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The IPFIREWALL (IPFW) is a FBSD sponsored firewall software application authored and maintained by FBSD volunteer staff members. It uses the legacy stateless rules and a legacy rule coding technique to achieve what is referred to as simple stateful logic.

The IPFW stateless rule syntax is empowered with technically sophisticated selection capabilities which far surpasses the knowledge level of the customary firewall installer. IPFW is targeted at the professional user or the advanced technical computer hobbyist who has advanced packet selection requirements. A high degree of detailed knowledge into how different protocols use and create their unique packet header information is necessary before the power of the IPFW rules can be unleashed. Providing that level of explanation is out of the scope of this section of the handbook.

IPFW is composed of seven components; the kernel firewall filter rule processor and its integrated packet accounting facility (the primary component), the logging facility, the ‘divert’ rule which triggers the NAT facility, and the advanced special purpose facilities (the dummynet traffic shaper facilities the ‘fwd rule’ forward facility, the bridge facility, and the ipstealth facility).

See the FBSD man pages, 'man ipfw' or 'man ipfirewall' or 'man dummynet' for details.

From this point on I will use IPFW to mean IPFIREWALL.

Enabling IPFW

IPFW is included in the basic FBSD install as a separate run time loadable module. IPFW will dynamically load its kernel loadable module when the rc.conf statement firewall_enable="YES" is used. You do not need to compile IPFW into the FBSD kernel.

Using the IPFW run time loadable module is recommended.

After rebooting your system with firewall_enable="YES" in rc.conf the following white highlighted message is displayed on the screen as part of the boot process.

IP packet filtering initialized, divert disabled, rule-based forwarding enabled, default to deny, logging disabled

You can disregard this message as it’s outdated and no longer is the true status of the IPFW loadable module. The loadable module really does have logging ability.

To set the verbose limit, there is a knob you can set in sysctl.conf by adding this statement to the file:

    ee /etc/sysctl.conf


Kernel options

It is not a mandatory requirement that you enable IPFW by compiling the following options into the FBSD kernel. It’s only presented here as a background information option. Compiling IPFW into the kernel causes the loadable module to never be used.

Sample kernel source IPFW options statements are in the /usr/src/sys/i386/conf/LINT kernel source and are reproduced here.

option  IPDIVERT               

IPFIREWALL This tells the compile to include IPFW as part of the kernel.

IPFIREWALL_VERBOSE enables the option to have IPFW log traffic by printing packet activity to syslogd for every rule that has the "log" keyword.

IPFIREWALL_VERBOSE_LIMIT=5 specifies the default number of packets from a particular rule is to be logged. Without this option each repeated occurrences of the same packet will be logged and eventually consume all the free disk space, resulting in services being denied due to lack of resources. The 5 is the number of consecutive times to log evidence of this unique occurrence.

IPDIVERT adds the userland natd function which is utilized by the divert natd IPFW rule statement.

A complete list of the IPFW options statements are in /usr/src/sys/i386/conf/LINT

Installer note: After compiling IPFW into your kernel you lose the ability to access all private LAN and public Internet networks, until you enable IPFW in rc.conf and reboot.

RC.CONF Options

You have to tell FBSD to active it at boot time. You do that by adding the following statements to /etc/rc.conf:

firewall_enable="YES"               # Start IPFW daemon
firewall_script="/etc/ipfw.rules"   # Use my custom rules.
filewall_logging="YES"              # Enable packet logging

For a completely open firewall, you have to create the /etc/ipfw.rules file with the following rules

ipfw –f flush ipfw add allow all from any to any

IPFW Command

The ipfw command is the normal vehicle for making manual single rule additions or deletions to the firewall active internal rules while it's running. The problem with using this method is once your system is shutdown or halted, all the rules you added or changed or deleted are lost. Writing all your rules in a file and using that file to load the rules at boot time or to replace in mass the currently running firewall rules with changes you made to the files content is the recommended method used here.

The ipfw command is still a very useful for displaying the running firewall rules to the console screen. The IPFW accounting facility dynamically creates a counter for each rule that counts each packet that matches the rule. During the process of testing a rule, listing the rule with its counter is the only way of determining if the rule is functioning.

You would enter on the FBSD command line one of the following forms of the list command.

ipfw list          List all rules in rule number sequence.

ipfw -t list       List rules in rule number sequence with timestamp 
                   of last time that rule was matched.
ipfw -a list       List the accounting information, packet count for 
                   matched rules along with the rules themselves. 
                   The first column is the rule number, followed 
                   by the number of outgoing matched packets, 
                   followed by the number of incoming matched packets, 
                   and finally followed by the rule itself.

ipfw -d list       List dynamic rules in addition to static ones.

ipfw -d -e list    Also show expired dynamic rules.

ipfw zero          Clear all the accounting counters.

ipfw zero number   Clear accounting counter just for this rule number.

ipfw show | more

If you have a big rule set with dynamic rules it will scroll off the screen. Suffix the command with ‘ | more’ which will only display the first screen full, and then you have to use the arrow keys or enter key to scroll down through the info.

IPFW Rule Sets

A rule set is a group of ipfw rules coded to allow or deny packets based on the values contained in the packet. The bi-directional exchange of packets between hosts comprises a session conversation. The firewall rule set processes the packet two times, once on its arrival from the public Internet host and again as it leaves for its return trip back to the public Internet host. Each TCP/IP service (IE: telnet, www, mail, etc.) is predefined by its protocol and port number. This is the basic selection criteria used to create rules which will allow or deny services.

When a packet enters the firewall it is compared against the first rule in the rule set and progresses one rule at a time, moving from top to bottom of the set in ascending rule number sequence order. When the packet matches a rule selection parameter, the rule's action field value is executed and the search of the rule set terminates for that packet. This is referred to as the 'first match wins' search method. If the packet does not match any of the rules, it gets caught by the mandatory ipfw default rule, number 65535 which denies all packets and discards them without any reply back to the originating destination.

The instructions contained in this section of the Installers Guide is based on using rules that contain the stateful ‘keep state’ and ‘limit’ options. This is the basic framework for coding an inclusive type firewall rule set.

An inclusive firewall only allows services matching the rules through. This way you can control what services can originate behind the firewall destine for the public Internet and also control the services which can originate from the public Internet accessing your private network. Everything else is denied by default design. Inclusive firewalls are much more secure than exclusive firewall rule sets and are the only rule set type covered here in.

Installers Note: Warning, when working with the firewall rules, always, always do it from the root console of the system running the firewall or you can end up locking yourself out.

Rule Syntax

The rule syntax presented here has been simplified to what is necessary to create a standard inclusive type firewall rule set. For a complete rule syntax description see the online ‘man ipfw’ page at

Rules contain keywords. These keywords have to be coded in a specific order from left to right on the line. Keywords are identified in bold type. Some keywords have sub-options which may be keywords themselves and also include more sub-options.

# is used to mark the start of a comment and may appear at 
the end of a rule line or on its own line. Blank lines are ignored.


CMD Each rule has to be prefixed with the following to add the rule to the internal table,

ipfw add

RULE# Coding rule numbers is not a mandatory requirement. Rule numbers will automatically be assigned when the rules are loaded into the internal IPFW tables. Coding your own rule numbers means the numbers will not change during loading and gives you a fixed rule number which is listed in the log along with other information about the packet being logged. The rule number is how you relate the logged packet back to the rule that caused the packet to be logged. If a rule is entered without a number, ipfw will assign one.


A rule can be associated with one of the following actions which will be executed when the packet matches the selection criterion of the rule.

allow | accept | pass | permit

       These all mean the same thing which is to allow 
       packets that match the rule to exit the firewall 
       rule processing. The search terminates.


      Checks the packet against the dynamic rules table. 
      If a match is found, execute the action associated with 
      the rule which generated this dynamic rule, otherwise move 
      to the next rule. The check-state rule does not have 
      selection criteria. If no check-state rule is present in 
      the rule set, the dynamic rules table is checked at the 
      first keep-state or limit rule.

deny | drop

     Both words mean the same thing which is to discard packets 
     that match this rule. The search terminates.


log or logamount number

   When a packet matches a rule with the log keyword, a message will be
   logged to syslogd with a facility name of SECURITY. The logging 
   only occurs if the number of packets logged so far for that
   particular rule does not exceed the logamount parameter. If no
   logamount is specified, the limit is taken from the sysctl variable
   net.inet.ip.fw.verbose_limit. In both cases, a value of zero removes
   the logging limit. Once the limit is reached, logging can be 
   re-enabled by clearing the logging counter or the packet counter for
   that rule. See the ipfw reset log command.
   Note: logging is done after all other packet matching conditions 
   have been successfully verified and before performing the final 
   action accept, deny) on the packet. It’s up to you to decide which
   rules you want to enable logging on. 


The keywords described in this section are used to describe attributes of the packet to be interrogated when determining whether rules match or don't match the packet. The following general-purpose attributes are provided for matching and must be used in this order:

    udp | tcp | icmp  
        or any protocol names found in /etc/protocols are recognized 
        and may be used. The value specified is the protocol to be
        matched against. This is a mandatory requirement. 

    from src to dst 
        The from and to keywords are used to match against IP
        addresses. Rules must specify BOTH source and destination
        'any' is a special keyword that matches any IP address. 
        'me' is a special keyword that matches any IP address
        configured on an interface in your FBSD system to represent the
        PC the firewall is running on. (IE: this box) 

        As in 'from me to any' or from 'any to me' or 
        'from to any' or from 'any to' or 
        'from to any' or 'from any to' or from 
        'me to'  IP addresses are specified as a dotted IP
        address numeric form/mask-length or as single dotted IP address
        numeric form. 
        This is a mandatory requirement. See this link for 
        help on writing mask-lengths.

    port number 
        For protocols which support port numbers (such as TCP and UDP).
        It’s mandatory that you code the port number of the service 
        you want to match on. Service names (from /etc/services) may be 
        used instead of numeric port values. 

    in | out 
        Matches incoming or outgoing packets, respectively. in and out
        are keywords and it’s mandatory that you code one or the other 
        as part of your rule matching criterion.

    via IFN 
        Matches packets going through the interface specified by exact 
        name. IFN = interface-name. The via keyword causes the interface
        to always be checked as part of the match process. 
        via is mandatory.

        This is a mandatory keyword that identifies the session start
        request for TCP packets.

        This is a mandatory keyword. Upon a match, the firewall will
        create a dynamic rule whose default behavior is to match 
        bidirectional traffic between source and destination IP/port
        using the same protocol. 

    limit {src-addr | src-port | dst-addr | dst-port}
        The firewall will only allow N connections with the same set of
        parameters as specified in the rule. One or more of source 
        and destination addresses and ports can be specified. 
        The ‘limit’ and 'keep-state’ cannot be used on same rule. 
        Limit provides the same stateful function as ‘keep-state’ 
        plus its own functions.

Stateful Rule Option

Stateful filtering treats traffic as a bi-directional exchange of packets comprising a session conversation. It has the interrogation abilities to determine if the session conversation between the originating sender and the destination are following the valid procedure of bi-directional packet exchange. Any packets that do not properly fit the session conversation template are automatically rejected as impostors. This interrogation ability works for all the protocols.

The 'check-state' <action> is used to identify where in the IPFW rules set the packet is to be tested against the dynamic rules facility. On a match the packet exits the firewall to continue on its way and a new rule is dynamic created for the next anticipated packet being exchanged during this bi-directional session conversation. On a no match the packet advances to the next rule in the rule set for testing.

The dynamic rules facility is vulnerable to resource depletion from a SYN-flood attack which would open a huge number of dynamic rules. To counter this attack, FBSD version 4.5 added another new option named limit. This option is used to limit the number of simultaneous session conversations by interrogating the rule's source or destinations fields as directed by the limit option and using the packet's IP address found there. In a search of the open dynamic rules counting the number of times this rule and IP address combination occurred, if this count is greater that the value specified on the limit option, the packet is discarded.

Logging Firewall Messages

The benefits of logging are obvious, provides information like, what packets have been dropped, what addresses they came from, and where they were going. This gives you a significant edge in tracking down attackers.

Even with the logging facility enabled, IPFW will not generate any rule logging on its own. The firewall administrator decides what rules in the rule set he wants to log and adds the log verb to those rules. Normally only deny rules are logged, like the deny rule for incoming icmp pings. It's very customary to duplicate the ipfw default deny everything rule with the log verb included as your last rule in the rule set. This way you get to see all the packets that did not match any of the rules in the rule set.

Logging is a two edged sword. If you're not careful, you can lose yourself in the over abundance of log data and fill all your free disk space with growing log files. DoS attacks that fill up disk drives is one of the oldest attacks around. These log messages are not only written to syslogd, but also are displayed on the root console screen and soon become very annoying.

The IPFIREWALL_VERBOSE_LIMIT=5 kernel option limits the number of consecutive messages sent to the system logger syslogd concerning the packet matching of a given rule. When this option is enabled in the kernel, the number of consecutive messages concerning a particular rule is capped at the number specified. There is nothing to be gained from 200 log messages saying the same identical thing. For instance, 5 consecutive messages concerning a particular rule would be logged to syslogd, the remainder identical consecutive messages would be counted and posted to the syslogd with a phrase like this:

last message repeated 45 times

All logged packet messages are written by default to /var/log/security file, which is defined in the /etc/syslog.conf file.

Building Rule Script

Most experienced IPFW users create a file containing the rules and code them in a manner compatible with running them as a script. The major benefit of doing this is the firewall rules can be refreshed in mass with out the need of rebooting the system to activate the new rules. This method is very convenient in testing new rules as the procedure can be executed as many times as needed. Being a script, you can use symbolic substitution to code frequent used values and substituting them in multiple rules. You will see this in the following example.

The script syntax used here is compatible with the 'sh', 'csh', 'tcsh' shells. Symbolic substitution fields are prefixed with a dollar sign $. Symbolic fields do not have the $ prefix The value to populate the symbolic field must be enclosed in "double quotes".

Start your rules file with this.

############### start of example ipfw rules script ############# 
ipfw –q -f flush     # Delete all rules
# Set defaults 
oif="tun0" # out interface 
odns=""      # ISP's dns server IP address
cmd="ipfw -q add "     # build rule prefix
ks="keep-state"        # just too lazy to key this each time
$cmd 00500 check-state
$cmd 00502 deny all from any to any frag
$cmd 00501 deny tcp from any to any established
$cmd 00600 allow tcp from any to any 80 out via $oif setup $ks
$cmd 00610 allow tcp from any to $odns 53 out via $oif setup $ks 
$cmd 00611 allow udp from any to $odns 53 out via $oif $ks
################### End of example ipfw rules script ############

That's all there is to it. The rules are not important in this example; how the symbolic substitution field are populated and used are.

If the above example was in /etc/ipfw.rules file, I could reload these rules by entering on the FBSD command

sh /etc/ipfw.rules

The /etc/ipfw.rules file could be located anywhere you want and the file could be named anything you wanted.

The same thing could also to accomplished doing it this way as a text file

ipfw -q -f flush ipfw -q add check-state ipfw -q add deny all from any to any frag ipfw -q add deny tcp from any to any established ipfw -q add allow tcp from any to any 80 out via tun0 setup keep-state ipfw -q add allow tcp from any to 53 out via tun0 setup keep-state ipfw -q add 00611 allow udp from any to 53 out via tun0 keep-state

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