The Internet has led to the creation of a digital society, where (almost) everything is connected and is accessible from anywhere. However, despite their widespread adoption, traditional IP networks are complex and very hard to manage. It is both difficult to configure the network according to predefined policies, and to reconfigure it to respond to faults, load, and changes. To make matters even more difficult, current networks are also vertically integrated: the control and data planes are bundled together. Software-defined networking (SDN) is an emerging paradigm that promises to change this state of affairs, by breaking vertical integration, separating the network's control logic from the underlying routers and switches, promoting (logical) centralization of network control, and introducing the ability to program the network. The separation of concerns, introduced between the definition of network policies, their implementation in switching hardware, and the forwarding of traffic, is key to the desired flexibility: by breaking the network control problem into tractable pieces, SDN makes it easier to create and introduce new abstractions in networking, simplifying network management and facilitating network evolution. In this paper, we present a comprehensive survey on SDN. We start by introducing the motivation for SDN, explain its main concepts and how it differs from traditional networking, its roots, and the standardization activities regarding this novel paradigm. Next, we present the key building blocks of an SDN infrastructure using a bottom-up, layered approach. We provide an in-depth analysis of the hardware infrastructure, southbound and northbound application programming interfaces (APIs), network virtualization layers, network operating systems (SDN controllers), network programming languages, and network applications. We also look at cross-layer problems such as debugging and troubleshooting. In an effort to anticipate the future evolution of this new paradigm, we discuss the main ongoing research efforts and challenges of SDN. In particular, we address the design of switches and control platforms-with a focus on aspects such as resiliency, scalability, performance, security, and dependability-as well as new opportunities for carrier transport networks and cloud providers. Last but not least, we analyze the position of SDN as a key enabler of a software-defined environment.