Taming the Wild Netfilter
The iptables command line is broken down into as many as six parts. The first part is the iptables command, which will not be discussed further. The second part is the table specification, and the chain name is the third part. The fourth part is the rule specification, which is the part of the command to match against the IP or ICMP header, but also could be a rule number in some incantations. The fifth part is the target, and the sixth part is the target option. The general command line, then, looks like
iptables [-t table] -ACDI CHAIN rule-specification å -j TARGET [target option]
The above does not hold true for all incantations but is the most common. You will also find the -L command useful. It will be covered in this article, along with several other command-line variants.
Netfilter has three tables you need to concern yourself with: filter, nat and mangle. This article, whenever it shows an iptables incantation, will always have a table specified. However, if no table is specified, the filter table is assumed. Therefore, if you do not specify a table and your rule fails, try putting a table specification in and try again.
Each table has certain chains available to it. User-created chains will belong to one and only one table. You will see that some built-in chains belong to more than one table, but this is only true for built-in chains. You cannot mix chains from other tables within user-created chains.
The filter table is the basic packet-filter table and has the built-in chains INPUT, FORWARD and OUTPUT. Rules added to user-created chains created in the filter table can only contain targets valid in the INPUT, FORWARD or OUTPUT chains. Packets traversing the filter table will pass through one and only one of INPUT, FORWARD or OUTPUT. The INPUT chain will only be traversed if the packet's destination is the local system. The FORWARD chain will only be traversed if the packet is passing through the local system and bound for another system. And the OUTPUT chain is traversed only by packets originating on the local system with an external destination. Only one chain will be traversed by any given packet. This is in contrast to ipchains that always used the input and output chains and also used the forward chain if the packet was passing through.
Note that in the previous paragraph, the iptables chain names were capitalized, while the ipchains chain names were not. This was deliberate and reflects a change in syntax.
The nat table performs network address translation. Built-in chains for nat are PREROUTING, POSTROUTING and OUTPUT. Each chain permits a particular target. The PREROUTING accepts the DNAT target, and the remaining chains accept the SNAT target. More on these targets shortly.
The mangle table is used to change (mangle) information other than the IP address in the header. It can be used to mark the packets, change type of service (TOS) or change time-to-live (ttl) information.
The rule-specification portion of each iptables command is the heart of the command. By properly crafting your rule, you can select exactly which packets to which a rule should apply. This selection criteria can be as general or as specific as you need. In most cases, you'll want to make sure specific criteria come before more general criteria.
That said, I'll not belabor rules too much here other than to add that multiple options, some of which carry their own options, can be strung together. But you do need to ensure that rules make sense. For example, don't specify an output interface in an input chain or that rule will never match anything. The syntax may allow you to construct impossible rules, but it's not a good idea. If you're in doubt about a particular rule, you can always make the target a log target then send traffic that matches that rule to see if it does in fact trigger. If you need a tool to test your rules, take a look at SendIP (www.earth.li/projectpurple/progs/sendip.html).
Netfilter has four built-in targets: ACCEPT, DROP, QUEUE and RETURN. The DROP target replaces ipchain's DENY target. All other targets used are based on modules that load as a target. These include REJECT, LOG, MARK, MASQUERADE, MIRROR, REDIRECT and TCPMSS. Terminal targets, such as ACCEPT, DROP, REJECT, MASQUERADE, MIRROR and REDIRECT, terminate a chain. A LOG target does not terminate a chain. LOG also neither ACCEPTS, REJECTS nor DROPS a packet, so the chain continues to be traversed. Thus the ipchains -l option is now another target but a nonterminating one. The rest of the chain will be traversed until it hits the policy rule.
The policy rule is the overall rule for the chain. If your FORWARD chain contains a policy of DROP, and no rules above match in the chain, the packet will terminate when it hits the policy rule. Your policy rule can only be one of the built-in targets. You cannot have REJECT as a policy rule.