me Murukesh Mohanan

Poking around a Pi: Part II

VPNs and Network Namespaces

  1. Technology
  2. Linux

A few weeks ago, I had occasion to find out how Docker overlay networks could be created manually, which led me to learn more about network namespaces in Linux. I already knew the concepts behind various namespaces (user, PID, mount, etc.), but this was the first time in a long time that I had occasion to set one up myself. In the process, I came up on one solution to a problem that I’d been having recently: applying a VPN only to some applications.

Some time ago, I bought a subscription for Tunnelbear, and they support Linux via OpenVPN. I started using it on my Pi, but to my dismay, I found that the VPN routing prevented incoming connections from the internet from being properly handled. This caused a couple of problems:

  1. This broke SSH from outside.
  2. I could no longer run an externally-accessible web server from the Pi. As a side-effect, Let’s Encrypt certificate renewal via certbot could no longer be automated, since it would only work when the VPN was off.

The first could have been something of a deal-breaker, but since I accessed the Pi via SSH from the internet only rarely, I was willing to let the VPN run as-is for the time being. I investigated online, and most solutions seemed to recommend setting up another routing table and using iptables to mark the traffic (via, e.g., matching the user) to use the new routing table. I didn’t find this particularly appealing - I didn’t want to go about running some process under a different group or user, and I didn’t want to mess with whatever routing OpenVPN deemed appropriate. Different strokes and all…

Enter network namespaces aka netns. The idea itself is old (see, for example, this 7-year-old post); I just happened to stumble upon it recently. In short, the key element driving the netns solution is the Virtual Ethernet Device aka veth. These are pairs of linked devices, where:

Packets transmitted on one device in the pair are immediately received on the other device.

By keeping each interface of a veth pair in different namespaces, we can have easy communication between the two. So, we’ll have the default namespace, which is where we normally operate, and we will have a new namespace where the VPN (and any applications that need the VPN) will operate.

The arcane incantations (to be invoked as root) involved are:

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NS_NAME=vpn
ip netns add "$NS_NAME"
ip netns exec "$SHELL"
ln -s /proc/1/ns/net /var/run/netns/default
ip link add dev veth1 mtu 1500 type veth peer name veth2 mtu 1500
ip link set dev veth2 netns default
ip addr add dev veth1 10.0.0.1/24
ip link set veth1 up
ip netns exec default ip link set veth2 up
ip route add 192.168.1.2/32 dev veth1
ip route add default via 192.168.1.2
ip netns exec default ip route add 10.0.0.0/24 dev veth2
ip netns exec default iptables -A FORWARD -i veth2 -o eth0 -j ACCEPT
ip netns exec default iptables -A FORWARD -o veth2 -i eth0 -j ACCEPT
ip netns exec default iptables -t nat -A POSTROUTING -s 10.0.0.0/24 -o eth0 -j MASQUERADE
sysctl -w net.ipv4.ip_forward=1

What do these commands do? Let’s examine them block by block.

  1. Set up the namespace and enter it:

     NS_NAME=vpn
     ip netns add "$NS_NAME"
     ip netns exec "$SHELL"
     ln -s /proc/1/ns/net /var/run/netns/default
    

    Here, we create a new network namespace named “vpn”, and start a shell in it. Since the default namespace probably doesn’t have a name, we set a name for it (oddly enough, default).

  2. Create the veth pair and move one to the default namespace (we’re already in a shell in the new namespace, remember):

     ip link add dev veth1 mtu 1500 type veth peer name veth2 mtu 1500
     ip link set dev veth2 netns default
    
  3. Bring up our veth interfaces and assign them IPs:

     ip addr add dev veth1 10.0.0.1/24
     ip link set veth1 up
     ip netns exec default ip link set veth2 up
    
  4. Route to the external network via your proper network interface (here, I’m assuming it’s IP is 192.168.1.2.) and route back:

     ip route add 192.168.1.2/32 dev veth1
     ip route add default via 192.168.1.2
     ip netns exec default ip route add 10.0.0.0/24 dev veth2
    
  5. Set up packet forwarding using iptables:

     ip netns exec default iptables -A FORWARD -i veth2 -o eth0 -j ACCEPT
     ip netns exec default iptables -A FORWARD -o veth2 -i eth0 -j ACCEPT
     ip netns exec default iptables -t nat -A POSTROUTING -s 10.0.0.0/24 -o eth0 -j MASQUERADE
    
  6. Enable IPv4 forwarding using sysctl

     sysctl -w net.ipv4.ip_forward=1
    

Then run OpenVPN in this network namespace (for example, by running the openvpn command itself here, or by using systemd to link it to this namespace).

I personally use systemd to set the whole thing up at boot. First, there’s the one-shot service to set up the namespace:

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# /etc/systemd/system/netns-vpn.service
[Unit]
Description=VPN network namespace
StopWhenUnneeded=true

[Service]
Type=oneshot
RemainAfterExit=yes

# Ask systemd to create a network namespace
PrivateNetwork=yes

ExecStartPre=-/usr/sbin/ip netns delete vpn
ExecStartPre=/usr/sbin/ip netns add vpn
ExecStartPre=-/usr/bin/ln -s /proc/1/ns/net /var/run/netns/default
ExecStartPre=/usr/bin/umount /var/run/netns/vpn
ExecStartPre=/usr/bin/mount --bind /proc/self/ns/net /var/run/netns/vpn
ExecStartPre=/usr/sbin/ip link add dev veth1 mtu 1500 type veth peer name veth2 mtu 1500
ExecStartPre=/usr/sbin/ip link set dev veth2 netns default
ExecStartPre=/usr/sbin/ip addr add dev veth1 10.0.0.1/24
ExecStartPre=/usr/sbin/ip link set veth1 up
ExecStartPre=/usr/sbin/ip netns exec default ip link set veth2 up
ExecStartPre=/usr/sbin/ip route add 192.168.1.2/32 dev veth1
ExecStartPre=/usr/sbin/ip route add default via 192.168.1.2
ExecStartPre=/usr/sbin/ip netns exec default ip route add 10.0.0.0/24 dev veth2
ExecStartPre=/usr/sbin/ip netns exec default /usr/sbin/iptables -A FORWARD -i veth2 -o eth0 -j ACCEPT
ExecStartPre=/usr/sbin/ip netns exec default /usr/sbin/iptables -A FORWARD -o veth2 -i eth0 -j ACCEPT
ExecStart=/usr/sbin/ip netns exec default /usr/sbin/iptables -t nat -A POSTROUTING -s 10.0.0.0/24 -o eth0 -j MASQUERADE

It differs a bit from the code above, because this uses the network namespace that systemd can set up for a service. The sysctl knob can be set at boot using a file in /etc/sysctl.d.

Then use a drop-in to modify the OpenVPN service to use the same namespace:

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# /etc/systemd/system/openvpn-client@.service.d/override.conf
[Service]
NetworkNamespacePath=/var/run/netns/vpn

[Unit]
Requires=netns-vpn.service
After=netns-vpn.service

This runs all instances of the openvpn-client template service in the namespace created by the one-shot service. You can, of course, make a template of the network namespace setup service, and have one for each instance of the OpenVPN client.

A similar drop-in override can be used for other services (e.g., Kodi or a desktop session).

This doesn’t protect against the VPN dying and leaving your services directly connected via your network. I think that can be bluntly handled by having an ExecStopPost for the OpenVPN client which removes the default route altogether (and correspondingly have an ExecStartPre set up the default route instead of setting it in the one-shot service).