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This documentation is for an older version of Linkerd. You may want the Linkerd 2.12 (current) documentation instead.

IPTables Reference

In order to route TCP traffic in a pod to and from the proxy, an init container is used to set up iptables rules at the start of an injected pod’s lifecycle.

At first, linkerd-init will create two chains in the nat table: PROXY_INIT_REDIRECT, and PROXY_INIT_OUTPUT. These chains are used to route inbound and outbound packets through the proxy. Each chain has a set of rules attached to it, these rules are traversed by a packet in order.

Inbound connections

When a packet arrives in a pod, it will typically be processed by the PREROUTING chain, a default chain attached to the nat table. The sidecar container will create a new chain to process inbound packets, called PROXY_INIT_REDIRECT. The sidecar container creates a rule (install-proxy-init-prerouting) to send packets from the PREROUTING chain to our redirect chain. This is the first rule traversed by an inbound packet.

The redirect chain will be configured with two more rules:

  1. ignore-port: will ignore processing packets whose destination ports are included in the skip-inbound-ports install option.
  2. proxy-init-redirect-all: will redirect all incoming TCP packets through the proxy, on port 4143.

Based on these two rules, there are two possible paths that an inbound packet can take, both of which are outlined below.

Inbound iptables chain traversal
Inbound iptables chain traversal

The packet will arrive on the PREROUTING chain and will be immediately routed to the redirect chain. If its destination port matches any of the inbound ports to skip, then it will be forwarded directly to the application process, bypassing the proxy. The list of destination ports to check against can be configured when installing Linkerd. If the packet does not match any of the ports in the list, it will be redirected through the proxy. Redirection is done by changing the incoming packet’s destination header, the target port will be replaced with 4143, which is the proxy’s inbound port. The proxy will process the packet and produce a new one that will be forwarded to the service; it will be able to get the original target (IP:PORT) of the inbound packet by using a special socket option SO_ORIGINAL_DST. The new packet will be routed through the OUTPUT chain, from there it will be sent to the application. The OUTPUT chain rules are covered in more detail below.

Outbound connections

When a packet leaves a pod, it will first traverse the OUTPUT chain, the first default chain an outgoing packet traverses in the nat table. To redirect outgoing packets through the outbound side of the proxy, the sidecar container will again create a new chain. The first outgoing rule is similar to the inbound counterpart: any packet that traverses the OUTPUT chain should be forwarded to our PROXY_INIT_OUTPUT chain to be processed.

The output redirect chain is slightly harder to understand but follows the same logical flow as the inbound redirect chain, in total there are 4 rules configured:

  1. ignore-proxy-uid: any packets owned by the proxy (whose user id is 2102), will skip processing and return to the previous (OUTPUT) chain. From there, it will be sent on the outbound network interface (either to the application, in the case of an inbound packet, or outside of the pod, for an outbound packet).
  2. ignore-loopback: if the packet is sent over the loopback interface (lo), it will skip processing and return to the previous chain. From here, the packet will be sent to the destination, much like the first rule in the chain.
  3. ignore-port: will ignore processing packets whose destination ports are included in the skip-outbound-ports install option.
  4. redirect-all-outgoing: the last rule in the chain, it will redirect all outgoing TCP packets to port 4140, the proxy’s outbound port. If a packet has made it this far, it is guaranteed its destination is not local (i.e lo) and it has not been produced by the proxy. This means the packet has been produced by the service, so it should be forwarded to its destination by the proxy.
Outbound iptables chain traversal
Outbound iptables chain traversal

A packet produced by the service will first hit the OUTPUT chain; from here, it will be sent to our own output chain for processing. The first rule it encounters in PROXY_INIT_OUTPUT will be ignore-proxy-uid. Since the packet was generated by the service, this rule will be skipped. If the packet’s destination is not a port bound on localhost (e.g 127.0.0.1:80), then it will skip the second rule as well. The third rule, ignore-port will be matched if the packet’s destination port is in the outbound ports to skip list, in this case, it will be sent out on the network interface, bypassing the proxy. If the rule is not matched, then the packet will reach the final rule in the chain redirect-all-outgoing– as the name implies, it will be sent to the proxy to be processed, on its outbound port 4140. Much like in the inbound case, the routing happens at the nat level, the packet’s header will be re-written to target the outbound port. The proxy will process the packet and then forward it to its destination. The new packet will take the same path through the OUTPUT chain, however, it will stop at the first rule, since it was produced by the proxy.

The substantiated explanation applies to a packet whose destination is another service, outside of the pod. In practice, an application can also send traffic locally. As such, there are two other possible scenarios that we will explore: when a service talks to itself (by sending traffic over localhost or by using its own endpoint address), and when a service talks to itself through a clusterIP target. Both scenarios are somehow related, but the path a packet takes differs.

A service may send requests to itself. It can also target another container in the pod. This scenario would typically apply when:

  • The destination is the pod (or endpoint) IP address.
  • The destination is a port bound on localhost (regardless of which container it belongs to).
Outbound iptables chain traversal
Outbound iptables chain traversal

When the application targets itself through its pod’s IP (or loopback address), the packets will traverse the two output chains. The first rule will be skipped, since the owner is the application, and not the proxy. Once the second rule is matched, the packets will return to the first output chain, from here, they’ll be sent directly to the service.

A service may send requests to itself using its clusterIP. In such cases, it is not guaranteed that the destination will be local. The packet follows an unusual path, as depicted in the diagram below.

Outbound iptables chain traversal
Outbound iptables chain traversal

When the packet first traverses the output chains, it will follow the same path an outbound packet would normally take. In such a scenario, the packet’s destination will be an address that is not considered to be local by the kernel– it is, after all, a virtual IP. The proxy will process the packet, at a connection level, connections to a clusterIP will be load balanced between endpoints. Chances are that the endpoint selected will be the pod itself, packets will therefore never leave the pod; the destination will be resolved to the podIP. The packets produced by the proxy will traverse the output chain and stop at the first rule, then they will be forwarded to the service. This constitutes an edge case because at this point, the packet has been processed by the proxy, unlike the scenario previously discussed where it skips it altogether. For this reason, at a connection level, the proxy will not mTLS or opportunistically upgrade the connection to HTTP/2 when the endpoint is local to the pod. In practice, this is treated as if the destination was loopback, with the exception that the packet is forwarded through the proxy, instead of being forwarded from the service directly to itself.

Rules table

For reference, you can find the actual commands used to create the rules below. Alternatively, if you want to inspect the iptables rules created for a pod, you can retrieve them through the following command:

$ kubectl -n <namesppace> logs <pod-name> linkerd-init
# where <pod-name> is the name of the pod
# you want to see the iptables rules for

Inbound

# name iptables rule description
1 redirect-common-chain iptables -t nat -N PROXY_INIT_REDIRECT creates a new iptables chain to add inbound redirect rules to; the chain is attached to the nat table
2 ignore-port iptables -t nat -A PROXY_INIT_REDIRECT -p tcp --match multiport --dports <ports> -j RETURN configures iptables to ignore the redirect chain for packets whose dst ports are included in the --skip-inbound-ports config option
3 proxy-init-redirect-all iptables -t nat -A PROXY_INIT_REDIRECT -p tcp -j REDIRECT --to-port 4143 configures iptables to redirect all incoming TCP packets to port 4143, the proxy’s inbound port
4 install-proxy-init-prerouting iptables -t nat -A PREROUTING -j PROXY_INIT_REDIRECT the last inbound rule configures the PREROUTING chain (first chain a packet traverses inbound) to send packets to the redirect chain for processing

Outbound

# name iptables rule description
1 redirect-common-chain iptables -t nat -N PROXY_INIT_OUTPUT creates a new iptables chain to add outbound redirect rules to, also attached to the nat table
2 ignore-proxy-uid iptables -t nat -A PROXY_INIT_OUTPUT -m owner --uid-owner 2102 -j RETURN when a packet is owned by the proxy (--uid-owner 2102), skip processing and return to the previous (OUTPUT) chain
3 ignore-loopback iptables -t nat -A PROXY_INIT_OUTPUT -o lo -j RETURN when a packet is sent over the loopback interface (lo), skip processing and return to the previous chain
4 ignore-port iptables -t nat -A PROXY_INIT_OUTPUT -p tcp --match multiport --dports <ports> -j RETURN configures iptables to ignore the redirect output chain for packets whose dst ports are included in the --skip-outbound-ports config option
5 redirect-all-outgoing iptables -t nat -A PROXY_INIT_OUTPUT -p tcp -j REDIRECT --to-port 4140 configures iptables to redirect all outgoing TCP packets to port 4140, the proxy’s outbound port
6 install-proxy-init-output iptables -t nat -A OUTPUT -j PROXY_INIT_OUTPUT the last outbound rule configures the OUTPUT chain (second before last chain a packet traverses outbound) to send packets to the redirect output chain for processing