Network address translation

Network Address Translation (NAT) is a process for modifying the source or destination addresses in the headers of an IP packet while the packet is in transit. In general, the sender and receiver applications are not aware that the IP packets are being manipulated.

NAT is often implemented by routers, and so we will refer to the host performing NAT as a NAT router. However, in OpenStack deployments it is typically Linux servers that implement the NAT functionality, not hardware routers. These servers use the iptables software package to implement the NAT functionality.

There are multiple variations of NAT, and here we describe three kinds commonly found in OpenStack deployments.


In Source Network Address Translation (SNAT), the NAT router modifies the IP address of the sender in IP packets. SNAT is commonly used to enable hosts with private addresses to communicate with servers on the public Internet.

RFC 1918 reserves the following three subnets as private addresses:




These IP addresses are not publicly routable, meaning that a host on the public Internet can not send an IP packet to any of these addresses. Private IP addresses are widely used in both residential and corporate environments.

Often, an application running on a host with a private IP address will need to connect to a server on the public Internet. An example is a user who wants to access a public website such as If the IP packets reach the web server at with a private IP address as the source, then the web server cannot send packets back to the sender.

SNAT solves this problem by modifying the source IP address to an IP address that is routable on the public Internet. There are different variations of SNAT; in the form that OpenStack deployments use, a NAT router on the path between the sender and receiver replaces the packet’s source IP address with the router’s public IP address. The router also modifies the source TCP or UDP port to another value, and the router maintains a record of the sender’s true IP address and port, as well as the modified IP address and port.

When the router receives a packet with the matching IP address and port, it translates these back to the private IP address and port, and forwards the packet along.

Because the NAT router modifies ports as well as IP addresses, this form of SNAT is sometimes referred to as Port Address Translation (PAT). It is also sometimes referred to as NAT overload.

OpenStack uses SNAT to enable applications running inside of instances to connect out to the public Internet.


In Destination Network Address Translation (DNAT), the NAT router modifies the IP address of the destination in IP packet headers.

OpenStack uses DNAT to route packets from instances to the OpenStack metadata service. Applications running inside of instances access the OpenStack metadata service by making HTTP GET requests to a web server with IP address In an OpenStack deployment, there is no host with this IP address. Instead, OpenStack uses DNAT to change the destination IP of these packets so they reach the network interface that a metadata service is listening on.

One-to-one NAT

In one-to-one NAT, the NAT router maintains a one-to-one mapping between private IP addresses and public IP addresses. OpenStack uses one-to-one NAT to implement floating IP addresses.