Hi All, been awhile since my last post, however I believe this to be a good one!. So…the question arose the other day regarding NAT-Traversal. What is that? Why do we have it? What does it do? Most network engineers have heard of NAT-traversal before when configuring their Firewalls and VPN Clients, etc. But, I wanted to take a minute to explain where NAT-Traversals (NAT-T) need came from and the reason we still use it.
In order to understand NAT-Traversal, we need to understand two Networking concepts. First we need to understand “The Network Flow”. HOw do two hosts on a Network maintain a communication session. The second, is Network Address Translation. Yes NAT’ing, is a big part of IPv4 networks, they are so common place that you are probably using NAT’ing right now when reading this article.
The Network Flow.
So in a typical end-to-end connectivity the network traffic flow is maintained by 4 main parameters.
- Destination IP
- Destination Port
- Source IP
- Source Port
These 4 parameters provide a seamless flow of packets back and forth to each end-to-end device within a communication. It is how packets carrying your data arrive at their destination and it is how a return response knows how to get back to the requesting device. The IP requirement is usually pretty straight forward, it’s like the address of a house. You have to know the TO and FROM fields when sending a mail letter. So where does this port information come into play?? So Port number is like a sub-address of where the mailbox is located on a house. Usually a home will only have one mailbox, but imagine the same scenario with an apartment building or housing complex..Many mailboxes at a single address. Now depending on where you live you may need to prepend or add a apartment number to the address. Translate this same concept to port numbers. If my address is 123 North St and I am sending to 789 South St. My courier knows how to drive to each destination, but it doesn’t know where to put the actual mail envelopes since it is an apartment building with hundreds of apartments. This is where the port number comes in. So if on my envelope I put 123 North St. Apt#100 and I am sending to 789 South St. Apt#201. My mail will be delivered not only to the correct address but the correct mailbox.
I like using the apartment analogy, because it makes us think about Address and Ports being used together to deliver mail. An address and port combination is called a Socket in the networking world.
Now in a typical request scenario, a client forms the TCP/IP datagram. A Client’s machine fills in the destination IP and Destination Port based on the target and application type generating the request. For example, when you type http:// in your browser, the browser application knows to use port 80 as the Destination Port. The client then fills in it’s own IP address for the Source IP, and the OS chooses a Source Port at random. We call this random Source Port, the Ephemeral Port.
A typical TCP/IP communication header.