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

In the previous posts of this series

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

we studied network namespaces and related commands. We also started a series of experiments to deepen our understanding of virtual networking between network namespaces. For practical purposes you can imagine that our abstract network namespaces represent LXC containers in the test networks.

In the last post we have learned how to connect two network namespaces via veth devices and a Linux bridge in a third namespace. In coming experiments we will get more ambitious – and put our namespaces (or containers) into virtual VLANs. “V” in “VLAN” stands for “virtual”. So, what are virtual VLANs? These are VLANs in a virtual network environment!

We shall create and define these VLANs essentially by configuring properties of Linux bridges. The topic of this article is an introduction into some elementary rules governing virtual VLAN setups based on virtual Linux bridges and veth devices.

I hope such a rule overview is useful as there are few articles on the Internet summarizing what happens at ports of virtual Linux bridges with respect to VLAN tagging of Ethernet packets. Actually, I found some of the rules by doing experiments with bridges for kernel 4.4. I was too lazy to study source codes. So, please, correct me and write me a mail if I made mistakes.


VLANs define specific and very often isolated paths through a network for Ethernet packets. At some “junctions and crossings” only certain OUT paths are open for arriving packets, depending on how a packet is marked. Junctions and crossings are represented in a network by devices as real or virtual bridges. We can say: Ethernet packets are only allowed to move along only In/OUT directions in VLAN sensitive network devices. All decisions are made on the link layer level. IP addresses may influence entries into VLANs at routers – but once inside a VLAN criteria like “tags” of a packet and certain settings of connection ports open or close paths through the network:

VLANs are based on VLAN IDs (integer numbers) and a corresponding tagging of Ethernet packets – and on analyzing these tags at certain devices/interfaces or ports. In real and virtual Ethernet cards so called sub-interfaces associated with VLAN IDs typically send/receive tagged packets into/from VLANs. In (virtual) bridges ports can be associated with VLAN IDs and open only for packets with matching “tags”. A VLAN ID assigned to a port is called a “VID“. An Ethernet packet normally has one VLAN tag, identifying to which VLAN it belongs to. Such a tag can be set, changed or removed in certain VLAN aware devices.

A packet routed into a sub-interface gets a VLAN tag with the VLAN ID of the sub-interface. The rules at bridge ports are more complicated and device and/or vendor dependent. I list rules for Linux bridge ports in a paragraph below.

VLANs can be used to to isolate network communication paths and circuits between systems against each other. An important property is:
Broadcast packets (e.g. required for ARP) are not allowed to cross the borders of VLANs. Thus the overall traffic can be reduced significantly in some network setups. VLANs can be set up in virtual networks on virtualization hosts, too; this is of major importance for the hosting of containers.

Whenever we use the word “trunk” in connection with VLANs we mean that an interface, port or a limited connection line behaves neutral with respect to multiple VLAN IDs and allows the transport of packets from different VLANs to some neighbor device – which then may differentiate again.


On a Linux system the kernel module “8021q” must be loaded to work with tagged packets. On some Linux distributions you may have to install additional packages to deal with VLANs and 802.1Q tags.

Veth devices support VLANs

As with real Ethernet cards we can define VLAN related sub-interfaces of one or of both Ethernet interfaces of a veth device pair. E.g., an interface vethx of a device pair may have two sub-interfaces, “vethx.10” and “vethx.20“. The numbers represent different VLAN IDs. (Actually the sub-interface can have any name; but it is a reasonable convention to use the “.ID” notation.)

As a veth interface may or may not be splitted into a “mother” (trunk) interface and multiple sub-interfaces the following questions arise:

  • If we first define sub-interfaces for VLANs on one interface of a veth device, must we use sub-interfaces on the other veth side, too?
  • What about situations with sub-interfaces on one side of the veth device and a standard interface on the other?
  • Which type of interface can or should we connect to a virtual Linux bridge? If we can connect either: What are the resulting differences?

Connection of veth interfaces to Linux bridges

Actually, we have two possibilities when plugging veth interfaces into Linux bridges:

  • We can attach the sub-interfaces of a veth interface to a Linux bridge and create several respective ports, each of which receives tagged packets from the outside and emits tagged packets to the outside.
  • Or we can attach the neutral (unsplitted) “trunk” interface at one side of a veth device to a Linux bridge and create a respective port, which may transfer tagged and untagged packets into and out of the bridge. This is even possible if the other interface of the veth device has defined sub-interfaces.

In both cases bridge specific VLAN settings for the bridge ports may have different impacts on the tagging of forwarded IN or OUT packets. We come back to this point in a minute. The following drawing illustrates some principles:

We have symbolized packets by diamonds. Different colors correspond to different tag numbers (VLAN IDs).

The virtual cable of a veth device can transport Ethernet packets with different VLAN tags. However, packet processing at certain targets like a network namespace or a bridge requires a termination with a suitable Ethernet device, i.e. an interface which can handle the specific tag of packet. This termination device is:

  • either a veth sub-interface located in a specific network namespace
  • or veth sub-interface inside a bridge ( => this creates a bridge port, which requires at
    least a matching VID)
  • or a veth trunk interface inside a Linux bridge (=> this creates a trunk bridge port, which may or may not require VIDs, but no PVID.)

Both variants can also be combined as shown in the lower part of the drawing: One interface ends in a bridge in one namespace, whereas the other interface is located in another namespace and splits up into sub-interfaces for different VLAN IDs.

Untagged packets may be handled by the standard trunk interfaces of a veth device.

Note: In the sketch below the blue packet “x” would never be available in the target namespace for further processing on higher network layers.

So, do not forget to terminate a trunk line with all required sub-interfaces in network namespaces!

A reasonably working setup of course requires measures and adequate settings on the bridge’s side, too. This is especially important for trunk interfaces at a bridge and trunk connection lines used to transport packets of various VLANs over a limited connection path to an external device. We come to back to relevant rules for tagging and filtering inside the bridge later on.

Below we call a veth interface port of a bridge, which is based on the the standard trunk interface a trunk port.

The importance of route definitions in network namespaces

Inside network namespaces where multiple VLANs terminate, we need properly defined routes for outgoing packets:

Situations where it is unclear through which sub-interface a packet shall be transported to certain target IP addresses, must always be avoided! A packet to a certain destination must be routed into an appropriate VLAN sub-interface! Note that defining such routes is not equivalent to enable routing in the sense of IP forwarding!

Forgetting routes in network namespaces with devices for different VLANs is a classical cause of defunct virtual network connections!

Commands to set up veth sub-interfaces for VLANs

Commands to define sub-interfaces of a veth interface and to associate a VLAN ID with each interface typically have the form:

ip link add link vethx name vethx.10 type vlan id 10
ip link add link vethx name vethx.20 type vlan id 20
ip link set vethx up
ip link set vethx.10 up
ip link set vethx.20 up

Sub-interfaces must be set into an active UP status! Inside and outside of bridges.

Setup of VLANs via a Linux bridge

Some years ago one could read articles and forum posts on the Internet in which the authors expressed their opinion that VLANs and bridging are different technologies which should be separated. I take a different point of view:

We regard a virtual bridge not as some additional tool which we somehow plant into an already existing VLAN landscape. Instead, we set up VLANs by configuring the virtual bridge.

A Linux bridge today can establish a common “heart” of multiple virtual VLANs – with closing and opening “valves” to separate the traffic of different circulation paths. From a bridge/switch that defines a VLAN we expect

  • the ability to assign VLAN tags to Ethernet packets
  • and the ability to filter packets at certain ports according to the packets’ VLAN tags and defined port/tag relations.
  • and the ability to emit untagged packets at
    certain ports.

In many cases, when a bridge is at the core of simple separated VLANs, we do not need to tag outgoing packets to clients or network namespaces at all. All junction settings for the packets’ paths are defined inside the bridge!

Tagging, PVIDs and VIDs – VLAN rules at Linux bridge ports

What happens at a bridge port with respect to VLANs and packet tags? Almost the same as for real switches. An important point is:

We must distinguish the treatment of incoming packets from the handling of outgoing packets at one and the same port.

As far as I understand the present working of virtual Linux bridges, the relevant rules for tagging and filtering at bridge ports are the following:

  1. The bridge receives incoming packets at a port and identifies the address information for the packet’s destination (IP => MAC of a target). The bridge then forwards the packet to a suitable port (target port; or sometimes to all ports) for further transport to the destination.
  2. The bridge learns about the right target ports for certain destinations (having an IP- and a MAC-address) by analyzing the entry of ARP protocol packets (answer packets) into the bridge at certain ports.
  3. For setting up VLANs based on a Linux bridge we must explicitly activate “VLAN filtering” on the bridge (commands are given below).
  4. We can assign one or more VIDs to a bridge port. A VID (VLAN ID) is an integer number; the default value is 1. At a port with one or more VIDs both incoming tagged packets from the bride’s outside and outgoing tagged packets forwarded from the bridge’s inside are filtered with respect to their tag number and the port VID(s): Only, if the packet’s tag number is equal to one of the VIDs of the ports the packet is allowed to pass.
  5. Among the VIDs of a port we can choose exactly one to be a so called PVID (Port VLAN ID). The PVID number is used to tag (untagged) incoming packets. The new tag is then used for filtering inside the bridge at target ports. A port with a PVID is also called “access port”.
  6. Handling of incoming tagged packets at a port based on a veth sub-interface:
    If you attached a sub-interface (for a defined VLAN ID number) to a bridge and assigned a PVID to the resulting port then the tag of the incoming packets is removed and replaced by the PVID before forwarding happens inside the bridge.
  7. Incoming packets at a standard trunk veth interface inside a bridge:
    If you attached a standard (trunk) veth interface to a bridge (trunk interface => trunk port) and packets with different VLAN tags enter the bridge through this port, then only incoming packets with a tag fitting one of the port’s VIDs enter the bridge and are forwarded and later filtered again.
  8. Untagged outgoing packets: Outgoing packets get their tag number removed, if we configure the bride port accordingly: We must mark its egress behavior with a flag “untagged” (via a command option; see below). If the standard veth (trunk) interface constitutes the port the packet leaves the bridge untagged.
  9. Retagging of outgoing untagged packets at ports based on veth sub-interfaces:
    If a sub-interface of a veth interface constitutes the port, an outgoing packet gets tagged with VLAN ID associated with the sub-interface – even if we marked the port with the “untagged” flag.
  10. Carry tags from the inside of a bridge to its outside:
    Alternatively, we can
    configure ports for outgoing packets such that the packet’s tag, which the packet had inside the bridge, is left unchanged. The port must be configured with a flag “tagged” to achieve this. An outgoing packet leaves a trunk port with the tag it got/had inside the bridge. However, if a veth sub-interface constituted the port the tag of the outgoing packet must match the subinterface’s VLAN ID to get transported at all. /li>

  11. A port with multiple assigned VIDs and the flag “tagged” is called a “trunk” port. Packets with different tags can be carried along the outgoing virtual cable line. In case of a veth device interface the standard (trunk) interface and not a sub-interface must constitute such a port.

Note that point 2 opens the door for attacking a bridge by flooding it with wrong IP/MAC information (ARP spoofing). Really separated VLANs make such attacks more difficult, if not impossible. But often you have hosts or namespaces which are part of two or more VLANs, or you may have routers somewhere which do not filter packet transport sufficiently. Then spoofing attack vectors are possible again – and you need packet filters/firewalls with appropriate rules to prevent such attacks.

Note rule 6 and the stripping of previous tags of incoming packets at a PVID access port based on a veth sub-interface! Some older bridge versions did not work like this. In my opinion this is, however, a very reasonable feature of a virtual bridge/switch:

Stripping tags of packets entering at ports based on veth sub-interfaces allows the bridge to overwrite any external and maybe forged tags. This helps to keep up the integrity of VLAN definitions just by internal bridge settings!

The last three points of our rule list are of major importance if you need to distinguish packets in terms of VLAN IDs outside the bridge! The rules mean that you can achieve a separation of the bridge’s outgoing traffic according to VLAN IDs with two different methods :

  • Trunk interface connection to the bridge and sub-interfaces at the other side of an veth cable.
  • Ports based on veth sub-interfaces at the bridge and veth sub-interfaces at the other side of the cable, too.

We discuss these alternatives some of our next experiments in more detail.

Illustration of packet transport and filtering

The following graphics illustrates packet transport and filtering inside a virtual Linux bridge with a few examples. Packets are symbolized by diamonds. VLAN tags are expressed by colors. PVIDs and VIDS at a port (see below) by dotted squares and normal squares, respectively. The blue circles have no special meaning; here some paths just cross.

The main purpose of this drawing is to visualize our bunch of rules at configured ports and not so much reasonable VLANs; the coming blog posts will discuss simple multiple examples of separated and also coupled VLANs. In the drawing only the left side displays two really separated VLANs. Ports C and D, however, illustrate special rules for specially configured ports. Note that not all possible port configurations are covered by the graphics.

With the rules above you can now follow the paths of different packets through the drawing. This is simple for packet “5”. It gets a pink tag at its entry through the lowest port “D“. Its target port is the port “C” where it passes due to the fact that the VID is matching. Packet “2” follows
an analogous story.

All ports on the left (A, B, C, D) have gotten the flag “untagged“. Packets 5 and 2,6,7, therefore, leave the bridge untagged. Note that no pink packets are allowed to leave ports A, B and D. Vice versa, no green packets are allowed to leave target ports C and D.

Port “E” would be a typical example for a trunk port. Incoming and outgoing green, pink and blue packets keep their tags! Packet 8 and packet 9, which both are forwarded to their target port “E“, therefore, move out with their respective green and pink tags. The incoming green packet “7” is allowed to pass due to the green VID at this port.

Port “D“, however, is a strange guy: Here, the PVID (blue) differs from the only VID (green)! Packet “6” can enter the bridge and leave it via target port “B“, which has two VIDs. Note, however, that there is no way back! And the blue packet “3” entering the bridge via trunk port “E” for target port “D” is not allowed to leave the bridge there. Shit happens …

The example of port “D” illustrates that VLAN settings can look different for outgoing and incoming packets at one and the same port.
But also ports like “D” can be used for reasonable configurations – if applied in a certain way (see coming blog posts).

Commands to set up the VLANs via port configuration of virtual Linux bridges

We first need to make the bridge “VLAN aware“. This is done by explicitly activating VLAN filtering. On a normal system (in the root namespaces) and for a bridge “brx” we could enter

echo 1 > /sys/class/net/brx/bridge/vlan_filtering

But in artificially constructed network namespaces we will not find such a file. Therefore, we have to use a variant of the “ip” command:

ip link set brx type bridge vlan_filtering 1

For adding/removing a VID or PVID to/from a bridge port – more precisely a device interface for which the bridge is a master – we use the “bridge vlan” command. E.g., in the network namespace where the bridge is defined:

bridge vlan add vid 10 pvid untagged dev veth53

bridge vlan add vid 20 untagged dev veth53

bridge vlan del vid 20 dev veth53

See the man page for more details!

Note: We can only choose exactly one VID to be a PVID. As already explained above, the “untagged” option means that we want outgoing packets to leave the port untagged (on egress).

Data transfer between VLANs?

Sometimes you may need to allow for certain clients in one VLAN (with ID x) to access specific services of a server in another VLAN (with ID y). Note that for network traffic to cross VLAN borders you must use routing in the sense of IP forwarding, e.g. in a special network namespace that has connections to both VLANs. In addition you must apply firewall rules to limit the packet exchange to exactly the services you want to allow and eliminate general traffic.

There is one noteworthy and interesting exception:

With the rules above and a suitable PVID, VID setting you can isolate and control traffic by a VLAN from a sender in the direction of certain receivers, but you can allow answering packets to reach several VLANs if the answering sender (i.e. the former receiver) has connections to multiple VLANs – e.g. via a line which transports untagged packets (see below)
. Again: VLAN regulations can be different for outgoing and incoming packets at a port!

An example is illustrated below:

Intentionally or by accident – the bridge will do what you ask her to do at a port in IN and OUT directions. A setup as in the graphic breaks isolation, of course! So, regarding security this may be harmful. On the other side it allows for some interesting possibilities with respect to broadcast messages – as with ARP. We shall explore this in some of the coming posts.

Note that we always can involve firewall rules to allow or disallow packet travel across a certain OUT port according to the IP destination addresses expected behind a port!

The importance of a working ARP communication

Broadcast packets are not allowed to leave a VLAN, if no router bridges the VLANs. The ARP protocol requires that broadcast messages from a sender, who wants to know the MAC address of an IP destination, reach their target. But your VID and PVID settings must also allow the returning answer to reach the original sender of the broadcast. Among other things this requires special settings at trunk ports which send untagged packets from different VLANs to a target and receive untagged packets from this target. Without a working ARP communication to and from a memeber of a VLAN to other members unmanipulated traffic on higher network protocol layers will fail!


Veth devices and virtual Linux bridges support VLANs, VLAN IDs and a tagging of Ethernet packets. Tagging at pure veth interfaces outside a bridge requires the definition of sub-interfaces with associated VLAN IDs. The cable between a veth interface pair can be seen as a trunk cable; it can transport packets with different VLAN tags.

A virtual Linux bridge can become master of standard interfaces and/or sub-interfaces of veth devices – resulting in different port rules with respect to VLAN tagging. Similar to real switches we can assign VIDs and PVIDs to the ports. VIDs allow for filtering and thus VIDs are essential for VLAN definitions via a bridge. PVIDs allow for a tagging of incoming untagged packets or a retagging of packets entering through a port based on sub-interfaces. We can also define whether packets shall leave a port outwards of the bridge untagged or tagged.

Separated VLANs can, therefore, be set up with pure settings for ports inside a bridge without necessarily requiring any package tagging outside.

We now have a toolset for building reasonable VLANs with the help of one or more virtual bridges. In the next blog post

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

we shall apply what we have learned for the setup of two separated VLANs in our experimental network namespace environment.

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 on further posts

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 Ausgaben/ 2016/06/ Network-Namespaces

Using unshare without root-privileges questions/ 252714/ is-it-possible-to-run-unshare-n-program-as-an-unprivileged-user 2015/10/25/ unshare-without-superuser-privileges/