchestration platforms and analytics tools.
  2. These interfaces are typically based on APIs or other data exchange mechanisms that allow for effective integration and automation, enabling management systems to expose data and functionality to other systems.
  3. Northbound interfaces contribute to improving the overall network performance, enabling more efficient resource allocation, faster application deployment, and better monitoring of network infrastructure.


The term Northbound Interface holds great importance in the technology sector, particularly within the realm of networking and software-defined networking (SDN) systems.

This interface serves as the communication channel between the SDN controller and higher-level management systems or applications, facilitating the efficient exchange of network information and instructions.

By enabling a standardized and programmable approach to network management, Northbound Interfaces alleviate network administration complexities, simplify network design, and promote flexibility in system configurations.

As a result, these interfaces play a critical role in optimizing network performance, reducing operating costs, fostering greater integration between various systems, and supporting ongoing innovation in the technology industry.


The primary purpose of a Northbound Interface is to facilitate seamless communication and interaction between a lower-level system component and a higher-level management platform. Within a software-defined networking (SDN) architecture, the Northbound Interface serves as the pivotal link between the SDN controller and various applications while ensuring the standardization of information exchange between them. This interaction allows businesses and organizations to acquire better, centralized control over their network elements and effectively manage resources.

As a result, the Northbound Interface demonstrates its importance in streamlining network management processes and optimizing operational efficiency. One of the key uses of a Northbound Interface is the exposure of a simple and unified Application Programming Interface (API) for diverse applications. These APIs empower developers to integrate different network functionalities and services into applications ranging from security tools, traffic management, and network monitoring, to cloud orchestration platforms.

Another crucial benefit of Northbound Interfaces is the significant boost to application innovation and extensibility. By providing a platform where developers can create and customize applications according to their specific requirements and objectives, the adoption of SDN can be accelerated, and applications can be adapted to an ever-evolving networking landscape. In conclusion, Northbound Interfaces play a vital role in amplifying the benefits of SDN by bridging the gap between network controllers and applications, fostering a more dynamic and agile networking ecosystem.

Examples of Northbound Interface

Northbound interfaces are used in software-defined networking (SDN) to allow communication between the SDN controller and the applications and services that rely on the SDN to connect and manage devices in a network. Here are three real-world examples of Northbound Interfaces:

OpenDaylight (ODL) Platform: The OpenDaylight Platform is an open-source SDN controller that provides a variety of Northbound APIs to support integration with various applications and tools. For example, the ODL controller’s Northbound interface communicates with applications like network virtualization, traffic engineering, and multicast services, providing a way to manage the underlying network without direct interaction with individual network devices.

Open Networking Operating System (ONOS): ONOS is an open-source SDN controller designed for high performance, scalability, and reliability in large networks. ONOS provides a Northbound interface that allows applications like Intent-based networking, network topology discovery, and policy-based routing to interact with the SDN controller. Applications can use ONOS’s Northbound APIs to request network services, and the ONOS controller takes care of all the underlying management and configuration of the network devices.

Cisco Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC): The Cisco APIC is an SDN controller specifically designed for managing Cisco Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) solutions. The APIC provides a Northbound API that allows administrators to build custom applications, scripts, and tools for managing and automating network services in their Cisco ACI fabric. This Northbound interface allows external systems to interact with the APIC and gain the needed information or control over the network devices to implement the desired configuration, policy enforcement, or monitoring tasks.

FAQ Section: Northbound Interface

1. What is a Northbound Interface?

A Northbound Interface is a type of Application Programming Interface (API) that enables communication between higher-level software applications and network devices or services. It allows network management systems or orchestrators to access, control, and manage network devices, while providing data about the health and performance of the network.

2. What are the uses of a Northbound Interface?

Northbound Interfaces are mainly used for network management, service provisioning, and monitoring purposes. They enable centralized control of networking resources, streamline the integration of various network components, and support cross-domain automation. Additionally, they facilitate network scalability by providing an efficient way to add, modify, or remove network elements.

3. How does a Northbound Interface differ from a Southbound Interface?

While Northbound Interfaces involve communication between higher-level software applications and network elements, Southbound Interfaces focus on the communication between network elements themselves, such as switches and routers. Southbound Interfaces generally enable network control and management by providing instructions to the devices, while Northbound Interfaces provide data and allow users to interact with those devices.

4. Are there any specific protocols or standards for Northbound Interfaces?

There is no specific protocol or standard for Northbound Interfaces, as they can vary based on the vendor, technology, or underlying network architecture. Some common protocols used for Northbound communication include RESTful APIs, SNMP, and NETCONF. However, there are numerous open-source and commercial solutions available which can be adapted to specific needs.

5. What are some examples of Northbound Interfaces in popular network architectures?

In Software-Defined Networking (SDN), the Northbound Interface connects the SDN controller with applications and services that utilize the network. Another example would be the Northbound Interface in Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) management and orchestration systems, which facilitate centralized management of the virtualized network infrastructure.

6. What are the benefits of using Northbound Interfaces in network management?

Northbound Interfaces offer numerous benefits, such as centralized network control, improved manageability, real-time network monitoring, and enhanced networking capabilities. They also enable network automation and orchestration, which can lead to increased operational efficiency, reduced opex, and improved service agility.

Related Technology Terms

  • Application Programming Interface (API)
  • Software-Defined Networking (SDN)
  • Southbound Interface
  • Network Management System (NMS)
  • OpenFlow Protocol

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