A method and apparatus for providing hardware-assisted CPU access to a forwarding database is described. According to one aspect of the present invention, a switch fabric provides access to a forwarding database on behalf of a processor. The switch fabric includes a memory access interface configured to arbitrate access to a forwarding database memory. The switch fabric also includes a search engine coupled to the memory access interface and to multiple input ports. The search engine is configured to schedule and perform accesses to the forwarding database memory and to transfer forwarding decisions retrieved therefrom to the input ports. The switch fabric further includes command execution logic that is configured to interface with the processor for performing forwarding database accesses requested by the processor. According to another aspect of the invention one or more commands are provided to implement the following functions: (1) learning a supplied address; (2) reading associated data corresponding to a supplied search key; (3) aging forwarding database entries; (4) invalidating entries; (5) accessing mask data, such as mask data that may be stored in a mask per bit (MPB) content addressable memory (CAM), corresponding to a particular search key; (6) replacing forwarding database entries; and (7) accessing entries in the forwarding database.