Equal-Cost MultiPath routing, or ECMP, is a technique for combining two (or more) routes to a destination into a single unit, so that traffic to that destination is distributed (not necessarily equally) among the routes. ECMP is supported by EIGRP (9.4.4 EIGRP) and the link-state implementations OSPF and IS-IS (9.5 Link-State Routing-Update Algorithm). At the Ethernet level, ECMP is supported in spirit (if not in name) by TRILL and SPB (2.7 TRILL and SPB). It is also supported by BGP (10.6 Border Gateway Protocol, BGP) for inter-AS routing.
A simpler alternative to ECMP is channel bonding, also known as link aggregation, and often based on the IEEE 802.3adstandard. In channel bonding, two parallel Ethernet links are treated as a single unit. In many cases it is simpler and cheaper to bond two or three 1 Gbps Ethernet links than to upgrade everything to support 10 Gbps. Channel bonding applies, however, in limited circumstances; for example, the two channels must both be Ethernet, and must represent a single link.
In the absence of channel bonding, equal-cost does not necessarily mean equal-propagation-delay. Even for two short parallel links, queuing delays on one link may mean that packet delivery order is not preserved. As TCP usually interprets out-of-order packet delivery as evidence of packet loss (13.3 TCP Tahoe and Fast Retransmit), this can lead to large numbers of spurious retransmissions. For this reason, ECMP is usually configured to send all the packets of any one TCP connection over just one of the links (as determined by a hash function); some channel-bonding implementations do the same, in fact. A consequence is that ECMP configured this way must see many parallel TCP connections in order to utilize all participating paths reasonably equally. In special cases, however, it may be practical to configure ECMP to alternate between the paths on a per-packet basis, using round-robin transmission; this approach typically achieves much better load-balancing between the paths.
In terms of routing-update protocols, ECMP can be viewed as allowing two (or more) next_hop values, each with the same cost, to be associated with the same destination.
See 18.9.4 multitrunk.py for an example of the use of software-defined networking to have multiple TCP connections take different paths to the same destination, in a way similar to the ECMP approach.