The DNAT target is used to do Destination
Network Address Translation, which means that it is used to
Destination IP address of a packet. If a packet is
matched, and this is the target of the rule, the packet, and all subsequent
packets in the same stream will be translated, and then routed on to the
correct device, host or network. This target can be extremely useful, for
example,when you have a host running your web server inside a
LAN, but no real IP to give it that will work on the
Internet. You could then tell the firewall to forward all packets going to its
own HTTP port, on to the real web server within the
LAN. We may also specify a whole range of destination IP
addresses, and the DNAT mechanism will choose the
destination IP address at random for each stream. Hence, we will be able to
deal with a kind of load balancing by doing this.
Note that the DNAT target is only available within the
PREROUTING and OUTPUT chains
in the nat table, and any of the chains called upon
from any of those listed chains. Note that chains containing
DNAT targets may not be used from any other chains, such as
the POSTROUTING chain.
Table 11-2. DNAT target
|Example||iptables -t nat -A PREROUTING -p tcp -d 188.8.131.52
--dport 80 -j DNAT --to-destination 192.168.1.1-192.168.1.10
|Explanation||The --to-destination option tells the
DNAT mechanism which Destination
IP to set in the IP header, and where to send packets that are
matched. The above example would send on all packets destined for IP address
184.108.40.206 to a range of LAN IP's, namely 192.168.1.1
through 10. Note, as described previously, that a single stream will always
use the same host, and that each stream will randomly be given an IP address
that it will always be Destined for, within that stream. We could also have
specified only one IP address, in which case we would always be connected to
the same host. Also note that we may add a port or port range to which the
traffic would be redirected to. This is done by adding, for example, an :80
statement to the IP addresses to which we want to
DNAT the packets. A rule could then look like
--to-destination 192.168.1.1:80 for example, or like
--to-destination 192.168.1.1:80-100 if we wanted to specify
a port range. As you can see, the syntax is pretty much the same for the
DNAT target, as for the SNAT target even
though they do two totally different things. Do note that port specifications
are only valid for rules that specify the TCP or UDP protocols with the
Since DNAT requires quite a lot of work to
work properly, I have decided to add a larger explanation on how to work
with it. Let's take a brief example on how things would be done normally.
We want to publish our website via our Internet connection. We only have
one IP address, and the HTTP server is located on
our internal network. Our firewall has the external IP address
$INET_IP, and our HTTP server
has the internal IP address $HTTP_IP and finally the
firewall has the internal IP address $LAN_IP. The first
thing to do is to add the following simple rule to the
PREROUTING chain in the nat table:
iptables -t nat -A PREROUTING --dst $INET_IP -p tcp --dport 80 -j DNAT \
Now, all packets from the Internet going to port 80 on our
firewall are redirected (or DNAT'ed) to our internal
HTTP server. If you test this from the Internet,
everything should work just perfect. So, what happens if you try
connecting from a host on the same local network as the
HTTP server? It will simply not work. This is a
problem with routing really. We start out by dissecting what happens in a
normal case. The external box has IP address $EXT_BOX,
to maintain readability.
Packet leaves the connecting host going to
$INET_IP and source $EXT_BOX.
Packet reaches the firewall.
Firewall DNAT's the packet and runs the packet
through all different chains etcetera.
Packet leaves the firewall and travels to the $HTTP_IP.
Packet reaches the HTTP server, and the
HTTP box replies back through the firewall, if
that is the box that the routing database has entered as the gateway for
$EXT_BOX. Normally, this would be the default gateway
of the HTTP server.
Firewall Un-DNAT's the packet again, so the packet
looks as if it was replied to from the firewall itself.
Reply packet travels as usual back to the client
Now, we will consider what happens if the packet was instead
generated by a client on the same network as the
HTTP server itself. The client has the IP address
$LAN_BOX, while the rest of the machines maintain the
Packet leaves $LAN_BOX to $INET_IP.
The packet reaches the firewall.
The packet gets DNAT'ed, and all other required
actions are taken, however, the packet is not SNAT'ed,
so the same source IP address is used on the packet.
The packet leaves the firewall and reaches the
The HTTP server tries to respond to the
packet, and sees in the routing databases that the packet came from a
local box on the same network, and hence tries to send the packet directly
to the original source IP address (which now
becomes the destination IP address).
The packet reaches the client, and the client gets confused since the
return packet does not come from the host that it sent the original
request to. Hence, the client drops the reply packet, and waits for the
The simple solution to this problem is to
SNAT all packets entering the firewall and leaving for
a host or IP that we know we do DNAT to. For example,
consider the above rule. We SNAT the packets
entering our firewall that are destined for $HTTP_IP
port 80 so that they look as if they came from $LAN_IP.
This will force the HTTP server to send the
packets back to our firewall, which Un-DNAT's the
packets and sends them on to the client. The rule would look something
iptables -t nat -A POSTROUTING -p tcp --dst $HTTP_IP --dport 80 -j SNAT \
Remember that the POSTROUTING chain is
processed last of the chains, and hence the packet will already be
DNAT'ed once it reaches that specific chain. This is
the reason that we match the packets based on the internal address.
This last rule will seriously harm your logging, so it is really advisable
not to use this method, but the whole example is still a valid one. What will
happen is this, packet comes from the Internet, gets SNAT'ed and DNAT'ed,
and finally hits the HTTP server (for example). The HTTP server now only sees
the request as if it was coming from the firewall, and hence logs
all requests from the internet as if they came from
This can also have even more severe implications. Take an SMTP
server on the LAN, that allows requests from the internal network, and you have
your firewall set up to forward SMTP traffic to it. You have now effectively
created an open relay SMTP server, with horrenduously bad logging!
One solution to this problem is to simply make the above rule even more specific
in the match part, and to only work on packets that come in from our
LAN interface. In other words, add a -i
$LAN_IFACE to the whole command as well. This will make the rule only
work on streams that come in from the LAN, and hence
will not affect the Source IP, so the logs will look
correct, except for streams coming from our LAN.
You will, in other words, be better off solving these problems by either setting
up a separate DNS server for your LAN, or to actually set up a separate DMZ,
the latter being preferred if you have the money.
You think this should be enough by now, and it really is,
unless considering one final aspect to this whole scenario. What if the
firewall itself tries to access the HTTP server,
where will it go? As it looks now, it will unfortunately try to get to its
own HTTP server, and not the server residing on
$HTTP_IP. To get around this, we need to add a
DNAT rule in the OUTPUT chain
as well. Following the above example, this should look something like the
iptables -t nat -A OUTPUT --dst $INET_IP -p tcp --dport 80 -j DNAT \
Adding this final rule should get everything up and running.
All separate networks that do not sit on the same net as the
HTTP server will run smoothly, all hosts on the
same network as the HTTP server will be able to
connect and finally, the firewall will be able to do proper connections as
well. Now everything works and no problems should arise.
Everyone should realize that these rules only affect how the packet is
In addition to these rules, you may also need extra rules in the filter
table (FORWARD chain) to allow the packets to
traverse through those chains as well. Don't forget that all packets have
already gone through the PREROUTING chain, and
should hence have their destination addresses rewritten already by
Works under Linux kernel 2.3, 2.4, 2.5 and 2.6.