A Simple IPFW In-Kernel NAT Setup on FreeBSD

After graduating college, I am moving from Brooklyn, NY to Redmond, WA (guess where I got a job). I always wanted to re-do my OPNsense firewall (currently a HP T730) with stock FreeBSD and IPFW’s in-kernel NAT.

Why IPFW? Benchmarks have shown IPFW to be faster which is especially good for my Tor relay, and because I can! However, one downside of IPFW is less documentation vs PF, even less without natd (which we’re not using), and this took me time to figure this out.

But since my T730 is already packed, I am testing this on a old PC with two NICs, and my laptop [1] as a client with an USB-to-Ethernet adapter.

So you may ask how do we do this?

First, you need the ipfw and ipfw_nat kernel modules. To load them, run:

kldload ipfw ipfw_nat

Then, you need a firewall ruleset. A basic ruleset is as follows:


ipfw -q flush

ipfw nat 1 config if fxp0 redirect_port tcp 9001
ipfw add 100 nat 1 ip4 from any to me in via fxp0
ipfw add 200 nat 1 ip4 from to any out via fxp0
ipfw add allow ip from any to any

This setup sets up NAT with fxp0 as the WAN interface, and sets up a port forward to at port 9001.

Then, you should enable the firewall in /etc/rc.conf:


Replace /PATH/TO/RULES with the path to the IPFW ruleset, and don’t forget to run chmod a+x /PATH/TO/RULES (to be safe).

And enable the NAT firewall with service ipfw start.

What does all this mean?

The first ipfw line flushes the existing ruleset, which you should do for obvious reasons when reloading.

In the second ipfw line:

  • The nat 1 config if fxp0 part sets up NAT with fxp0 as the WAN interface. Replace fxp0 with your WAN interface name.

  • The redirect_port tcp 9001 sets up a port forward to with port 9001 [2]. Replace and 9001 with the IP:Port combo you want to forward. This can be repeated multiple times.

The third ipfw line allows traffic to come in to the internal network via fxp0.

The fourth ipfw line allows outgoing NAT traffic from the subnet to go through fxp0. Change with the subnet you want to use. If you have multiple noncontiguous subnets, repeat this line with each subnet individually.

You can also expand the ruleset, as explained in the ipfw(8) man page.


[1] - FreeBSD, not Windows at the time of writing. My job could change this, who knows?

[2] - You will not have NAT reflection/hairpinning. If you need to access an external domain from your internal network, consider split-horizon DNS.