Linux bridge: MAC addresses and dynamic ports

Scenario: KVM virtualization host running several bridged guests. The host has a bridge interface br0 that starts out containing only eth0, and other interfaces are dynamically added and removed from the bridge as guests are started and stopped.
The problem is, the host seems to randomly suffer some loss of connectivity (from a few to 30-40 seconds) when some guest is started or stopped. Initially one might think of something related to STP, but it turns out that it is disabled (and even then, ports appearing or disappearing should not affect existing ports).

What happens here is that, when a new guest is started, a tap interface is created and enslaved to the bridge (the tap interface is usually connected to the guest’s own ethernet interface). This interface has a name like vnet5, for example. Minor but important detail, this tap interface has a more or less random MAC address. (Note that we’re talking of the host-side tap interface, not the guest-side virtual interface, whose MAC address is configurable in the guest’s configuration file or on the command line). It is theoretically possible to set the MAC address of this host-side tap interface, but it’s quite involved and basically nobody does that (and also virt-manager has no provision to do that).

Now, by default bridge interfaces in Linux use, for their MAC address, the lowest MAC address among the enslaved interfaces. So if the newly created interface has a lower MAC, the bridge changes its MAC address and uses that of the new interface. When the guest is stopped, the tap interface is removed from the bridge and destroyed, at which point the bridge’s MAC address has to change again. Depending on when and how often guests are started/stopped, the host’s bridge interface may be changing its MAC address quite often.

Of course, this may (and does) cause connectivity problems for traffic to/from the host (fortunately, traffic to/from the guests is not affected), because neighboring computers and network devices suddenly have to update their ARP caches with the new MAC address before they can talk to the host. Depending on the traffic patterns, this may take anything from a few seconds to several tens of seconds.
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