Network address translation traversal is a computer networking technique of establishing and maintaining Internet Protocol connections across gateways that implement network address translation (NAT).
NAT traversal techniques are required for many network applications, such as peer-to-peer file sharing and voice over IP.
Network address translation typically uses private IP addresses on private networks with a single public IP address for the router facing the Internet. The network address translator changes the source address in network protocols for outgoing requests from that of an internal device to its external address, so that internal devices can communicate with hosts on the external network, while relaying replies back to the originating device.
This leaves the internal network ill-suited for hosting services, as the NAT device has no automatic method for determining the internal host for which incoming packets from the external network are destined. This is not a problem for general web access and email. However, applications such as peer-to-peer file sharing, VoIP services, and video game consoles require clients to be servers as well. Incoming requests cannot be easily correlated to the proper internal host. Furthermore, many of these types of services carry IP address and port number information in the application data, potentially requiring substitution with deep packet inspection.
Network address translation technologies are not standardized. As a result, the methods used for NAT traversal are often proprietary and poorly documented. Many traversal techniques require assistance from servers outside of the masqueraded network. Some methods use the server only when establishing the connection, while others are based on relaying all data through it, which increases the bandwidth requirements and latency, detrimental to real-time voice and video communications.
NAT traversal techniques usually bypass enterprise security policies. Enterprise security experts prefer techniques that explicitly cooperate with NAT and firewalls, allowing NAT traversal while still enabling marshalling at the NAT to enforce enterprise security policies. IETF standards based on this security model are Realm-Specific IP (RSIP) and middlebox communications (MIDCOM).
Various NAT traversal techniques have been developed:
The recent proliferation of symmetric NATs has reduced NAT traversal success rates in many practical situations, such as for mobile and public WiFi connections. Hole punching techniques, such as STUN and ICE, fail in traversing symmetric NATs without the help of a relay server, as is practiced in TURN. Techniques that traverse symmetric NATs by attempting to predict the next port to be opened by each NAT device were discovered in 2003 by Yutaka Takeda at Panasonic Communications Research Laboratory and in 2008 by researchers at Waseda University. Port prediction techniques are only effective with NAT devices that use known deterministic algorithms for port selection. This predictable yet non-static port allocation scheme is uncommon in large scale NATs such as those used in 4G LTE networks and therefore port prediction is largely ineffective on those mobile broadband networks.
IPsec virtual private network clients use NAT traversal in order to have Encapsulating Security Payload packets traverse NAT. IPsec uses several protocols in its operation which must be enabled to traverse firewalls and network address translators:
Many routers provide explicit features, often called IPsec Passthrough.
In Windows XP, NAT traversal is enabled by default, but in Windows XP with Service Pack 2 it has been disabled by default for the case when the VPN server is also behind a NAT device, because of a rare and controversial security issue. IPsec NAT-T patches are also available for Windows 2000, Windows NT and Windows 98.
NAT traversal and IPsec may be used to enable opportunistic encryption of traffic between systems. NAT traversal allows systems behind NATs to request and establish secure connections on demand.
Hosted NAT traversal (HNT) is a set of mechanisms, including media relaying and latching, that is widely used by communications providers for historical and practical reasons. The IETF advises against using latching over the Internet and recommends ICE for security reasons.
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