A flow classifier for a network device that processes packets including packet headers includes a hash generator that generates hash index values from search keys derived from the packet headers. A hash table receives the hash index values and outputs pointers. A flow table includes flow keys and corresponding actions. A variable length (VL) trie data structure uses the pointers to locate the flow keys for the search keys. The VL trie data structure selects different flow keys for the search keys that share a common hash index value. The pointers include node, NIL and leaf pointers. The flow classifier performs a default action for the NIL pointers. A pointer calculator accesses a VL trie table using the pointers.
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