iptables (aka "NetFilter") - firewalling, NAT and packet mangling for linux


iptables-restore < /etc/iptables/rules.v4


iptables-save > /etc/iptables/rules.v4

Situation :

Simply trying to delete a chain with :
iptables -X chainName
iptables: Too many links.

Details :

You can't delete a chain if it has an active reference.

Solution :

  1. Find this reference (my example actually has 2 references, but you get the idea ) :
    iptables -L
    Chain INPUT (policy ACCEPT)
    target		prot	opt	source		destination
    Chain FORWARD (policy ACCEPT)						chain having the referenced rules
    target		prot	opt	source		destination
    customChain2	all	--	anywhere	anywhere		referenced rule
    customChain1	all	--	anywhere	anywhere		referenced rule
    ACCEPT		all	--	anywhere	anywhere	ctstate RELATED,ESTABLISHED
    ACCEPT		all	--	anywhere	anywhere
    ACCEPT		all	--	anywhere	anywhere
    Chain OUTPUT (policy ACCEPT)
    target		prot	opt	source		destination
    Chain customChain1 (1 references)					references are mentioned explicitly
    target		prot	opt	source		destination
    Chain customChain2 (1 references)					references are mentioned explicitly
    target		prot	opt	source		destination
  2. Remove the reference(s) :
    I actually used the nuclear weapon to do so. There may be less drastic options .
    iptables -F FORWARD
    Check it :
    iptables -L
    Chain INPUT (policy ACCEPT)
    target	prot	opt	source	destination
    Chain FORWARD (policy ACCEPT)
    target	prot	opt	source	destination
    Chain OUTPUT (policy ACCEPT)
    target	prot	opt	source	destination
    Chain customChain1 (0 references)				as expected
    target	prot	opt	source	destination
    Chain customChain2 (0 references)				as expected
    target	prot	opt	source	destination
  3. Delete the chain :
    iptables -X customChain1; iptables -X customChain2

iptables glossary

  • contain chains
  • are used to decide the fate of a particular packet, depending upon the type of packet being monitored and what is to be done with the packet
  • specialized tables can be created and stored in ll /lib/modules/$(uname -r)/kernel/net/ipv4/netfilter/ to meet specific goals.
  • list of rules applied in a specific order :
    • the first that matches will decide the outcome of that packet
    • if none matches, then the chain policy (i.e. default rule) will be the final decision maker
  • There are five built-in chains, one for each point in the kernel's processing path (source) :
    In other words :
Tables and chains
Table Usage Chains Details
filter default table INPUT applies to packets received via a network interface
OUTPUT applies to packets sent out via the same network interface which received the packets
FORWARD applies to packets received on one network interface and sent out on another
NAT can be used to modify the source and destination addresses recorded in packets PREROUTING alters packets received via a network interface when they arrive
OUTPUT alters locally-generated packets before they are routed via a network interface
POSTROUTING alters packets before they are sent out via a network interface
mangle allows to alter packets in specialized ways PREROUTING alters packets received via a network interface before they are routed
OUTPUT alters locally-generated packets before they are routed via a network interface

Why are iptables rules lost after reboot ?

This article :
  • mixes Red Hatoids and Debianoids-related information. This is not very clear / consistent .
  • is about Upstart and runlevels daemon management, which is now outdated.

Situation :

I've defined several iptables rules, then :
service iptables save
service iptables restart
But after rebooting, the rules are lost. How to fix this ?

Details :

iptables is designed to flush all rules when stopping (which is normal since stopping iptables means stopping filtering). service iptables stop outputs :

iptables: Saving firewall rules to /etc/sysconfig/iptables:	[	OK	]
iptables: Flushing firewall rules:				[	OK	]
iptables: Setting chains to policy ACCEPT: filter		[	OK	]
iptables: Unloading modules:					[	OK	]

Solution :

  1. Check the values of IPTABLES_SAVE_ON_STOP and IPTABLES_SAVE_ON_RESTART : grep "IPTABLES_SAVE_ON_" /etc/sysconfig/iptables-config
    Both default to no, but should be enabled here :
    Fix values if necessary.
  2. Enable iptables : chkconfig iptables on
  3. Make sure it's enabled : chkconfig --list iptables
    iptables	0:off	1:off	2:on	3:on	4:on	5:on	6:off
  4. Start iptables : service iptables start
  5. Reboot. Enjoy.


Usage :

iptables is obsoleted by nftables.
iptables [-t tableName] command chainName parameter_1 option_1 ... parameter_n option_n

Flags :

Command Usage Example
-A chainName Append a rule at the end of chainName
-D Delete rule number n from chainName
n is given by --line-numbers
iptables -t tableName -D chainName n
-d specify the destination (IP or hostname) in a rule definition
--destination-port specify the destination port in a rule definition
  • by name : -p tcp --destination-port telnet
  • by port number : -p xxx --destination-port port_number
  • by range : --destination-port port_a:port_b
-E rename a (user custom) chain iptables -E oldChainName newChainName
Flush a chain : delete all rules of that chain (all the chains in the table if none is given) iptables -F chainName
-I chainName ruleNb Insert a rule into chainName at the ruleNb position -I INPUT ruleNb
-i input interface via which a packet is received (for packets entering the INPUT, FORWARD and PREROUTING chains)
If this option is omitted, any interface will match.
-j jump to target. "target" is what to do with the packet when the rule matches. Most common targets are:
  • ACCEPT: let the packet through
  • REJECT: send back an error packet in response to the matched packet; otherwise it is equivalent to DROP
  • DROP: drop the packet on the floor (ignore the packet)
  • QUEUE: pass the packet to userspace
  • RETURN: stop traversing this chain, and resume at the next rule in the previous (calling) chain. If the end of a built-in chain is reached, or a rule in a built-in chain with target RETURN is matched, the target specified by the chain policy determines the fate of the packet
-L chainName
--list chainName
List rules of chainName (if not specified, defaults to filter = list existing rules) iptables -t tableName -L chainName
--line-numbers display line (=rule) numbers while listing rules with -L iptables -t tableName -L chainName --line-numbers
-m extensionModule
--match extensionModule
Use the module extensionModule to match packets : iptables -t filter -A chainName -m state --state ! INVALID
--mac-source specify the source MAC @ of a packet as a filtering criteria iptables -t filter -A chainName -m mac --mac-source XX:XX:XX:XX:XX:XX
-N chainName
--new-chain chainName
Create a new user-defined chain called chainName. chainName must not already exist. iptables -N myChain
iptables -A myChain (rule definition)
-n --numeric Print IP addresses and port numbers in numeric format
-o output interface via which a packet is going to be sent (for packets entering the FORWARD, OUTPUT and POSTROUTING chains)
If this option is omitted, any interface will match.
-P change Policy of a chain iptables -P FORWARD ACCEPT
-p protocol
--protocol protocol
specify the protocol in a rule definition. protocol can be one of :
  • tcp
  • udp
  • icmp
  • all (default)
! protocol inverts the test.
--state NEW match packets which state is NEW
-s specify the source (IP or hostname) in a rule definition
--set add the source address of the packet to the list (when used with the recent module)
-t tableName specify a table to consider
-v verbose. When used with -L, displays the number of matched packets / bytes for each rule.
-X userDefinedChain
--delete-chain userDefinedChain
Delete the userDefinedChain chain, which must be empty (i.e. contain no rule)
If no argument is given, it will attempt to delete every non-builtin chain in the table.
--source-port specify the source port in a rule definition See --destination-port for examples.
! negation. Can be used with address, protocol, interface name, ...
+ wildcard for interfaces names (to be used with the -i and -o options). "abc+" will refer to any interface which name starts with "abc"

Example :

Tips :

  • All iptables command lines are cAsE sEnSiTiVe !!!
  • if you want to use both the protocol (-p) and the source/destination port (--source-port or --destination-port) options, you have to specify 1st the protocol, then the port.
  • It is not possible to provide a list of ports

Get status (existing rules) :

iptables -L -n -v

Forward a local port ( source 1, 2) :

iptables -t nat -A PREROUTING -p tcp --dport sourcePort -j REDIRECT --to-ports destinationPort

  1. This specifies -t nat to indicate the nat table. Typically rules are added to the filter table (if you do not specify another table), and this is where the majority of the traffic is handled. In this case, however, we require the use of the nat table.
  2. This rules appends (-A), which means to add the rule at the bottom of the list.
  3. This rule is added to the PREROUTING chain.
  4. For the tcp protocol (-p tcp)
  5. The destination port (--dport) is sourcePort – this is the port that the client is trying to access on your server.
  6. The traffic is jumped (-j) to the REDIRECT action. This is the action that is taken when the rule matches.
  7. The port is redirected to port destinationPort on the server.

Add a comment in a rule :

iptables ... -m comment --comment "blah blah blah"
You have to explicitly specify -m comment --comment "blah blah blah" : -m and --comment are not short and long versions of the same flag.
Let's try it :
iptables -t filter -A FORWARD -p udp --destination-port 12345 -j ACCEPT -m comment --comment "Don't panic" && iptables -L --line-numbers
Chain FORWARD (policy ACCEPT)
num	target	prot	opt	source		destination
7	ACCEPT	udp	--	anywhere	anywhere	udp dpt:12345	/* Don't panic */	shown as C-style comments : with /* and */
Now cleaning :
iptables -t filter -D FORWARD 7
sources :


# flush all rules
iptables -F
iptables -X

# set default filter policy
iptables -P INPUT ACCEPT
iptables -P FORWARD DROP

# allow unlimited traffic on loopback
iptables -A INPUT -i lo -j ACCEPT
iptables -A OUTPUT -o lo -j ACCEPT

# allow related+established traffic
iptables -A INPUT -m state --state ESTABLISHED,RELATED -j ACCEPT
#iptables -A OUTPUT -m state --state ESTABLISHED -j ACCEPT

# allow some specific + limited incoming traffic
iptables -A INPUT -p tcp --dport $port -i $interface -m state --state NEW -m recent --set
iptables -A INPUT -p tcp --dport $port -i $interface -m state --state NEW -m recent --update --seconds 60 --hitcount 5 -j DROP

Netfilter and iptables


iptables a.k.a. Netfilter examines incoming and outgoing packets at various points (known as inspection points). It does this by matching each packet against a chain of rules. Each rule contains matching criteria and a target which says what to do with a packet that matched the criteria. Packets are matched against each rule in a chain, in order, until a match occurs. Then the target of that rule is used (generally) to accept or to drop the packet. However the target may cause the packet's header fields to be changed, to log the packet, or do another action. If no rule matches some packet then a default policy is used to decide what to do.

iptables is a stateful packet filter, in that it keeps track of connections, statistics, and packet flows. Even UDP packets can be tracked (e.g., a DNS query and the response). All that information may be used in the criteria to match packets, or to produce reports. Note that connections have a timeout value, so iptables may "forget" some long idle connection and begin dropping packets.

Besides packet filtering, iptables collects statistics on byte and packet counts for each rule. This is called IP accounting.

Every network packet received by or sent out of a Linux system is subject to at least one table.

The "I" below is not myself, I'm not the author of this article. I got it from the Internetz a long time ago and can't find the original source (if still online). Should you have any information regarding the author or source, please let me know : I'd be happy to give credits with a "source" hyperlink .

I'm sure many of you have been wondering how to use iptables to set up a basic firewall. I'll try to explain the basics to at least get you started.

First you need to know how the firewall treats packets leaving, entering, or passing through your computer. Basically there is a chain for each of these :

The chains themselves are half of the logic behind iptables.

Now the way that iptables works is that you set up certain rules in each of these chains that decide what happens to packets of data that pass through them. For instance, if your computer was to send out a packet to http://www.yahoo.com/ to request an HTML page, it would first pass through the OUTPUT chain. The kernel would look through the rules in the chain and see if any of them match. The first one that matches will decide the outcome of that packet. If none of the rules match, then the policy of the whole chain will be the final decision maker. Then whatever reply Yahoo! sent back would pass through the INPUT chain. It's no more complicated than that.

Now that we have the basics out of the way, we can start working on putting all this to practical use. There are a lot of different letters to memorize when using iptables and you'll probably have to peek at the man page often to remind yourself of a certain one. Now let's start with manipulation of certain IP addresses. Suppose you wanted to block all packets coming from First of all, -s is used to specify a source IP or DNS name. So from that, to refer to traffic coming from this address, we'd use this:

iptables -s

But that doesn't tell what to do with the packets. The -j option is used to specify what happens to the packet. The most common three are ACCEPT, DENY and DROP. Now you can probably figure out what ACCEPT does and it's not what we want. DENY sends a message back that this computer isn't accepting connections. DROP just totally ignores the packet. If we're really suspicious about this certain IP address, we'd probably prefer DROP over DENY. So here is the command with the result:

iptables -s -j DROP

But the computer still won't understand this. There's one more thing we need to add and that's which chain it goes on. You use -A for this. It just appends the rule to the end of whichever chain you specify. Since we want to keep the computer from talking to us, we'd put it on INPUT. So here's the entire command:

iptables -A INPUT -s -j DROP

This single command would ignore everything coming from (with exceptions, but we'll get into that later). The order of the options doesn't matter; the -j DROP could go before -s I just like to put the outcome part at the end of the command. Ok, we're now capable of ignoring a certain computer on a network. If you wanted to keep your computer from talking to it, you'd simply change INPUT to OUTPUT and change the -s to -d for destination. Now that's not too hard, is it?

So what if we only wanted to ignore telnet requests from this computer? Well that's not very hard either. You might know that port 23 is for telnet, but you can just use the word telnet if you like. There are at least 3 protocols that can be specified: TCP, UDP, and ICMP. Telnet, like most services, runs on TCP so we're going with it. The -p option specifies the pprotocol. But TCP doesn't tell it everything; telnet is only a specific protocol used on the larger protocol of TCP. After we specify that the protocol is TCP, we can use --destination-port to denote the port that they're trying to contact us on. Make sure you don't get source and destination ports mixed up. Remember, the client can run on any port, it's the server that will be running the service on port 23. Any time you want to block out a certain service, you'll use --destination-port. The opposite is --source-port in case you need it. So let's put this all together. This should be the command that accomplishes what we want:

iptables -A INPUT -s -p tcp --destination-port telnet -j DROP

And there you go. If you wanted to specify a range of IPs, you could use This would specify any IP that matched 200.200.200.*. Now it's time to fry some bigger fish. Let's say that, like me, you have a local area network and then you have a connection to the internet. We're going to also say that the LAN is eth0 while the internet connection is called ppp0. Now suppose we wanted to allow telnet to run as a service to computers on the LAN but not on the insecure internet. Well there is an easy way to do this. We can use -i for the input interface and -o for the output interface. You could always block it on the OUTPUT chain, but we'd rather block it on the INPUT so that the telnet daemon never even sees the request. Therefore we'll use -i. This should set up just the rule:

iptables -A INPUT -p tcp --destination-port telnet -i ppp0 -j DROP

So this should close off the port to anyone on the internet yet kept it open to the LAN. Now before we go on to more intense stuff, I'd like to briefly explain other ways to manipulate rules. The -A option appends a rule to the end of the list, meaning any matching rule before it will have say before this one does. If we wanted to put a rule before the end of the chain, we use -I (capital "i") for insert. This will put the rule in a numerical location in the chain. For example, if we wanted to put it at the top of the INPUT chain, we'd use -I INPUT 1 along with the rest of the command. Just change the 1 to whatever place you want it to be in. Now let's say we wanted to replace whatever rule was already in that location. Just use -R to replace a rule. It has the same syntax as -I and works the same way except that it deletes the rule at that position rather than bumping everything down. And finally, if you just want to delete a rule, use -D. This also has a similar syntax but you can either use a number for the rule or type out all the options that you would if you created the rule. The number method is usually the optimal choice. There are two more simple options to learn though. -L lists all the rules set so far. This is obviously helpful when you forget where you're at. And -F flushes a certain chain. (It removes all of the rules on the chain.) If you don't specify a chain, it will basically flush everything.

Well let's get a bit more advanced. We know that these packets use a certain protocol, and if that protocol is TCP, then it also uses a certain port. Now you might be compelled to just close all ports to incoming traffic, but remember, after your computer talks to another computer, that computer must talk back. If you close all of your incoming ports, you'll essentially render your connection useless. And for most non-service programs, you can't predict which port they're going to be communicating on. But there's still a way. Whenever two computers are talking over a TCP connection, that connection must first be initialized. This is the job of a SYN packet. A SYN packet simply tells the other computer that it's ready to talk. Now only the computer requesting the service sends a SYN packet. So if you only block incoming SYN packets, it stops other computers from opening services on your computer but doesn't stop you from communicating with them. It roughly makes your computer ignore anything that it didn't speak to first. It's mean but it gets the job done. Well the option for this is --syn after you've specified the TCP protocol. So to make a rule that would block all incoming connections on only the internet:

iptables -A INPUT -i ppp0 -p tcp --syn -j DROP

That's a likely rule that you'll be using unless you have a web service running. If you want to leave one port open, for example 80 (HTTP), there's a simple way to do this too. As with many programming languages, an exclamation mark means not. For instance, if you wanted to block all SYN packets on all ports except 80, I believe it would look something like this:

iptables -A INPUT -i ppp0 -p tcp --syn --destination-port ! 80 -j DROP

It's somewhat complicated but it's not so hard to comprehend. There's one last thing I'd like to cover and that's changing the policy for a chain. The chains INPUT and OUTPUT are usually set to ACCEPT by default and FORWARD is set to DENY. Well if you want to use this computer as a router, you would probably want to set the FORWARD policy to ACCEPT. How do we do this you ask? Well it's really very simple. All you have to do is use the -P option. Just follow it by the chain name and the new policy and you have it made. To change the FORWARD chain to an ACCEPT policy, we'd do this:


Nothing to it, huh? This is really just the basics of iptables. It should help you set up a limited firewall but there's still a lot more that I couldn't talk about. You can look at the man page man iptables to learn more of the options (or refresh your memory when you forget). You can find more advanced documents if you want to learn some of the more advanced features of iptables. At the time of this writing, iptables documents are somewhat rare because the technology is new but they should be springing up soon. Good luck.