Networking FreeBSD Jails

Or port forwarding to a jail

I’ve already explained how easy FreeBSD jails are to set up and use without resorting to installing heavy management tools, but today I thought I’d add a bit about networking. Specifically, how do you pass traffic arriving on a particular port to a service running inside a jail?

It’s actually very easy. All you need is a very local network inside FreeBSD, natted to the one outside.

Suppose you have your jail.conf set up as per my previous article. Here’s an excerpt:

tom { ip4.addr = ; }
dick { ip4.addr = ; }
harry { ip4.addr = ; }

The defaults were set earlier in the file; the only thing that’s unique about each jail is the IP4 address and the name. What I didn’t say at the time was that could have been on an internal network.

To define your local network just define it in rc.conf:


This creates another local loopback interface and assigns a range of IPv4 addresses to it. This can be as large as you wish, but I’ve defined 1..14 (with appropriate subnet mask) because they’ll be listed every time you run ifconfig!

Next you’re going to need something to do the natting. pf us your friend. Enable it in rc.conf too:


And you’ll need an /etc/pf.conf file to do the magic. I like pf – it’s easier for my brain to understand than most. Here’s an example file:

scrub in all
nat pass on $INT from $JAIL_NET to any -> $PUB_IP
block on $INT proto tcp from any to $PUBIP port 111
rdr pass on $INT proto tcp from any to $PUBIP port 3306 -> $TOM
rdr pass on $INT proto tcp from any to $PUBIP port {21,80,443} -> $DICK
rdr pass on $INT proto tcp from any to $PUBIP port 81 -> $HARRY port 80
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So what’s going on?

I’ve used a few macros. PUB_IP is your public IP address, and INT is the interface it’s on. pf may figure some of this out, but I’m being explicit.

TOM, DICK and HARRY are the IPv4 addresses of the jails.

Next I’m scrubbing all interfaces (normally a good idea, but you don’t have to). But the next line is important – it uses nat to allow stuff on your jail network to talk to the outside world.

The following line is where you might want to block more stuff – in this case NFS on port 111. Then we’re back to jail things for the final three lines. They’re pretty self-explanatory, but here’s an explanation anyway.

Let’s say the tom jail is running a MariaDB server on port 3306. The first line takes anything arriving on port 3306 and sends it to tom’s jail IP. Simple. It can reply because of the nat line earlier.

dick is running a web and ftp server, so ports 21,80 and 443 are sent there. The pf syntax lets you do nice stuff like this with the {..}

Finally we come to harry. Here we’re running an http server on port 80, but to make it accessible externally we’re mapping it to port 81 as otherwise it would clash with dick. In other words, if you don’t specify a destination port in the redirect it will assume the same as the source port.

And that’s it! When you jail is started you will see an interface lo1 with the IP address defined in /etc/jail.conf and assuming you have something sensible in /etc/resolv.conf you’ll have a jail that looks like it’s running behind a NAT router with port forwarding.

Of course, if you don’t need to map a jailed service to an external IP address, don’t! Jails can access services on each other using their own virtual network.

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