Four ways to connect a docker container to a local network

Mon 11 August 2014 by Lars Kellogg-Stedman Tags networking docker openvswitch

Update (2018-03-22) Since I wrote this document back in 2014, Docker has developed the macvlan network driver. That gives you a supported mechanism for direct connectivity to a local layer 2 network. I've written an article about working with the macvlan driver.

This article discusses four ways to make a Docker container appear on a local network. These are not suggested as practical solutions, but are meant to illustrate some of the underlying network technology available in Linux.

If you were actually going to use one of these solutions as anything other than a technology demonstration, you might look to the pipework script, which can automate many of these configurations.

Goals and Assumptions

In the following examples, we have a host with address on the network. We are creating a Docker container that we want to expose as

I am running Fedora 20 with Docker 1.1.2. This means, in particular, that my utils-linux package is recent enough to include the nsenter command. If you don't have that handy, there is a convenient Docker recipe to build it for you at jpetazzo/nsenter on GitHub.

A little help along the way

In this article we will often refer to the PID of a docker container. In order to make this convenient, drop the following into a script called docker-pid, place it somewhere on your PATH, and make it executable:


exec docker inspect --format '{{ .State.Pid }}' "$@"

This allows us to conveniently get the PID of a docker container by name or ID:

$ docker-pid web

In a script called docker-ip, place the following:


exec docker inspect --format '{{ .NetworkSettings.IPAddress }}' "$@"

And now we can get the ip address of a container like this:

$ docker-ip web

Using NAT

This uses the standard Docker network model combined with NAT rules on your host to redirect inbound traffic to/outbound traffic from the appropriate IP address.

Assign our target address to your host interface:

# ip addr add dev em1

Start your docker container, using the -p option to bind exposed ports to an ip address and port on the host:

# docker run -d --name web -p larsks/simpleweb

With this command, Docker will set up the standard network model:

  • It will create a veth interface pair.
  • Connect one end to the docker0 bridge.
  • Place the other inside the container namespace as eth0.
  • Assign an ip address from the network used by the docker0 bridge.

Because we added -p to our command line, Docker will also create the following rule in the nat table DOCKER chain (which is run from the PREROUTING chain):

-A DOCKER -d ! -i docker0 -p tcp -m tcp 
  --dport 80 -j DNAT --to-destination

This matches traffic TO our target address (-d not originating on the docker0 bridge (! -i docker0) destined for tcp port 80 (-p tcp -m tcp --dport 80). Matching traffic has it's destination set to the address of our docker container (-j DNAT --to-destination

From a host elsewhere on the network, we can now access the web server at our selected ip address:

$ curl
Hello world

If our container were to initiate a network connection with another system, that connection would appear to originate with ip address of our host. We can fix that my adding a SNAT rule to the POSTROUTING chain to modify the source address:

# iptables -t nat -I POSTROUTING -s $(docker-ip web) \
    -j SNAT --to-source

Note here the use of -I POSTROUTING, which places the rule at the top of the POSTROUTING chain. This is necessary because, by default, Docker has already added the following rule to the top of the POSTROUTING chain:


Because this MASQUERADE rule matches traffic from any container, we need to place our rule earlier in the POSTROUTING chain for it to have any affect.

With these rules in place, traffic to (port 80) is directed to our web container, and traffic originating in the web container will appear to come from

With Linux Bridge devices

The previous example was relatively easy to configure, but has a few shortcomings. If you need to configure an interface using DHCP, or if you have an application that needs to be on the same layer 2 broadcast domain as other devices on your network, NAT rules aren't going to work out.

This solution uses a Linux bridge device, created using brctl, to connect your containers directly to a physical network.

Start by creating a new bridge device. In this example, we'll create one called br-em1:

# brctl addbr br-em1
# ip link set br-em1 up

We're going to add em1 to this bridge, and move the ip address from em1 onto the bridge.

WARNING: This is not something you should do remotely, especially for the first time, and making this persistent varies from distribution to distribution, so this will not be a persistent configuration.

Look at the configuration of interface em1 and note the existing ip address:

# ip addr show em1
2: em1: <BROADCAST,MULTICAST,UP,LOWER_UP> mtu 1500 qdisc mq master br-em1 state UP group default qlen 1000
    link/ether 00:1d:09:63:71:30 brd ff:ff:ff:ff:ff:ff
    inet scope global br-em1
       valid_lft forever preferred_lft forever

Look at your current routes and note the default route:

# ip route
default via dev em1 dev em1  proto kernel  scope link  src

Now, add this device to your bridge:

# brctl addif br-em1 em1

Configure the bridge with the address that used to belong to em1:

# ip addr del dev em1
# ip addr add dev br-em1

And move the default route to the bridge:

# ip route del default
# ip route add default via dev br-em1

If you were doing this remotely; you would do this all in one line like this:

# ip addr add dev br-em1; \
    ip addr del dev em1; \
    brctl addif br-em1 em1; \
    ip route del default; \
    ip route add default via dev br-em1

At this point, verify that you still have network connectivity:

# curl
<HTML><HEAD><meta http-equiv="content-type" content="text/html;charset=utf-8">

Start up the web container:

# docker run -d --name web larsks/simpleweb

This will give us the normal eth0 interface inside the container, but we're going to ignore that and add a new one.

Create a veth interface pair:

# ip link add web-int type veth peer name web-ext

Add the web-ext link to the br-eth0 bridge:

# brctl addif br-em1 web-ext

And add the web-int interface to the namespace of the container:

# ip link set netns $(docker-pid web) dev web-int

Next, we'll use the nsenter command (part of the util-linux package) to run some commands inside the web container. Start by bringing up the link inside the container:

# nsenter -t $(docker-pid web) -n ip link set web-int up

Assign our target ip address to the interface:

# nsenter -t $(docker-pid web) -n ip addr add dev web-int

And set a new default route inside the container:

# nsenter -t $(docker-pid web) -n ip route del default
# nsenter -t $(docker-pid web) -n ip route add default via dev web-int

Again, we can verify from another host that the web server is available at

$ curl
Hello world

Note that in this example we have assigned a static ip address, but we could just have easily acquired an address using DHCP. After running:

# nsenter -t $(docker-pid web) -n ip link set web-int up

We can run:

# nsenter -t $(docker-pid web) -n -- dhclient -d web-int
Internet Systems Consortium DHCP Client 4.2.6
Copyright 2004-2014 Internet Systems Consortium.
All rights reserved.
For info, please visit

Listening on LPF/web-int/6e:f0:a8:c6:f0:43
Sending on   LPF/web-int/6e:f0:a8:c6:f0:43
Sending on   Socket/fallback
DHCPDISCOVER on web-int to port 67 interval 4 (xid=0x3aaab45b)
DHCPREQUEST on web-int to port 67 (xid=0x3aaab45b)
DHCPACK from (xid=0x3aaab45b)
bound to -- renewal in 714 seconds.

With Open vSwitch Bridge devices

This process is largely the same as in the previous example, but we use Open vSwitch instead of the legacy Linux bridge devices. These instructions assume that you have already installed and started Open vSwitch on your system.

Create an OVS bridge using the ovs-vsctl command:

# ovs-vsctl add-br br-em1
# ip link set br-em1 up

And add your external interface:

# ovs-vsctl add-port br-em1 em1

And then proceed as in the previous set of instructions.

The equivalent all-in-one command is:

# ip addr add dev br-em1; \
    ip addr del dev em1; \
    ovs-vsctl add-port br-em1 em1; \
    ip route del default; \
    ip route add default via dev br-em1

Once that completes, your openvswitch configuration should look like this:

# ovs-vsctl show
    Bridge "br-em1"
        Port "br-em1"
            Interface "br-em1"
                type: internal
        Port "em1"
            Interface "em1"
    ovs_version: "2.1.2"

To add the web-ext interface to the bridge, run:

# ovs-vsctl add-port br-em1 web-ext

Instead of:

# brctl addif br-em1 web-ext

WARNING: The Open vSwitch configuration persists between reboots. This means that when your system comes back up, em1 will still be a member of br-em, which will probably result in no network connectivity for your host.

Before rebooting your system, make sure to ovs-vsctl del-port br-em1 em1.

With macvlan devices

This process is similar to the previous two, but instead of using a bridge device we will create a macvlan, which is a virtual network interface associated with a physical interface. Unlike the previous two solutions, this does not require any interruption to your primary network interface.

Start by creating a docker container as in the previous examples:

# docker run -d --name web larsks/simpleweb

Create a macvlan interface associated with your physical interface:

# ip link add em1p0 link em1 type macvlan mode bridge

This creates a new macvlan interface named em1p0 (but you can name it anything you want) associated with interface em1. We are setting it up in bridge mode, which permits all macvlan interfaces to communicate with eachother.

Add this interface to the container's network namespace:

# ip link set netns $(docker-pid web) em1p0

Bring up the link:

# nsenter -t $(docker-pid web) -n ip link set em1p0 up

And configure the ip address and routing:

# nsenter -t $(docker-pid web) -n ip route del default
# nsenter -t $(docker-pid web) -n ip addr add dev em1p0
# nsenter -t $(docker-pid web) -n ip route add default via dev em1p0

And demonstrate that from another host the web server is available at

$ curl
Hello world

But note that if you were to try the same thing on the host, you would get:

curl: (7) Failed connect to; No route to host

The host is unable to communicate with macvlan devices via the primary interface. You can create another macvlan interface on the host, give it an address on the appropriate network, and then set up routes to your containers via that interface:

# ip link add em1p1 link em1 type macvlan mode bridge
# ip addr add dev em1p1
# ip route add dev em1p1