Flowtable

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NOTE: Meters were formerly known as flowtables before nftables 0.8.1 release. Now they are 2 separated, unrelated things.

Flowtables allow you to accelerate packet forwarding in software (and in hardware if your NIC supports it) by using a conntrack-based network stack bypass.

Entries are represented through a tuple that is composed of the input interface, source and destination address, source and destination port; and layer 3/4 protocols. Each entry also caches the destination interface and the gateway address (to update the destination link-layer address) to forward packets.

The TTL and hoplimit fields are also decremented. Hence, flowtables provides an alternative path that allow packets to bypass the classic forwarding path.

                                         userspace process
                                          ^              |
                                          |              |
                                     _____|____     ____\/___
                                    /          \   /         \
                                    |   input  |   |  output |
                                    \__________/   \_________/
                                         ^               |
                                         |               |
      _________      __________      ---------     _____\/_____
     /         \    /          \     |Routing |   /            \
  -->  ingress  ---> prerouting ---> |decision|   | postrouting|--> neigh_xmit
     \_________/    \__________/     ----------   \____________/          ^
       |      ^                          |               ^                |
   flowtable  |                     ____\/___            |                |
       |      |                    /         \           |                |
    __\/___   |                    | forward |------------                |
    |-----|   |                    \_________/                            |
    |-----|   |                 'flow offload' rule                       |
    |-----|   |                   adds entry to                           |
    |_____|   |                     flowtable                             |
       |      |                                                           |
      / \     |                                                           |
     /hit\_no_|                                                           |
     \ ? /                                                                |
      \ /                                                                 |
       |__yes_________________fastpath bypass ____________________________|

               Fig.1 Netfilter hooks and flowtable interactions


Flowtables reside in the ingress hook that is located before the prerouting hook. You can select which flows you want to offload through the flow expression from the forward chain. Flowtables are identified by their address family and their name. The address family must be one of ip, ip6, or inet.

Flows are offloaded after the state is created. A firewall rule to accept the initial traffic is required. The flow expression on the forward chain must match the return traffic of the initial connection.

The inet address family is a dummy family which is used to create hybrid IPv4/IPv6 tables. When no address family is specified, ip is used by default.

The *priority* can be a signed integer or *filter* which stands for 0. Addition and subtraction can be used to set relative priority, e.g. filter + 5 equals to 5.

The *devices* must match the input interface of the traffic that should be offloaded and is the same as the iifname in other nftable rules. Devices are required for both directions of the traffic.

Example:

table inet x {

    flowtable f {
        hook ingress priority 0 devices = { eth0, eth1 };
    }

    chain y {
        type filter hook forward priority 0; policy accept;
        ip protocol tcp flow offload @f
        counter packets 0 bytes 0
    }
}

See also