12. IP Networking

In this chapter we will look into network configuration in Linux, as systems without network connection are very rare in this day and age. Networking in Linux consists of a few seperate parts:

  • Network card drivers
  • IP address configuration
  • Routing
  • Firewalls and security features

12.1. Network types

These days, almost all networks you will encounter will be IP based networks, but Linux also has support for various other older and exotic networking protocols. In this book we will only be talking about IP networks, as this fits the scope for LPI and RHCSA certifications, and what you will use daily.

Looking further at networking on modern systems, we can look at wired and wireless networking, with wireless further split into cellular and WiFi-based networks. In general, Linux supports almost all network-interfaces out of the box, as network-chip manufacturers usually work with the Linux kernel community to get support for new devices built in quickly. Only very occasionally you will encounter a network-card (mostly wifi-based) that will not work under Linux out of the box.

12.2. Addressing

The two commonly used network protocols currently are IPv4 and IPv6. IPv4 is the original protocol of the internet, and practically all systems will have an IPv4 address.

IPv4 addresses are presented (for human use) as 4 decimal 8-bit numbers, seperated by dots. An IPv4 address is 32-bits in total, which limits the number of unique addresses to 2^32, which is slightly over 4 billion.

Example IPv4 addresses


Many systems will also have IPv6 addresses, as the number of available IPv4 addresses was quickly running out. IPv6 addresses are 128-bits in size, and are printed as 8 groups of 4 hexadecimal digits seperated with semicolons.

Example IPv6 addresses

  • 2001:0470:7f95:0000:4e6c:ec8e:0ba1:694b
  • 2a00:1450:400e:080c:0000:0000:0000:200e
  • fe80:0000:0000:0000:b0f6:2f66:af28:86a2
  • 2001:0888:0000:0018:0000:0000:0000:0080

Since these addresses are quite long, a shorter notation is also allowed, as long as this shorter notation can be converted back consitently. In this notation, leading zeros in blocks can be removed, so:


would become:


Furthermore, repeated blocks of only zero’s can be removed and replaced with 2 colons. However, this can only be done once, otherwise it wouldn’t be clear how many zeros should be inserted here. Using this method, the above address is further shortened to:


This is the format as seen from the various Linux commands.

12.3. Ad-Hoc Network Configuration

You can configure your network using various generic commands, which you will find in any Linux distribution. This configuration will be ad-hoc and will not survive reboots, but it’s important to know how to configure a network manually. Doing manual configuration allows you to quickly try out various settings, see if networking works and prepare you for configuring permanent settings.

To configure the permanent networking-settings, various Linux distributions have their own tools and/or configuration-files, so these methods are described in the following sections.

12.4. Classic network configuration tools

First we will document the classic network-configuration commands: * ifconfig * route * netstat

On many newer systems these will no longer be present in the default installs, but they are still available as optional addons.

12.4.1. ifconfig

The ifconfig tool, present in most (older) Linux distributions, and also in many other Unix-like systems, has been the go-to tool for network-configuration for a long time. These days it has mostly been replaced with ip from the iproute2 package, documented below.

Just running ifconfig will show you all currently configured network-cards and their networking-configuration, traffic counters and some hardware information.

Listing 12.1 Running ifconfig
$ ifconfig
eth0: flags=4099<UP,BROADCAST,MULTICAST>  mtu 1500
      ether 8c:20:30:3f:ba:af  txqueuelen 1000  (Ethernet)
      RX packets 2236119  bytes 1102568897 (1.0 GiB)
      RX errors 5506  dropped 30255  overruns 0  frame 2753
      TX packets 291221  bytes 32254234 (30.7 MiB)
      TX errors 0  dropped 0 overruns 0  carrier 0  collisions 0
      device interrupt 16  memory 0xf2100000-f2120000

lo: flags=73<UP,LOOPBACK,RUNNING>  mtu 65536
      inet  netmask
      inet6 ::1  prefixlen 128  scopeid 0x10<host>
      loop  txqueuelen 1  (Local Loopback)
      RX packets 7243979  bytes 4942978708 (4.6 GiB)
      RX errors 0  dropped 0  overruns 0  frame 0
      TX packets 7243979  bytes 4942978708 (4.6 GiB)
      TX errors 0  dropped 0 overruns 0  carrier 0  collisions 0

wlan0: flags=4163<UP,BROADCAST,RUNNING,MULTICAST>  mtu 1500
      inet  netmask  broadcast
      inet6 2001:22:44ba:129c:6c:c8e:ba1:694b  prefixlen 64  scopeid 0x0<global>
      inet6 fe80::b0f6:2f66:af28:86a2  prefixlen 64  scopeid 0x20<link>
      ether 34:41:5d:12:34:56  txqueuelen 1000  (Ethernet)
      RX packets 60594152  bytes 36266491981 (33.7 GiB)
      RX errors 0  dropped 2  overruns 0  frame 0
      TX packets 19387955  bytes 4314958458 (4.0 GiB)
      TX errors 0  dropped 0 overruns 0  carrier 0  collisions 0

You can also modify the network-configuration by specifying the configuration as arguments to ifconfig. For example. to configure eth0 with ip-address and netmask, you can run:

Listing 12.2 Running ifconfig
# ifconfig eth0 netmask
# ifconfig eth0
eth0: flags=4099<UP,BROADCAST,MULTICAST>  mtu 1500
      inet  netmask  broadcast

12.4.2. route

Using the route command you can inspect and make changes to the default kernel routing table.

Listing 12.3 Viewing the default routing table with route
$ route -n
Kernel IP routing table
Destination     Gateway         Genmask         Flags Metric Ref    Use Iface         UG    600    0        0 wlan0   U     0      0        0 eth0   U     600    0        0 wlan0

Routes can be added or removed as well

Listing 12.4 Viewing the default routing table with route
# route add -net gw dev eth0
# route add -host gw
# route
Kernel IP routing table
Destination     Gateway         Genmask         Flags Metric Ref    Use Iface
default         gateway         UG    600    0        0 wlan0   U     0      0        0 eth0   UG    0      0        0 eth0 UGH   0      0        0 eth0   U     600    0        0 wlan0

Removal is the same, but with del instead of add

12.4.3. netstat

The netstat command lets you inspect various related settings, like open network connections. See the man-page of netstat for description of its many options.

Listing 12.5 Showing open tcp ports and connections using netstat
# netstat -tlpn
Active Internet connections (only servers)
Proto Recv-Q Send-Q Local Address           Foreign Address         State       PID/Program name
tcp        0      0*               LISTEN      11407/ssh
tcp        0      0*               LISTEN      1186/mysqld
tcp        0      0    *               LISTEN      18930/sshd
tcp        0      0 *               LISTEN      3633/cupsd
tcp        0      0  *               LISTEN      1769/master
tcp6       0      0 :::22                   :::*                    LISTEN      18930/sshd
tcp6       0      0 ::1:631                 :::*                    LISTEN      3633/cupsd
tcp6       0      0 ::1:25                  :::*                    LISTEN      1769/master

12.5. iproute2

IPRoute2 is the newer set of network-configuration tools available on the Linux commandline. The main command is ip, which is a very flexible command, as it allows you to configure ip-addresses, routes, arp-entries, tunnels and various other network related settings. This flexibility makes the ip command a but more complex to use though.

ip uses the concept of objects and commands, first you specify what object you want to work with, then what task you want to perform, the command, and then the options specifying what you would like to do or change on this object. The help command can be used at many places and levels to give you information about what ip expects at that point.

These days ip is preferred, since it will handle ipv4 and ipv6 configuration using the same syntax and methods. You can also abbreviate all commands and options to the shortest unique string that matches the command or option you need, so ip -4 a a dev eth0 is equivalent to ip -4 address add dev eth0

Various ‘objects’ you can work with include: * address: An IPv4 or IPv6 address on a device * link: The state of a network device * neighbour: ARP and IPv6 Neighbour discovery entries * netns: Networking namespaces * route: Routing * rule: Rule-based routing * tunnel: IP Tunnels * tuntap: Tun or Tap devices

Listing 12.6 Configuring IPv4 and IPv6 addresses using iproute2
# ip -4 addr add dev eth0
# ip -6 addr add 2001:22:44ba:129c::10/64 dev eth0
# ip -6 a sh dev eth0
2: eth0: <NO-CARRIER,BROADCAST,MULTICAST,UP> mtu 1500 state DOWN qlen 1000
    inet6 2001:22:44ba:129c::10/64 scope global tentative
       valid_lft forever preferred_lft forever

12.6. Network Configuration in CentOS

CentOS and RHEL have multiple methods to configure network settings, you can use * nmcli * nmtui * nm-connection-editor (Gnome GUI)

These 3 different methods, a CLI based tool (nmcli), a curses text-windows interface (nmtui) and the GUI (nm-connection-editor), all work with and from the same configuration-files, which are plain-text files stored in /etc/sysconfig/network-scripts/.

This means that it’s also possible to just change these files with your favorite text-editor or configuration-management tools.

12.6.1. nmcli

nmcli, the network-manager command-line-interface, is the least user-friendly tool of the bunch, as using it involves lots of typing, checking help-entries and copy/pasting unique identifiers. Unless you want to do some advanced automated configuration, I suggest to stay away from this tool as much as possible, almost anything you will actually use can be done from the configuration-file, using nmtui and nm-connection-editor.

12.6.2. nmtui

For basic network-configuration, nmtui will get the job done, though the text-user-interface might take some getting used to. You can navigate to fields using the arrow-buttons or tab and shift+tab

When staring nmtui, you have 3 options available: * Edit a connection, used to configure a device * Activate a connection, to start the configured network * Set system hostname, to change the hostname

Under Edit a connection you can choose from the available network-devices, or add a new network-device if this isn’t configured or detected yet. Normally your first network-card will be called eth0.

If you select Edit, you can configure the network-settings for the chosen device:

Configuring a network with nmtui

12.6.3. nm-connection-editor

If you are on a system with the GUI installed, you can (as root) run nm-connection-editor, which will show you the following interface, from which you can configure your networking.

Configuring a network with nm-connection-editor

12.6.4. configuration files

As stated previously, all changes made using the various configuration-tools just result in changes in the configuration-files that are actually used for network-configuration. These files can be found in /etc/sysconfig/network-scripts/. For example, the configuration for the eth interface will be in the /etc/sysconfig/network-scripts/ifcfg-eth0. file.

Listing 12.7 Contents of ifcfg-eth0
# cat /etc/sysconfig/network-scripts/ifcfg-eth0

As can be seen here, the configured IP-addres can be found under the IPADDR variable, and other related networking values under PREFIX and GATEWAY. The secondary (and further) addresses will have a number appended, so ADDRESS1, PREFIX1, GATEWAY1, etcetera.

You can enable and disable network-interface configurations using ifup eth0 and ifdown eth0.

12.7. Network Configuration in Debian/Ubuntu

In debian, the network-manager interfaces named before are also available, but on systems with wired networks these tools are almost never used. Debian’s preferred method of network-configuration is from the /etc/network/interfaces file, or a file in the /etc/network/interfaces.d/ directory.

Listing 12.8 Contents of ifcfg-eth0
$ cat /etc/network/interfaces
# This file describes the network interfaces available on your system/interfaces
# and how to activate them. For more information, see interfaces(5).

source /etc/network/interfaces.d/*

# The loopback network interface
auto lo
iface lo inet loopback

auto ens3
iface ens3 inet static

In the configuration above, you can see Debian’s default network-configuration. In line 4 we see the source statement, which includes all files in /etc/network/interfaces.d/, which is a directory where you can add more configuration files for networking.

In line 8 and 11, auto <interface> means that this interface will be brought online during booting.

Line 9 configures the loopback interface, which only has the default configuration. Line 12-14 configure the ens3 interface with the specified ip-address, netmask and gateway.

The /etc/network/interfaces file supports many options and configuration-directives for various networking features, such as vlan’s, secondary ip-addresses, routes, dhcp-options and commands to be run before or after bringing up the network-interface. The interfaces(5) man-page documents all the available options.

To activate or deactivate an interface, you can run ifup <interface> or ifdown, both of which also take the -a argument, to act on all interfaces.