A versatile and efficient technique for classifying packets in an intermediate node. According to the technique, criteria and rules associated with the packet are applied to one or more classification stages containing content-addressable memories (CAMs). Each stage examines specific criteria associated with the packet, e.g., a packet field, and generates a rule and additional criteria. The additional rule and criteria are provided to the next classification stage. This process continues until a final rule is provided to a final classification stage. At the final classification stage, the final rule is used to generate an identifier, e.g., queue identifier (ID), associated with the classified packet.
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