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Network Address Translation (NAT) is a network protocol used in IPv4 networks that allows multiple devices to connect a public network using the same public IPv4 address. NAT was originally designed in an attempt to help conserve IPv4 addresses. NAT modifies the IP address information in IPv4 headers while in transit across a traffic routing device. This presents some drawbacks in terms of the quality of Internet connectivity and requires careful attention to the details of its implementation. In particular, all types of NAT break the originally envisioned model of IP end-to-end connectivity across the Internet and NAPT makes it difficult for systems behind a NAT to accept incoming communications. As a result, NAT traversal methods have been devised to alleviate the issues encountered. NAT has become a common, indispensable feature in routers for home and small-office Internet connections.
The simplest type of NAT provides a one-to-one translation of IP addresses. RFC 2663 refers to this type of NAT as basic NAT, which is often also called a one-to-one NAT. In this type of NAT only the IP addresses, IP header checksum and any higher level checksums that include the IP address are changed. The rest of the packet is left untouched (at least for basic TCP/UDP functionality; some higher level protocols may need further translation). Basic NATs can be used to interconnect two IP networks that have incompatible addressing.
However, it is common to hide an entire IP address space, usually consisting of private IP addresses, behind a single IP address (or in some cases a small group of IP addresses) in another (usually public) address space. To avoid ambiguity in the handling of returned packets, a one-to-many NAT must alter higher level information such as TCP/UDP ports in outgoing communications and must maintain a translation table so that return packets can be correctly translated back. RFC 2663 uses the term NAPT (network address and port translation) for this type of NAT. Other names include PAT (port address translation), IP masquerading, NAT Overload and many-to-one NAT. Since this is the most common type of NAT it is often referred to simply as NAT.
As described, the method enables communication through the router only when the conversation originates in the masqueraded network, since this establishes the translation tables. For example, a web browser in the masqueraded network can browse a website outside, but a web browser outside could not browse a web site in the masqueraded network. However, most NAT devices today allow the network administrator to configure translation table entries for permanent use. This feature is often referred to as "static NAT" or port forwarding and allows traffic originating in the "outside" network to reach designated hosts in the masqueraded network.
The majority of NATs map multiple private hosts to one publicly exposed IP address. In a typical configuration, a local network uses one of the designated "private" IP address subnets (RFC 1918). A router on that network has a private address in that address space. The router is also connected to the Internet with a "public" address assigned by an Internet service provider. As traffic passes from the local network to the Internet, the source address in each packet is translated on the fly from a private address to the public address. The router tracks basic data about each active connection (particularly the destination address and port). When a reply returns to the router, it uses the connection tracking data it stored during the outbound phase to determine the private address on the internal network to which to forward the reply.
All Internet packets have a source IP address and a destination IP address. Typically packets passing from the private network to the public network will have their source address modified while packets passing from the public network back to the private network will have their destination address modified. More complex configurations are also possible.
To avoid ambiguity in how to translate returned packets, further modifications to the packets are required. The vast bulk of Internet traffic is TCP and UDP packets, and for these protocols the port numbers are changed so that the combination of IP and port information on the returned packet can be unambiguously mapped to the corresponding private address and port information. Protocols not based on TCP or UDP require other translation techniques. ICMP packets typically relate to an existing connection and need to be mapped using the same IP and port mappings as that connection.
There are several ways of implementing network address and port translation. In some application protocols that use IP address information, the application running on a node in the masqueraded network needs to determine the external address of the NAT, i.e., the address that its communication peers detect, and, furthermore, often needs to examine and categorize the type of mapping in use. Usually this is done because it is desired to set up a direct communications path (either to save the cost of taking the data via a server or to improve performance) between two clients both of which are behind separate NATs. For this purpose, the Simple traversal of UDP over NATs (STUN) protocol was developed (RFC 3489, March 2003). It classified NAT implementation as full-cone NAT, (address) restricted-cone NAT, port-restricted cone NAT or symmetric NAT and proposed a methodology for testing a device accordingly. However, these procedures have since been deprecated from standards status, as the methods have proven faulty and inadequate to correctly assess many devices. New methods have been standardized in RFC 5389 (October 2008) and the STUN acronym now represents the new title of the specification: Session Traversal Utilities for NAT.
|Full-cone NAT, also known as one-to-one NAT|
|Port-restricted cone NAT|
Like an address restricted cone NAT, but the restriction includes port numbers.
This terminology has been the source of much confusion, as it has proven inadequate at describing real-life NAT behavior. Many NAT implementations combine these types, and it is therefore better to refer to specific individual NAT behaviors instead of using the Cone/Symmetric terminology. Especially, most NAT translators combine symmetric NAT for outgoing connections with static port mapping, where incoming packets to the external address and port are redirected to a specific internal address and port. Some products can redirect packets to several internal hosts, e.g. to divide the load between a few servers. However, this introduces problems with more sophisticated communications that have many interconnected packets, and thus is rarely used.
The NAT traversal problem arises when two peers behind distinct NAT try to communicate. One way to solve this problem is to use port forwarding, another way is to use various NAT traversal techniques. The most popular technique for TCP NAT traversal is TCP hole punching, which requires the NAT to follow the port preservation design for TCP, as explained below.
Many NAT implementations follow the port preservation design for TCP: for a given outgoing tcp communication, they use the same values as internal and external port numbers. NAT port preservation for outgoing TCP connections is crucial for TCP NAT traversal, because as TCP requires that one port can only be used for one communication at a time, programs bind distinct TCP sockets to ephemeral ports for each TCP communication, rendering NAT port prediction impossible for TCP.
On the other hand, for UDP, NATs do not need to have port preservation. Indeed multiple UDP communications (each with a distinct endpoint) can occur on the same source port, and applications usually reuse the same UDP socket to send packets to distinct hosts. This makes port prediction straightforward, as it is the same source port for each packet.
Furthermore, port preservation in NAT for TCP allows P2P protocols to offer less complexity and less latency because there is no need to use a third party (like STUN) to discover the NAT port since the application itself already knows the NAT port.
However, if two internal hosts attempt to communicate with the same external host using the same port number, the external port number used by the second host will be chosen at random. Such NAT will be sometimes perceived as (address) restricted cone NAT and other times as symmetric NAT.
Every TCP and UDP packet contains both a source IP address and source port number as well as a destination IP address and destination port number. The port address/IP address pair forms a socket. In particular, the source port and source IP address form the source socket.
For publicly accessible services such as web servers and mail servers the port number is important. For example, port 80 connects to the web server software and port 25 to a mail server's SMTP daemon. The IP address of a public server is also important, similar in global uniqueness to a postal address or telephone number. Both IP address and port must be correctly known by all hosts wishing to successfully communicate.
Private IP addresses as described in RFC 1918 are significant only on private networks where they are used, which is also true for host ports. Ports are unique endpoints of communication on a host, so a connection through the NAT device is maintained by the combined mapping of port and IP address.
PAT (Port Address Translation) resolves conflicts that would arise through two different hosts using the same source port number to establish unique connections at the same time.
A NAT device is similar to a phone system at an office that has one public telephone number and multiple extensions. Outbound phone calls made from the office all appear to come from the same telephone number. However, an incoming call that does not specify an extension cannot be transferred to an individual inside the office. In this scenario, the office is a private LAN, the main phone number is the public IP address, and the individual extensions are unique port numbers.
With NAT, all communications sent to external hosts actually contain the external IP address and port information of the NAT device instead of internal host IPs or port numbers.
NAT will only translate IP addresses and ports of its internal hosts, hiding the true endpoint of an internal host on a private network.
NAT operation is typically transparent to both the internal and external hosts.
Typically the internal host is aware of the true IP address and TCP or UDP port of the external host. Typically the NAT device may function as the default gateway for the internal host. However the external host is only aware of the public IP address for the NAT device and the particular port being used to communicate on behalf of a specific internal host.
"Pure NAT", operating on IP alone, may or may not correctly parse protocols that are totally concerned with IP information, such as ICMP, depending on whether the payload is interpreted by a host on the "inside" or "outside" of translation. As soon as the protocol stack is traversed, even with such basic protocols as TCP and UDP, the protocols will break unless NAT takes action beyond the network layer.
IP packets have a checksum in each packet header, which provides error detection only for the header. IP datagrams may become fragmented and it is necessary for a NAT to reassemble these fragments to allow correct recalculation of higher-level checksums and correct tracking of which packets belong to which connection.
The major transport layer protocols, TCP and UDP, have a checksum that covers all the data they carry, as well as the TCP/UDP header, plus a "pseudo-header" that contains the source and destination IP addresses of the packet carrying the TCP/UDP header. For an originating NAT to pass TCP or UDP successfully, it must recompute the TCP/UDP header checksum based on the translated IP addresses, not the original ones, and put that checksum into the TCP/UDP header of the first packet of the fragmented set of packets. The receiving NAT must recompute the IP checksum on every packet it passes to the destination host, and also recognize and recompute the TCP/UDP header using the retranslated addresses and pseudo-header. This is not a completely solved problem. One solution is for the receiving NAT to reassemble the entire segment and then recompute a checksum calculated across all packets.
The originating host may perform Maximum transmission unit (MTU) path discovery to determine the packet size that can be transmitted without fragmentation, and then set the don't fragment (DF) bit in the appropriate packet header field.
Destination network address translation (DNAT) is a technique for transparently changing the destination IP address of an en route packet and performing the inverse function for any replies. Any router situated between two endpoints can perform this transformation of the packet.
DNAT is commonly used to publish a service located in a private network on a publicly accessible IP address. This use of DNAT is also called port forwarding, or DMZ when used on an entire server, which becomes exposed to the WAN, becoming analogous to an undefended military demilitarised zone (DMZ).
The meaning of the term SNAT varies by vendor. Many vendors have proprietary definitions for SNAT. A common expansion is source NAT, the counterpart of destination NAT (DNAT). Microsoft uses the acronym for Secure NAT, in regard to the ISA Server. For Cisco Systems, SNAT means stateful NAT. For Watchguard Systems, SNAT means static NAT.
Microsoft's Secure network address translation (SNAT) is part of Microsoft's Internet Security and Acceleration Server and is an extension to the NAT driver built into Microsoft Windows Server. It provides connection tracking and filtering for the additional network connections needed for the FTP, ICMP, H.323, and PPTP protocols as well as the ability to configure a transparent HTTP proxy server.
In computer networking, the process of network address translation done in a secure way involves rewriting the source and/or destination addresses of IP packets as they pass through a router or firewall.
Dynamic NAT, just like static NAT, is not common in smaller networks but is found within larger corporations with complex networks. The way dynamic NAT differs from static NAT is that where static NAT provides a one-to-one internal to public static IP address mapping, dynamic NAT doesn't make the mapping to the public IP address static and usually uses a group of available public IP addresses.
NAT loopback is a feature in many consumer routers which allows a user to connect to its own public IP address from inside the LAN-network. This is especially useful when a website (with domain) is hosted at that IP address. Consider the following network:
When a packet is sent to 203.0.113.1 (public address) by 192.168.100.1 (a computer), the packet would normally be sent to the default gateway (the router). An exception could be made in the computer's routing tables, but by default the default gateway will be used. A router with the NAT-loopback feature will detect that 203.0.113.1 is the address of its WAN interface, and treat the packet as if coming from that interface. It decides based on DNAT (port forwarding) rules where the packet should go. For example, if the data were sent to port 80 and there is a DNAT rule for port 80 to go to 192.168.1.2, it will send the packet there.
If no applicable DNAT rules are available, the router's firewall will drop the packet. An ICMP Destination Unreachable reply may or may not be sent. Note that if any DNAT rules were found, address translation is still in effect; the router still rewrites the source IP address in the packet. The computer (192.168.100.1) will send the packet as coming from 192.168.100.1, but just like when a packet was sent to any global IP address, the server (192.168.1.2) will receive it as coming from 203.0.113.1. When a reply is made by the server, the same thing happens again. The packet goes to the server's default gateway (the router), which will find the source and destination port in its NAT tables, and know that it originated from 192.168.100.1. This way, two-way communication is possible between hosts inside the LAN network via their public IP address.
NAT loopback is especially useful when a domain is hosted on the server. The domain name will resolve, unless the user is running a custom DNS server and has made an exception, to the public address. When the router does not have NAT loopback, any connection attempts to that IP address are discarded and time out. A workaround is to include the domain name in the hosts file, but all subdomains would have to be included as well, and all devices in the LAN network would need to have the same modifications. Example entries for the hosts file, following the above network setup:
In the event of a LAND attack, the router with NAT loopback would reply to itself when a packet has the source address set to itself (either 192.168.1.1 or 203.0.113.1). However, NAT loopback makes the router lookup the destination address and port in its port forwarding rules table. When none is found, the packet is discarded and no error response is sent back. If this were the case, then the code making that response should make sure that it's not sending it to itself. The same would happen with any other packet originating from the LAN or WAN, so a LAND attack is unrelated to NAT loopback itself.
Network address translation will not be commonly used in IPv6, so NAT loopback will not be commonly needed. Although still possible, there is no reason to use NAT anymore because there is a much larger address space and every device can be given its own globally routable address. When NAT is used though, NAT loopback will work the same way as in IPv4. Without NAT, a packet can be sent to the public address of the server from any client (including clients inside the same LAN network), because it will detect that the destination is in the same IP subnet. This can already be shown on dual-stack networks.
Note that both the client and server must support IPv6 and IPv4 addressing in the above scenario. Also note that 2001:db8::2 is the IPv6 IP address of the server (which was 192.168.1.2 in the IPv4 example).
In the first example the packet was first sent to the default gateway since 203.0.113.1 is not inside the same subnet as 192.168.0.0/16. Then the router, performing NAT loopback, forwards it to the configured device (192.168.1.2).
In the second example the client detected that it was inside the same IPv6 subnet as the server, and sent the packet there directly.
Some Application Layer protocols (such as FTP and SIP) send explicit network addresses within their application data. FTP in active mode, for example, uses separate connections for control traffic (commands) and for data traffic (file contents). When requesting a file transfer, the host making the request identifies the corresponding data connection by its network layer and transport layer addresses. If the host making the request lies behind a simple NAT firewall, the translation of the IP address and/or TCP port number makes the information received by the server invalid. The Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) controls many Voice over IP (VoIP) calls, and suffers the same problem. SIP and SDP may use multiple ports to set up a connection and transmit voice stream via RTP. IP addresses and port numbers are encoded in the payload data and must be known prior to the traversal of NATs. Without special techniques, such as STUN, NAT behavior is unpredictable and communications may fail.
Application Layer Gateway (ALG) software or hardware may correct these problems. An ALG software module running on a NAT firewall device updates any payload data made invalid by address translation. ALGs obviously need to understand the higher-layer protocol that they need to fix, and so each protocol with this problem requires a separate ALG. For example, on many Linux systems, there are kernel modules called connection trackers which serve to implement ALGs. However, ALG does not work if the control channel is encrypted (e.g. FTPS).
Another possible solution to this problem is to use NAT traversal techniques using protocols such as STUN or ICE, or proprietary approaches in a session border controller. NAT traversal is possible in both TCP- and UDP-based applications, but the UDP-based technique is simpler, more widely understood, and more compatible with legacy NATs. In either case, the high level protocol must be designed with NAT traversal in mind, and it does not work reliably across symmetric NATs or other poorly behaved legacy NATs.
Most traditional client-server protocols (FTP being the main exception), however, do not send layer 3 contact information and therefore do not require any special treatment by NATs. In fact, avoiding NAT complications is practically a requirement when designing new higher-layer protocols today (e.g. the use of SFTP instead of FTP).
NATs can also cause problems where IPsec encryption is applied and in cases where multiple devices such as SIP phones are located behind a NAT. Phones which encrypt their signaling with IPsec encapsulate the port information within an encrypted packet, meaning that NA(P)T devices cannot access and translate the port. In these cases the NA(P)T devices revert to simple NAT operation. This means that all traffic returning to the NAT will be mapped onto one client causing service to more than one client "behind" the NAT to fail. There are a couple of solutions to this problem: one is to use TLS, which operates at level 4 in the OSI Reference Model and therefore does not mask the port number; another is to encapsulate the IPsec within UDP - the latter being the solution chosen by TISPAN to achieve secure NAT traversal, or a NAT with "IPsec Passthru" support.
Interactive Connectivity Establishment is a NAT traversal technique which does not rely on ALG support.
The DNS protocol vulnerability announced by Dan Kaminsky on July 8, 2008 is indirectly affected by NAT port mapping. To avoid DNS server cache poisoning, it is highly desirable to not translate UDP source port numbers of outgoing DNS requests from a DNS server which is behind a firewall which implements NAT. The recommended work-around for the DNS vulnerability is to make all caching DNS servers use randomized UDP source ports. If the NAT function de-randomizes the UDP source ports, the DNS server will be made vulnerable.
In addition to the advantages provided by NAT:
The primary purpose of IP-masquerading NAT is that it has been a practical solution to the impending exhaustion of IPv4 address space. Even large networks can be connected to the Internet with as little as a single IP address. The more common arrangement is having machines that require end-to-end connectivity supplied with a routable IP address, while having machines that do not provide services to outside users behind NAT with only a few IP addresses used to enable Internet access, however, this brings some problems, outlined below.
"[...] it is possible that its [NAT's] widespread use will significantly delay the need to deploy IPv6. [...] It is probably safe to say that networks would be better off without NAT [...]"
Hosts behind NAT-enabled routers do not have end-to-end connectivity and cannot participate in some Internet protocols. Services that require the initiation of TCP connections from the outside network, or stateless protocols such as those using UDP, can be disrupted. Unless the NAT router makes a specific effort to support such protocols, incoming packets cannot reach their destination. Some protocols can accommodate one instance of NAT between participating hosts ("passive mode" FTP, for example), sometimes with the assistance of an application-level gateway (see below), but fail when both systems are separated from the Internet by NAT. Use of NAT also complicates tunneling protocols such as IPsec because NAT modifies values in the headers which interfere with the integrity checks done by IPsec and other tunneling protocols.
End-to-end connectivity has been a core principle of the Internet, supported for example by the Internet Architecture Board. Current Internet architectural documents observe that NAT is a violation of the End-to-End Principle, but that NAT does have a valid role in careful design. There is considerably more concern with the use of IPv6 NAT, and many IPv6 architects believe IPv6 was intended to remove the need for NAT.
Because of the short-lived nature of the stateful translation tables in NAT routers, devices on the internal network lose IP connectivity typically within a very short period of time unless they implement NAT keep-alive mechanisms by frequently accessing outside hosts. This dramatically shortens the power reserves on battery-operated hand-held devices and has thwarted more widespread deployment of such IP-native Internet-enabled devices.
Some Internet service providers (ISPs), especially in India, Russia, parts of Asia and other "developing" regions provide their customers only with "local" IP addresses, due to a limited number of external IP addresses allocated to those entities. Thus, these customers must access services external to the ISP's network through NAT. As a result, the customers cannot achieve true end-to-end connectivity, in violation of the core principles of the Internet as laid out by the Internet Architecture Board.
IEEE Reverse Address and Port Translation (RAPT, or RAT) allows a host whose real IP address is changing from time to time to remain reachable as a server via a fixed home IP address. In principle, this should allow setting up servers on DHCP-run networks. While not a perfect mobility solution, RAPT together with upcoming protocols like DHCP-DDNS, it may end up becoming another useful tool in the network admin's arsenal.
IETF RAPT (IP Reachability Using Twice Network Address and Port Translation) The RAT device maps an IP datagram to its associated CN and 0MN by using three additional fields: the IP protocol type number and the transport layer source and destination connection identifiers (e.g. TCP port number or ICMP echo request/reply ID field).
Cisco RAPT implementation is PAT (Port Address Translation) or NAT overloading, and maps multiple private IP addresses to a single public IP address. Multiple addresses can be mapped to a single address because each private address is tracked by a port number. PAT uses unique source port numbers on the inside global IP address to distinguish between translations. The port number is encoded in 16 bits. The total number of internal addresses that can be translated to one external address could theoretically be as high as 65,536 per IP address. Realistically, the number of ports that can be assigned a single IP address is around 4000. PAT will attempt to preserve the original source port. If this source port is already used, PAT will assign the first available port number starting from the beginning of the appropriate port group 0-511, 512-1023, or 1024-65535. When there are no more ports available and there is more than one external IP address configured, PAT moves to the next IP address to try to allocate the original source port again. This process continues until it runs out of available ports and external IP addresses.
Mapping of Address and Port is a Cisco proposal which combines A+P port address translation with tunneling of the IPv4 packets over an ISP provider's internal IPv6 network. In effect, it is an (almost) stateless alternative to Carrier Grade NAT and DS Lite that pushes the IPv4 IP address/port translation function (and therefore the maintenance of NAT state) entirely into the existing customer premises equipment NAT implementation. thus avoiding the NAT444 and statefulness problems of Carrier Grade NAT, and also provides a transition mechanism for the deployment of native IPv6 at the same time with very little added complexity.
3COM U.S. Patent 6,055,236 (Method and system for locating network services with distributed network address translation) Methods and system for locating network services with distributed network address translation. Digital certificates are created that allow an external network device on an external network, such as the Internet, to request a service from an internal network device on an internal distributed network address translation network, such as a stub local area network. The digital certificates include information obtained with a Port Allocation Protocol used for distributed network address translation. The digital certificates are published on the internal network so they are accessible to external network devices. An external network device retrieves a digital certificate, extracts appropriate information, and sends a service request packet to an internal network device on an internal distributed network address translation network. The external network device is able to locate and request a service from an internal network device. An external network device can also request a security service, such as an Internet Protocol security ("IPsec") service from an internal network device. The external network device and the internal network device can establish a security service (e.g., Internet Key Exchange protocol service). The internal network device and external network device can then establish a Security Association using Security Parameter Indexes ("SPI") obtained using a distributed network address translation protocol. External network devices can request services, and security services on internal network devices on an internal distribute network address translation network that were previously unknown and unavailable to the external network devices.