Friday, February 12, 2016

Few notes about network namespaces in Linux

For some time I'm working with network namespaces as implemented in the Linux kernel. Here I'll collect some notes about the implementation, behavior, usage and anything else I learn while using network namespaces.

Kernel API for NETNS

Kernel offers two system calls that allow management of network namespaces. The first one is for creating a new network namespace, unshare(2). Actually, this system call allows other types of namespaces to be created, but here we are interested only in network namespaces. So, to create a new network namespace you should call the function like this:
#include <sched.h>
And that would define a new network namespace.

There are two ways other processes can now use that network namespace. The first approach is for the process that created new network namespace to fork other processes and each forked process would share and inherit the parent's process network namespace. The same is true if exec is used.

The second system call kernel offers is setns(2). To use this system call you have to have a file descriptor that is somehow related to the network namespace you want to use. There are two approaches how to obtain the file descriptor.

The first approach is to know the process that lives currently in the required network namespace. Let's say that the PID of the given process is $PID. So, to obtain file descriptor you should open the file /proc/$PID/ns/net file and that's it, pass file descriptor to setns(2) system call to switch network namespace. This approach always works.

The second approach works only for iproute2 compatible tools. Namely, ip command when creating new network namespace creates a file in /var/run/netns directory and bind mounts new network namespace to this file. So, if you know a name of network namespace you want to access (let's say the name is NAME), to obtain file descriptor you just need to open(2) related file, i.e. /var/run/netns/NAME.

Note that there is no system call that would allow you to remove some existing network namespace. Each network namespace exists as long as there is at least one process that uses it, or there is a mount point.

Two remarks for the end of this section. First, there is no system call that would allow one process to move some other process into another network namespace! And second, you need appropriate privileges to use the mentioned system calls, i.e. regular user processes can't switch namespaces.

Socket API behavior

The next question is how Socket API behaves when network namespaces are used, and things here are quite interesting.

First, each socket handle you create is bound to whatever network namespace was active at the time the socket was created. That means that you can set one network namespace to be active (say NS1) create socket and then immediately set another network namespace to be active (NS2). The socket created is bound to NS1 no matter which network namespace is active and socket can be used normally. In other words, when doing some operation with the socket (let's say bind, connect, anything) you don't need to activate socket's own network namespace before that!

Also, to note is that network namespace is per-thread setting, meaning if you set certain network namespace in one thread, this won't have any impact on other threads in the process.

Command line tools

There are two command line tools available to manipulate network namespaces. The first one is nsenter(1) which isn't specific to networking. It allows one to start some process within predefined network namespace. The second tool is ip command from iproute2 package. It allows management of network namespaces and also allows network interfaces to be switched between different namespaces.

NETLINK behavior

To change device from one network namespace to another one, NETLINK must be used. I found somewhere references to /sys files, but at least on my system they don't appear to exist.

One interesting fact is that interface ID is global across all network namespaces - except for loopback interface, i.e. if you create interface in one network namespace and it gets ID N, and then you move it to another network namespace, it will keep ID N.



Unknown said...

absolutely correct. Thanks for the summarization

Paul Stone said...

This is a very helpful summary, particularly the part about how sockets work. Thanks!

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scientist, consultant, security specialist, networking guy, system administrator, philosopher ;)

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