Fun with veth-devices, Linux bridges and VLANs in unnamed Linux network namespaces – II

The topics of this blog post series are

  • the basic handling of network namespaces
  • and virtual networking between different network namespaces.

One objective is a better understanding of the mechanisms behind the setup for future (LXC) containers on a host; containers are based on namespaces (see the last post of this series for a mini introduction). The most important Linux namespace for networking is the so called „network namespace“.

As explained in the previous article
Fun with veth-devices, Linux bridges and VLANs in unnamed Linux network namespaces – I
it is interesting and worthwhile to perform network experiments without referring to explicit names for network namespaces. Especially, when you plan to administer LXC containers with libvirt/virt-manager. You then cannot use the standard LXC tools or „ip„-options for explicit network namespace names.

We, therefore, had a look at relevant options for the ip-command and other typical userspace tools. The basic trick was/is to refer to PIDs of the processes originally associated with network namespaces. I discussed commands for listing network namespaces and associated processes. In addition, I showed how one can use shells for entering new or existing unnamed network namespaces. We finalized the first post with the creation of a veth device inside a distinct network namespace.

Advanced experiments – communication scenarios between network namespaces and groups of namespaces (or containers)

Regarding networking a container is represented by a network namespace, associated network devices and rules. A network namespace provides an isolation of the network devices assigned to this namespace plus related packet filter and routing rules from/against other namespaces/containers.

But very often you may have to deal not only with one container on a host but a whole bunch of containers. Therefore, another objective of experiments with network namespaces is

  • to study the setup of network communication lines between different containers – i.e. between different network namespaces –
  • and to study mechanisms for the isolation of the network packet flow between certain containers/namespaces against packets and from communication lines of other containers/namespaces or/and the host.

The second point may appear strange at first sight: Didn’t we learn that the fundamental purpose of (network) namespaces already is isolation? Yes, the isolation of devices, but not the isolation of network packet crossing the network namespace borders. In realistic situations we, in addition, need to establish and at the same time isolate communication paths in between different containers/namespaces and to their environment.

Typically, we have to address a grouping of containers/namespaces in this context:

  • Different containers on one or several hosts should be able to talk to each other and the Internet – but only if these containers are members of a defined group.
  • At the same time we may need to isolate the communication occurring within a group of containers/namespaces against the communication flow of containers/namespaces of another group and against communication lines of the host.
  • Still, we may need to allow namespaces/containers of different groups to use a common NIC to the Internet despite an otherwise isolated operation.

All this
requires a confinement of the flow of distinguished network packages along certain paths between network namespaces. Thus, the question comes up how to achieve separated virtual communication circuits between network namespaces already on the L2 level and across possibly involved virtual devices.

Veth devices, VLAN aware Linux bridges (or other types of virtual Linux switches) and VLAN tagging play a key role in simple (virtual) infrastructure approaches to such challenges. Packet filter rules of Linux‘ netfilter components additionally support the control of packet flow through such (virtual) infrastructure elements. Note:

The nice thing about network namespaces is that we can study all required basic networking principles easily without setting up LXC containers.

Test scenarios – an overview

I want to outline a collection of interesting scenarios for establishing and isolating communication paths between namespaces/containers. We start with a basic communication line between 2 different network namespaces. By creating more namespaces and veth devices, a VLAN aware bridge and VLAN rules we extend the test scenario’s complexity step by step to cover the questions posed above. See the graphics below.

Everything actually happens on one host. But the elements of lower part (below the horizontal black line) also could be placed on a different host. The RJ45 symbols represent Ethernet interfaces of veth devices. These interfaces, therefore, appear mostly in pairs (as long as we do not define sub interfaces). The colors represent IDs (VIDs) of VLANs. Three standard Linux bridges are involved; on each of these bridges we shall activate VLAN filtering. We shall learn that we can, but do not need to tag packets outside of VLAN filtering bridges – with a few interesting exceptions.

I suggest 10 experiments to perform within the drawn virtual network. We cannot discuss details of all experiments in one blog post; but in the coming posts we shall walk through this graphics in several steps from the top to the bottom and from the left to the right. Each step will be accompanied by experiments.

I use the abbreviation „netns“ for „network namespace“ below. Note in advance that the processes (shells) underlying the creation of network namespaces in our experiments always establish „uts“ namespaces, too. Thus we can assign different hostnames to the basic shell processes – this helps us to distinguish in which network namespace shell we operate by just looking at the prompt of a shell. All the „names“ as netns1, netns2, … appearing in the examples below actually are hostnames – and not real network namespace names in the sense of „ip“ commands or LXC tools.

I should remark that I did the experiments below not just for fun, but because the use of VLAN tags in environments with Linux bridges are discussed in many Internet articles in a way which I find confusing and misleading. This is partially due to the fact that the extensions of the Linux kernel for VLAN definitions with the help of Linux bridges have reached a stable status only with kernel 3.9 (as far as I know). So many articles before 2014 present ideas which do not fit to the present options. Still, even today, you stumble across discussions which claim that you either do VLANs or bridging – but not both – and if, then only with different bridges for different VLANs. I personally think that today the only reason for such approaches would be performance – but not a strict separation of technologies.


I hope the
following experiments will provide readers some learning effects and also some fun with veth devices and bridges:

Experiment 1: Connect two namespaces directly
First we shall place the two different Ethernet interfaces of a veth device in two different (unnamed) network namespaces (with hostnames) netns1 and netns2. We assign IP addresses (of the same network class) to the interfaces and check a basic communication between the network namespaces. Simple and effective!

Experiment 2: Connect two namespaces via a bridge in a third namespace
Afterwards we instead connect our two different network namespaces netns1 and netns2 via a Linux bridge „brx“ in a third namespace netns3. Note: We would use a separate 3rd namespace also in a scenario with containers to get the the bridge and related firewall and VLAN rules outside the control of the containers. In addition such a separate namespace helps to isolate the host against any communication (and possible attacks) coming from the containers.

Experiment 3: Establish isolated groups of containers
We set up two additional network namespaces (netns4, netns5). We check communication between all four namespaces attached to brx. Then we put netns1 and netns2 into a group („green“) – and netns4 and netns5 into another group („rosa“). Communication between member namespaces of a group shall be allowed – but not between namespaces of different groups. Despite the fact that all namespaces are part of the same IP address class! We achieve this on the L2 level by assigning VLAN IDs (VIDs) to the bridge ports to which we attach netns1, netns2, em>netns2 and netns5.

We shall see how „PVIDs“ are assigned to a specific port for tagging packets that move into the bridge through this port and how we untag outgoing packets at the very same port. Conclusion: So far, no tagging is required outside the Linux bridge brx for building simple virtual VLANs!

Experiment 4: Tagging outside the bridge?
Although not required we repeat the last experiment with defined subinterfaces of two veth devices (used for netns2 and netns5) – just to check that packet tagging occurs correctly outside the bridge. This is done in preparation for other experiments. But for the isolation of VLAN communication paths inside the bridge only the tagging of packets coming into the bridge through a port is relevant: A packet coming from outside is first untagged and then retagged when moving into the bridge. The reverse untagging and retagging for outgoing packets is done correctly, too – but the tag „color“ outside the bridge actually plays no role for the filtered communication paths inside the bridge.

Experiment 5: Connection to a second independent environment – with keeping up namespace grouping
In reality we may have situations in which some containers of a defined group will be placed on different hosts. Can we extend the concept of separating container/namespace groups by VLAN tagging to a different hosts via two bridges? Bridge brx on the first host and a new bridge bry on the second (netns8)? Yes, we can!

In reality we would connect two hosts by Ethernet cards. We simulate this situation in our virtual environment again with a veth interface pair between „netns3“ and „netns8„. But
as we absolutely do not want to mix packets of our two groups we now need to tag the packets on their way between the bridges. We shall see how to use subinterfaces of the (veth) Ethernet interfaces to achieve this. Note, that the two resulting communication paths between bridges may potentially lead to loops! We shall deal with this problem, too.

Experiment 6: Two tags on a bridge port? Members of two groups?
Now, we could have containers (namespaces) that should be able to communicate with both groups. Then we would need 2 VIDs on a bridge port for this special container/namespace. We establish netns9 for this test. We shall see that it is no problem to assign two VIDs to a port to filter the differently tagged packets going from the bridge outwards. Nevertheless we run into problems – not because of the assignment of 2 VIDs, but due the fact that we can only assign one PVID to each bridge port. This seems to limit our possibilities to tag incoming packets if we choose its value to be among the VIDS defined already on other ports. Then we cannot direct packages to 2 groups for existing VIDs.

We have to solve this by defining new additional paths inside the bridge for packages coming in through the port for netns9: We assign a PVID to the this port, which is different from all VIDs defined so far. Then we assign additional VIDs with the value of this new PVID to the ports of the members of our existing groups. An interesting question then is: Are the groups still isolated? Is pinging interrupted? And how to stop man-in-the-middle-attacks of netns9?

The answer lies in some firewall rules which must be established on the bridge! In case we use iptables (instead of the more suited ebtables) these rules MUST refer to the ports of the bridge via physdev options and IP addresses. However, ARP packets – coming from netns9 should pass to all interfaces of members of our groups.

Experiment 7: Separate the network groups by different IP address class
If we wanted a total separation of two groups we would also separate them on L3 – i.e we would assign IP addresses of separate IP address networks to the members of the different groups. Will transport across our bridges still work correctly under this condition? It should …. However, netns9 will get a problem then. We shall see that he could still communicate with both groups if we used subinterfaces for his veth interface – and defined two routes for him.

Experiment 8: Connection of container groups and the host to the Internet
Our containers/namespaces of group „green“, which are directly or indirectly attached to bridge brx shall be able reach the Internet. The host itself, too. Normally, you would administer the host via an administration network, to which the host would connect via a specific network card separate from the card used to connect the containers/namespaces to the Internet. However, what can we do, if we only have exactly one Ethernet card available?

Then some extra care is required. There are several possible solutions for an isolation of the host’s traffic to the Internet from the rest of the system. I present one which makes use of what we have learned so far about VLAN tagging. We set up a namespace netns10 with a third bridge „brz„. We apply VLAN tagging in this namespace – inside the bridge, but also outside. Communication to the outside requires routing, too. Still, we need some firewall rules – including the interfaces of the bridge. The bridge can be interpreted as an IN/OUT interface plane to the firewall; there is of course only one firewall although the drawing indicates two sets of rules.

netns11“ just represents the Internet with some routing. We can replace the Ethernet card drawn in netns10 by a veth interface to achieve a connection to netns11; the second interface inside netns11 then represents some host on the Internet. It can be simulated by a tap device. We can check, how signals move to and from this „host“.

Purely academic?

The scenarios discussed above seem to be complicated. Actually, they are not as soon as we get used to the involved elements and rules. But, still the whole setup may seem a bit academic … However, if you think a bit about it, you may find that on a development system for web services you may have

  • two containers for frontend apache systems with load balancing,
  • two containers for web service servers,
  • two or three containers for a MySQL-systems with different types of replication,
  • one container representing a user system,
  • one container to simulate OWASP and other attacks on the servers and the user client.

If we want to simulate attacks on a web-service system with such a configuration on one host only, you are not so far from the scenario presented. Modern PC-systems (with a lot of memory) do have the capacity to host a lot of containers – if the load is limited.

Anyway, enough stuff for the coming blog posts … During the posts I shall present the commands to set up the above network. These commands can be used in a script which gets longer with each post. But we start with a simple example – see:

Fun with veth-devices, Linux bridges and VLANs in unnamed Linux network namespaces – III

Fun with veth-devices, Linux bridges and VLANs in unnamed Linux network namespaces – I

Recently, I started writing some blog posts about my first experiences with LXC-containers and libvirt/virt-manager. Whilst gathering knowledge about LXC basics I stumbled across four hurdles for dummies as me, who would like to experiment with network namespaces, veth devices and bridges on the command line and/or in the context of LXC-containers built with virt-manager:

  • When you use virt-manager/libvirt to set up LXC-containers you are no longer able to use the native LXC commands to deal with these containers. virt-manager/virsh/libvirt directly use the kernel API for cgroups/namespaces and provide their own and specific user interfaces (graphical, virsh, XML configuration files) for the setup of LXC containers and their networks. Not very helpful for quick basic experiments on virtual networking in network namespaces ….
  • LXC-containers created via virt-manager/virsh/libvirt use unnamed namespaces which are identified by unique inode numbers, but not by explicit names. However, almost all articles on the Internet which try to provide a basic understanding of network namespaces and veth devices explicitly use „ip“ command options for named namespaces. This raises the question: How to deal with unnamed network namespaces?
  • As a beginner you normally do not know how to get a shell for exploring an existing unnamed namespace. Books offer certain options of the „ip“-command – but these again refer to named network namespaces. You may need such a shell – not only for basic experiments, but also as the administrator of the container’s host: there are many situations in which you would like to enter the (network) namespace of a LXC container directly.
  • When you experiment with complex network structures you may quickly loose the overview over which of the many veth interfaces on your machine is assigned to which (network) namespace.

Objectives and requirements

Unfortunately, even books as „Containerization with LXC“ of K. Ivanov did not provide me with the few hints and commands that would have been helpful. I want to close this gap with 2 blog posts. The simple commands and experiments shown below and in a subsequent article may help others to quickly setup basic network structures for different namespaces – without being dependent on named namespaces, which will not be provided by virt-manager/libvirt. I concentrate on the network namespace type here, but some of the things may work for other namespace types, too.

After a look at some basics, we will create a shell associated with a new unnamed network namespace which will be different from the network namespace of other system processes. Afterwards we will learn how to enter an existing unnamed namespaces by a new shell. A third objective is the attachment of virtual network devices to a network namespace.

In further articles we will use our gathered knowledge to attach veth interfaces of 2 different namespaces to virtual bridges/switches in yet a third namespace, then link the host to the bridge/switch and test communications as well as routing. We shall the extend our virtual networking scenario to isolated groups of namespaces (or containers, if you like) via VLANs. As a side aspect we shall learn how to use a Linux bridge for defining VLANs.

All our experiments will lead to temporary namespaces which can quickly be cretated by scripts and destroyed by killing the basic shell processes associated with them.

Requirements: The kernel should have been compiled with option „CONFIG_NET_NS=y“. We make use of userspace tools that are provided as parts of a RPM or DEB packet named „util-linux“ on most Linux distributions.


Some basics first. There are 6 different types of „namespaces“ for the isolation of processes or process groups on a Linux system. The different namespace types separate PID-trees, the networks, User-UIDs, mounts, inter process communication, host/domain-names (uts) of process groups against each each other. Every process on a host is attached to certain namespace (of each type), which it may or may not have in common with another process.

„Separation“ means: Limitation of the view on the process‘ own environment and on the environment of other processes on the system. „Separation“ also means a limitation of the control a process can get on processes/environments associated with other namespaces.

Therefore, to isolate LXC containers from other containers and from the host, the container’s processes will typically be assigned to distinct namespaces of most of the 6 types. In addition: The root filesystem of a LXC containers typically resides in a chroot jail.

Three side remarks:

  1. cgroups limit the ressource utilization of process groups on a host. We do not look at cgroups in this article.
  2. Without certain measures the UID namespace of a LXC container will be the same as the namespace of the host. This is e.g. the case for a standard container created with virt-manager. Then root in the container is root on the host. When a container’s basic processes are run with root-privileges of the host we talk of a „privileged container“. Privileged containers pose a potential danger to the host if the container’s environment could be left. There are means to escape chroot jails – and under certain circumstances there are means to cross the borders of a container … and then root is root on the host.
  3. You should be very clear about the fact that a secure isolation of processes and containers on a host depend on other more sophisticated isolation mechanisms beyond namespaces and chroot jails. Typically, SE Linux or Apparmor rules may be required to prevent crossing the line from a namespace attached process to the host environment.

In our network namespace experiments below we normally will not separate the UID namespaces. If you need to do it, you must map a non-privileged UID (> 1000) on UID 0 inside the namespace to be able to perform certain network operations. See the options in the man pages of the commands used below for this mapping.

Network namespaces

The relevant namespace type for the network environment (NICs, bridges etc.) to which a process has access to is the „network namespace“. Below I will sometimes use the abbreviation „net-ns“.

When you think about it, you will find the above statements on network isolation unclear: In the real world network packets originate from electronic devices, are transported through cables and are then distributed and redirected by other devices and eventually terminate at yet other electronic devices. So, one may ask : Can a network packet created by a (virtual) network device within a certain namespace cross the namespace border (whatever this may be) at all? Yes, they can:

Network namespaces affect network devices (also virtual ones) and also routing rules coupled to device ports. However, network packets do NOT care about network namespaces on OSI level 2.

To be more precise: Network namespace separation affects network-devices (e.g. Ethernet devices, virtual Linux bridges/switches), IPv4/IPv6 protocol stacks, routing tables, ARP tables, firewalls, /proc/net, /sys/class/net/, QoS policies, ports, port numbers, sockets. But is does not stop an Ethernet packet to reach an Ethernet device in another namespace – as long as the packet can propagate in the
virtual network environment at all.

So, now you may ask what means we have available to represent something like cables and Ethernet transport between namespaces? This is one of the purposes veth devices have been invented for! So, we shall study how to bridge different namespaces by the use of Ethernet interfaces of veth devices and virtual Linux bridges/switches.

However, regarding container operation you would still want the following to be true for packet filtering:

A fundamental container process, its children and network devices should be confined to devices of a certain „network namespace“ because they should not be able to have any direct influence on network devices of other containers or the host. And: Even if packets move from one network namespace to another you probably want to be able to restrict this traffic in virtual networks as you do in real networks – e.g by packet filter rules (ebtables, iptables) or by VLAN definitions governing ports on virtual bridges/switches.

Many aspects of virtual bridges, filtering, VLANs can be tested already in a simple shell based namespace environment – i.e. without full-fletched containers. See the coming articles for such experiments …

Listing network namespaces on a host

The first thing we need is an overview over active namespaces on a host. For listing namespaces we can use the command „lsns“ on a modern Linux system. This command has several options which you may look up in the man pages. Below I show you an excerpt of the output of „lsns“ for network namespaces (option „-t net“) on a system where a LXC container was previously started by virt-manager:

        NS TYPE PATH              NPROCS   PID  PPID COMMAND                  UID USER
4026531963 net  /proc/1/ns/net       389     1     0 /usr/lib/systemd/system    0 root
4026540989 net  /proc/5284/ns/net     21  5284  5282 /sbin/init                 0 root

Actually, I have omitted some more processes with separate namespaces, which are not relevant in our context. So, do not be surprised if you should find more processes with distinct network namespaces on your system.

The „NS“ numbers given in the output are so called „namespace identification numbers“. Actually they are unique inode numbers. (For the reader it may be instructive to let „lsns“ run for all namespaces of the host – and compare the outputs.)

Obviously, in our case there is some process with PID „5282“, which has provided a special net-ns for the process with PID „5284“:

mytux:~ # ps aux | grep 5282
root      5282  0.0  0.0 161964  8484 ?        Sl   09:58   0:00 /usr/lib64/libvirt/libvirt_lxc --name lxc1 --console 23 --security=apparmor --handshake 26 --veth vnet1

This is the process which started the running LXC container from the virt-manager interface. The process with PID „5284“ actually is the „init“-Process of this container – which is limited to the network namespace created for it.

Now let us filter or group namespace and process information in different ways:

Overview over all namespaces associated with a process
This is easy – just use the option „-p“ :

        NS TYPE  PATH              NPROCS   PID  PPID COMMAND                                                            UID USER
4026531837 user  /proc/1/ns/user      416     1     0 /usr/lib/systemd/systemd --switched-root --system --deserialize 24   0 root
4026540984 mnt   /proc/5284/ns/mnt     20  5284  5282 /sbin/init                                                           0 root
4026540985 uts   /proc/5284/ns/uts     20  5284  5282 /sbin/init       
                                                    0 root
4026540986 ipc   /proc/5284/ns/ipc     20  5284  5282 /sbin/init                                                           0 root
4026540987 pid   /proc/5284/ns/pid     20  5284  5282 /sbin/init                                                           0 root
4026540989 net   /proc/5284/ns/net     21  5284  5282 /sbin/init                                                           0 root

Looking up namespaces for a process in the proc-directory
Another approach for looking up namespaces makes use of the „/proc“ directory. E.g. on a different system, where a process with PID 4634 is associated with a LXC-container:

mylx:/proc # ls -lai /proc/1/ns
total 0
344372 dr-x--x--x 2 root root 0 Oct  7 11:28 .
  1165 dr-xr-xr-x 9 root root 0 Oct  7 09:34 ..
341734 lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 0 Oct  7 11:28 ipc -> ipc:[4026531839]
341737 lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 0 Oct  7 11:28 mnt -> mnt:[4026531840]
344373 lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 0 Oct  7 11:28 net -> net:[4026531963]
341735 lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 0 Oct  7 11:28 pid -> pid:[4026531836]
341736 lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 0 Oct  7 11:28 user -> user:[4026531837]
341733 lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 0 Oct  7 11:28 uts -> uts:[4026531838]
mylx:/proc # ls -lai /proc/4634/ns
total 0
 38887 dr-x--x--x 2 root root 0 Oct  7 09:36 .
 40573 dr-xr-xr-x 9 root root 0 Oct  7 09:36 ..
341763 lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 0 Oct  7 11:28 ipc -> ipc:[4026540980]
341765 lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 0 Oct  7 11:28 mnt -> mnt:[4026540978]
345062 lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 0 Oct  7 11:28 net -> net:[4026540983]
 38888 lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 0 Oct  7 09:36 pid -> pid:[4026540981]
341764 lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 0 Oct  7 11:28 user -> user:[4026531837]
341762 lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 0 Oct  7 11:28 uts -> uts:[4026540979]

What does this output for 2 different processes tell us? Obviously, the host and the LXC container have different namespaces – with one remarkable exception: the „user namespace“! They are identical. Meaning: Root on the container is root on the host. A typical sign of a „privileged“ LXC container and of potential security issues.

List all processes related to a given namespace?
„lsns“ does not help us here. Note:

„lsns“ only shows you the lowest PID associated with a certain (network) namespace.

So, you have to use the „ps“ commands with appropriate filters. The following is from a system, where a LXC container is bound to the network namespace with identification number 4026540989:

        NS TYPE PATH              NPROCS   PID  PPID COMMAND                                               UID USER
4026531963 net  /proc/1/ns/net       401     1     0 /usr/lib/systemd/systemd --switched-root --system --d   0 root
4026540989 net  /proc/6866/ns/net     20  6866  6864 /sbin/init                                              0 root
mytux:~ #  ps -eo netns,pid,ppid,user,args --sort netns | grep 4026540989
4026531963 16077  4715 root     grep --color=auto 4026540989
4026540989  6866  6864 root     /sbin/init
4026540989  6899  6866 root     /usr/lib/systemd/systemd-journald
4026540989  6922  6866 root     /usr/sbin/ModemManager
4026540989  6925  6866 message+ /bin/dbus-daemon --system --address=systemd: --nofork --nopidfile --systemd-activation
4026540989  6927  6866 tftp     /usr/sbin/nscd
4026540989  6943  6866 root     /usr/lib/wicked/bin/wickedd-dhcp6 --systemd --foreground
4026540989  6945  6866 root     /usr/lib/wicked/bin/wickedd-dhcp4 --systemd --foreground
4026540989  6947  6866 systemd+ avahi-daemon: running [linux.local]
4026540989  6949  6866 root     /usr/lib/wicked/bin/wickedd-auto4 --systemd --foreground
4026540989  6951  6866 avahi-a+ /usr/lib/polkit-1/polkitd --no-debug
n4026540989  6954  6866 root     /usr/lib/systemd/systemd-logind
4026540989  6955  6866 root     login -- root
4026540989  6967  6866 root     /usr/sbin/wickedd --systemd --foreground
4026540989  6975  6866 root     /usr/sbin/wickedd-nanny --systemd --foreground
4026540989  7032  6866 root     /usr/lib/accounts-daemon
4026540989  7353  6866 root     /usr/sbin/cupsd -f
4026540989  7444  6866 root     /usr/lib/postfix/master -w
4026540989  7445  7444 postfix  pickup -l -t fifo -u
4026540989  7446  7444 postfix  qmgr -l -t fifo -u
4026540989  7463  6866 root     /usr/sbin/cron -n
4026540989  7507  6866 root     /usr/lib/systemd/systemd --user
4026540989  7511  7507 root     (sd-pam)
4026540989  7514  6955 root     -bash

If you work a lot with LXC containers it my be worth writing some clever bash or python-script for analyzing the „/proc“-directory with adjustable filters to achieve a customizable overview over processes attached to certain namespaces or containers.

Hint regarding the NS values in the following examples:
The following examples have been performed on different systems or after different start situations of one and the same system. So it makes no sense to compare all NS values between different examples – but only within an example.

Create a shell inside a new network namespace with the „unshare“ command …

For some simple experiments it would be helpful if we could create a shell with its own network-namespace. For this purpose Linux provides us with the command „unshare“ (again with a lot of options, which you should look up). For starting a new bash with a separate net-ns we use the option „-n“:

mytux:~ # unshare -n /bin/bash 
mytux:~ # lsns -t net
4026531963 net     398     1 root  /usr/lib/systemd/systemd --switched-root --system --deserialize 24
4026540989 net      21  5284 root  /sbin/init
4026541186 net       2 27970 root  /bin/bash
mytux:~ # ip link
1: lo: <LOOPBACK> mtu 65536 qdisc noop state DOWN mode DEFAULT group default qlen 1
    link/loopback 00:00:00:00:00:00 brd 00:00:00:00:00:00
mytux:~ # exit
mytux:~ # ip link
1: lo: <LOOPBACK,UP,LOWER_UP> mtu 65536 qdisc noqueue state UNKNOWN mode DEFAULT group default qlen 1
    link/loopback 00:00:00:00:00:00 brd 00:00:00:00:00:00
2: eth0: <BROADCAST,MULTICAST> mtu 1500 qdisc noop state DOWN mode DEFAULT group default qlen 1000
    link/ether d7:58:88:ab:cd:ef brd ff:ff:ff:ff:ff:ff

Obviously, it is not possible to see from the prompt that we have entered a different (network) namespace with the creation of the new shell. We shall take care of this in a moment. For the time being, it may be a good idea to issue commands like

lsns -t net -p 1; lsns -t net -p $$

in the shell opened with „unshare“. However, also our look at the network interfaces proved that the started „bash“ was directly associated with a different net-ns than the „parent“ bash. In the „unshared“ bash only a „lo“-device was provided. When we left the newly created „bash“ we at once saw more network devices (namely the devices of the host).

Information about host processes from a shell inside a specific network namespace?
You can get information about all processes on a host from any process with a specific network namespace – as log as the PID namespace for this process is not separated from the PID namespace of the host. And as long as we have not separated the UID namespaces: root in a network namespace then is root on the host with all the rights there!

Can a normal unprivileged user use „unshare“, too?

Yes, but his/her UID must be mapped to root inside the new network namespace. For this purpose we can use the
option „-r“ of the unshare command; see the man pages. Otherwise: Not without certain measures – e.g. on the sudo side. (And think about security when using sudo directives. The links at the end of the article may give you some ideas about some risks.)

You may try the following commands (here executed on a freshly started system):

myself@mytux:~> unshare -n -r /bin/bash 
mytux:~ # lsns -t net -t user
4026540842 user       2  6574 root /bin/bash
4026540846 net        2  6574 root /bin/bash
mytux:~ # 

Note the change of the prompt as the shell starts inside the new network namespace! And „lsns“ does not give us any information on the NS numbers for net and user namespaces of normal host processes! However, on another host terminal the „real“ root of the host gets:

mytux:~ # lsns -t net -t user 
4026531837 user     382     1 root   /usr/lib/systemd/systemd --switched-root --system --deserialize 24
4026531963 net      380     1 root   /usr/lib/systemd/systemd --switched-root --system --deserialize 24
4026540842 user       1  6574 myself /bin/bash
4026540846 net        1  6574 myself /bin/bash

There, we see that the user namespaces of the unshared shell and other host processes really are different.

Open a shell for a new named network namespace

The „unshare“ command does not care about „named“ network namespaces. So, for the sake of completeness: If you like to or must experiment with named network namespaces you may want to use the „ip“ command with appropriate options, e.g.:

mytux:~ # ip netns add mynetns1 
mytux:~ # ip netns exec mynetns1 bash
mytux:~ # lsns -o NS -t net -p $$
mytux:~ # exit 
mytux:~ # lsns -o NS -t net -p $$
mytux:~ # 

„mynetns1“ in the example is the name that I gave to my newly created named network namespace.

How to open a shell for an already existing network namespace? Use „nsenter“

Regarding processes with their specific namespaces or LXC containers: How can we open a shell that is assigned to the same network namespace as a specific process? This is what the command „nsenter“ is good for. For our purposes the options „-t“ and „-n“ are relevant (see the man pages). In the following example we first create a bash shell (PID 15150) with a new network namespace and move its process in the background. Then we open a new bash in the foreground (PID 15180) and attach this bash shell to the namespace of the process with PID 15150:

mylx:~ # unshare -n /bin/bash &
[1] 15150
mylx:~ # lsns -t net 
4026531963 net     379     1 root  /usr/lib/systemd/systemd --switched-root --system --deserialize 24
4026540983 net      23  4634 root  /sbin/init
4026541170 net       1 15150 root  /bin/bash

[1]+  Stopped                 unshare -n /bin/bash
mylx:~ # nsenter -t 15150 -n /bin/bash
mylx:~ # ip link
1: lo: <LOOPBACK> mtu 65536 qdisc noop state DOWN mode DEFAULT group default qlen 1
    link/loopback 00:00:00:00:00:00 brd 00:00:00:00:00:00
mylx:~ # echo $$
mylx:~ # lsns -t net -p $$
4026541170 net       3 15150 root /bin/bash
mylx:~ # 

Note, again, that „lsns“ only gives you the lowest process number that opened a namespace. Actually, we are in a different bash with PID „15180“. If you want to see all process using the same network namespace you may use :

mylx:~ # echo $$
mylx:~ # ps -eo pid,user,netns,args --sort user | grep 4026541170
15150 root     4026541170 /bin/bash
15180 root     4026541170 /bin/bash
16284 root     4026541170 ps -eo pid,user,netns,
args --sort user
16285 root     4026541170 grep --color=auto 4026541170

In the same way you can create a shell and assign it to the network namespace of a running LXC container. Let us try this for an existing LXC container on system „mylx“ with PID 4634 (see above: 4026540983 net 23 4634 root /sbin/init).

mylx:~ # nsenter -t 4634 -n /bin/bash
mylx:~ # ip link
1: lo: <LOOPBACK,UP,LOWER_UP> mtu 65536 qdisc noqueue state UNKNOWN mode DEFAULT group default qlen 1
    link/loopback 00:00:00:00:00:00 brd 00:00:00:00:00:00
13: eth0@if14: <BROADCAST,MULTICAST,UP,LOWER_UP> mtu 1500 qdisc noqueue state UP mode DEFAULT group default qlen 1000
    link/ether 00:16:3e:a3:22:b8 brd ff:ff:ff:ff:ff:ff link-netnsid 0
mylx:~ # exit

Obviously, an ethernet device eth0 exists in this container. Actually, it is an interface of a veth device with a peer interface „if14“; see below.

Change the hostname part of a shell’s prompt in a separate network namespace

We saw that the prompt of a shell in a separate network namespace normally does not indicate anything about the namespace environment. How can we change this? We need 2 steps to achieve this:

  • We open a shell in the background not only for a separate network namespace but also for a different uts namespace. Then any changes to the hostname inside the uts namespace for the running background process will have no impact on the host.
  • The „nsenter“ command does not only work for shells but for any reasonable command. Therefore, we can also apply it for the command „hostname“.

Now, before we enter the separate namespaces of the process with yet another shell we can first change the hostname in the newly created uts namespace:

mytx:~ # unshare --net --uts /bin/bash &
[1] 25512
mytux:~ # nsenter -t 25512 -u hostname netns1

[1]+  Stopped                 unshare --net --uts /bin/bash
mytx:~ # echo $$
mytx:~ # nsenter -t 25512 -u -n /bin/bash 
netns1:~ #
netns1:~ # lsns -t net -t uts -p $$
4026540975 uts       3 25512 root /bin/bash
4026540977 net       3 25512 root /bin/bash
netns1:~ # exit
mytx:~ # hostname

Note the „-u“ in the command line where we set the hostname! Note further the change of the hostname in the prompt! In more complex scenarios, this little trick may help you to keep an overview over which namespace we are currently working in.


For container technology „veth“ devices are of special importance. A veth device has two associated Ethernet interfaces – so called „peer“ interfaces. One can imagine these interfaces like linked by a cable on OSI level 2 – a packet arriving at one interface gets available at the other interface, too. Even if one of the interfaces has no IP address assigned.

This feature is handy when we e.g. need to connect a host or a virtualized guest to an IP-less bridge. Or we can use veth-devices to uplink several bridges to one another. See a former blog post
Fun with veth devices, Linux virtual bridges, KVM, VMware – attach the host and connect bridges via veth
about these possibilities.

As a first trial we will assign the veth device and both its interfaces to one and the same network namespace. Most articles and books show you how to achieve this by the use of the „ip“ command with an option for a „named“ namespace. In most cases the „ip“ command would have been used to create a named net-ns by something like

ip netns add NAME

where NAME is the name we explicitly give to the added network namespace. When such a named net-ns exists we can assign an Ethernet interface named „ethx“ to the net-ns by:

ip link set ethx netns NAME

However, in all our previous statements no NAME for a network namespace has been used so far. So, how to achieve something similar for unnamed network namespaces? A look into the man pages helps: The „ip“ command allows the introduction of a PID together with the option parameter „netns“ at least for the variant „ip link set“. Does this work for veth devices and the command „ip link add“, too? And does it work for both Ethernet interfaces?

In the example discussed above we had a namespace 4026541170 of process with PID 15180. We open a bash shell on our host mylx, where PID 15150 still runs in the background, and :

mylx:~ # echo $$
mylx:~ # lsns -t net
4026531963 net     393     1 root  /usr/lib/systemd/systemd --switched-root --system --deserialize 24
4026540983 net      23  4634 root  /sbin/init
4026541170 net       1 15150 root  /bin/bash
mylx:~ # ip link add veth1 netns 15150 type veth peer name veth2 netns 15150
mylx:~ # nsenter -t 15150 -n /bin/bash
mylx:~ # echo $$
mylx:~ # ip link
1: lo: <LOOPBACK> mtu 65536 qdisc noop state DOWN mode DEFAULT group default qlen 1
    link/loopback 00:00:00:00:00:00 brd 00:00:00:00:00:00
2: veth2@veth1: <BROADCAST,MULTICAST,M-DOWN> mtu 1500 qdisc noop state DOWN mode DEFAULT group default qlen 1000
    link/ether 8e:a0:79:28:ae:12 brd ff:ff:ff:ff:ff:ff
3: veth1@veth2: <BROADCAST,MULTICAST,M-DOWN> mtu 1500 qdisc noop state DOWN mode DEFAULT group default qlen 1000
    link/ether fa:1e:2c:e3:00:8f brd ff:ff:ff:ff:ff:ff
mylx:~ # 

Success! Obviously, we have managed to create a veth device with both its 2 interfaces inside the network namespace associated with our background process of PID 15150.

The Ethernet interfaces are DOWN – but this was to be expected. So far, so good. Of course it would be more interesting to position the first veth interface in one network namespace and the second interface in another network namespace. This would allow network packets from a container to cross the border of the container’s namespace into an external one. Topics for the next articles …

Summary and outlook

Enough for today. We have seen how we can list (network) namespaces and associated processes. We are able to create shells together with and inside in a new network namespace. And we can open a shell that can be attached to an already existing network namespace. All without using a „NAME“ of the network namespace! We have also shown how a veth device can be added to a specific network namespace. We have a set of tools now, which we can use in more complicated virtual network experiments.

In the next article

Fun with veth-devices, Linux bridges and VLANs in unnamed Linux network namespaces – II

I shall present a virtual network environment for several interesting experiments with network namespaces – or containers, if you like. Further articles will discuss such experiments step by setp.


Introduction into network namespaces

Using unshare without root-privileges