When I was studying all the basic concepts related to the traditional STP protocol, I start asking myself one question: why do we need the listening and learning states? Why can’t a switch interface move from a blocking state directly to a forwarding state?

The theory says that if the LAN topology suddenly changes (for example, a link fails) and an interface that was previously blocked is moved to a forwarding state, a temporary loop may be created. The reason for these temporary loops could be the old MAC table entries that were learned using the old topology. To solve this problem, STP defines two interim states (listening and learning states).

During the listening state, the old MAC table entries are removed and during the learning state the interface starts to learn the source MAC addresses of the received frames. These two transitory states help the switches to adapt to the new topology and avoid the creation of potential temporary loops.

All of this may sound reasonable, but I wasn’t able to find a scenario where a temporary loop was created as a consequence of moving an interface directly from a blocking state to a forwarding state. Then I tried to search on the Internet and found some forum discussions about this topic and, surprisingly, I came up with a blog post from the author of the Cisco Official Cert Guide for the CCNA certification, Wendell Odom. In that post, the author admitted he wasn’t able to find a case in which the listening state is really necessary in STP to avoid temporary loops. He also quoted a fragment from a book written by Radia Perlman, the creator of STP. In that book, Radia Perlman even suggested the listening state wasn’t really necessary.

I strongly recommend reading the Wendell Odom article. But, as a summary, it seems that learning MAC addresses immediately after unblocking an interface isn’t harmful. Even though an interface could potentially learn a wrong MAC address it will not create a loop. Therefore, the listening and learning state could have been merged into a simple “preforwarding state” in the original STP definition, as suggested by Radia Perlman in her book.