Chapter 5. Network setup

Table of Contents

5.1. The basic network infrastructure
5.1.1. The hostname resolution
5.1.2. The network interface name
5.1.3. The network address range for the LAN
5.1.4. The network device support
5.2. The modern network configuration for desktop
5.2.1. GUI network configuration tools
5.3. The modern network configuration without GUI
5.4. The modern network configuration for cloud
5.4.1. The modern network configuration for cloud with DHCP
5.4.2. The modern network configuration for cloud with static IP
5.4.3. The modern network configuration for cloud with Network Manger
5.5. The low level network configuration
5.5.1. Iproute2 commands
5.5.2. Safe low level network operations
5.6. Network optimization
5.6.1. Finding optimal MTU
5.6.2. WAN TCP optimization
5.7. Netfilter infrastructure
[Tip] Tip

For modern Debian specific guide to the networking, read The Debian Administrator's Handbook — Configuring the Network.

[Tip] Tip

Under systemd, networkd may be used to manage networks. See systemd-networkd(8).

Let's review the basic network infrastructure on the modern Debian system.

Table 5.1. List of network configuration tools

packages popcon size type description
network-manager V:392, I:459 15542 config::NM NetworkManager (daemon): manage the network automatically
network-manager-gnome V:121, I:369 5583 config::NM NetworkManager (GNOME frontend) V:1, I:5 319 config::NM+networkd Netplan (generator): Unified, declarative interface to NetworkManager and systemd-networkd backends
ifupdown V:608, I:979 199 config::ifupdown standardized tool to bring up and down the network (Debian specific)
isc-dhcp-client V:217, I:981 2875 config::low-level DHCP client
pppoeconf V:0, I:5 186 config::helper configuration helper for PPPoE connection
wpasupplicant V:353, I:513 3862 config::helper client support for WPA and WPA2 (IEEE 802.11i)
wpagui V:0, I:1 774 config::helper Qt GUI client for wpa_supplicant
wireless-tools V:179, I:244 292 config::helper tools for manipulating Linux Wireless Extensions
iw V:34, I:475 302 config::helper tool for configuring Linux wireless devices
iproute2 V:736, I:972 3606 config::iproute2 iproute2, IPv6 and other advanced network configuration: ip(8), tc(8), etc
iptables V:319, I:718 2414 config::Netfilter administration tools for packet filtering and NAT (Netfilter)
nftables V:106, I:701 182 config::Netfilter administration tools for packet filtering and NAT (Netfilter) (successor to {ip,ip6,arp,eb}tables)
iputils-ping V:194, I:997 122 test test network reachability of a remote host by hostname or IP address (iproute2)
iputils-arping V:3, I:36 50 test test network reachability of a remote host specified by the ARP address
iputils-tracepath V:2, I:30 47 test trace the network path to a remote host
ethtool V:95, I:267 739 test display or change Ethernet device settings
mtr-tiny V:5, I:46 156 test::low-level trace the network path to a remote host (curses)
mtr V:4, I:41 209 test::low-level trace the network path to a remote host (curses and GTK)
gnome-nettool V:0, I:17 2492 test::low-level tools for common network information operations (GNOME)
nmap V:25, I:199 4498 test::low-level network mapper / port scanner (Nmap, console)
tcpdump V:17, I:175 1340 test::low-level network traffic analyzer (Tcpdump, console)
wireshark I:45 10417 test::low-level network traffic analyzer (Wireshark, GTK)
tshark V:2, I:25 400 test::low-level network traffic analyzer (console)
tcptrace V:0, I:2 401 test::low-level produce a summarization of the connections from tcpdump output
snort V:0, I:0 2203 test::low-level flexible network intrusion detection system (Snort)
ntopng V:0, I:1 15904 test::low-level display network usage in web browser
dnsutils V:16, I:280 276 test::low-level network clients provided with BIND: nslookup(8), nsupdate(8), dig(8)
dlint V:0, I:3 53 test::low-level check DNS zone information using nameserver lookups
dnstracer V:0, I:1 59 test::low-level trace a chain of DNS servers to the source

The hostname resolution is currently supported by the NSS (Name Service Switch) mechanism too. The flow of this resolution is the following.

  1. The "/etc/nsswitch.conf" file with stanza like "hosts: files dns" dictates the hostname resolution order. (This replaces the old functionality of the "order" stanza in "/etc/host.conf".)

  2. The files method is invoked first. If the hostname is found in the "/etc/hosts" file, it returns all valid addresses for it and exits. (The "/etc/host.conf" file contains "multi on".)

  3. The dns method is invoked. If the hostname is found by the query to the Internet Domain Name System (DNS) identified by the "/etc/resolv.conf" file, it returns all valid addresses for it and exits.

A typical workstation may be installed with its host name set to, e.g., "host_name" and its optional domain name set to an empty string. Then, "/etc/hosts" looks like the following. localhost host_name

# The following lines are desirable for IPv6 capable hosts
::1     localhost ip6-localhost ip6-loopback
ff02::1 ip6-allnodes
ff02::2 ip6-allrouters

Each line starts with a IP address and it is followed by the associated hostname.

The IP address in the second line of this example may not be found on some other Unix-like systems. The Debian Installer creates this entry for a system without a permanent IP address as a workaround for some software (e.g., GNOME) as documented in the bug #719621.

The host_name matches the hostname defined in the "/etc/hostname" (see Section 3.7.1, “The hostname”).

For a system with a permanent IP address, that permanent IP address should be used here instead of

For a system with a permanent IP address and a fully qualified domain name (FQDN) provided by the Domain Name System (DNS), that canonical host_name.domain_name should be used instead of just host_name.

The "/etc/resolv.conf" is a static file if the resolvconf package is not installed. If installed, it is a symbolic link. Either way, it contains information that initialize the resolver routines. If the DNS is found at IP="", it contains the following.


The resolvconf package makes this "/etc/resolv.conf" into a symbolic link and manages its contents by the hook scripts automatically.

For the PC workstation on the typical adhoc LAN environment, the hostname can be resolved via Multicast DNS (mDNS) in addition to the basic files and dns methods.

  • Avahi provides a framework for Multicast DNS Service Discovery on Debian.

  • It is equivalent of Apple Bonjour / Apple Rendezvous.

  • The libnss-mdns plugin package provides host name resolution via mDNS for the GNU Name Service Switch (NSS) functionality of the GNU C Library (glibc).

  • The "/etc/nsswitch.conf" file should have stanza like "hosts: files mdns4_minimal [NOTFOUND=return] dns" (see /usr/share/doc/libnss-mdns/README.Debian for other configurations).

  • A host name suffixed with the ".local" pseudo-top-level domain is resolved by sending a mDNS query message in a multicast UDP packet using IPv4 address "" or IPv6 address "FF02::FB".

[Note] Note

The expansion of generic Top-Level Domains (gTLD) in the Domain Name System is underway. Watch out for the name collision when chosing a domain name used only within LAN.

[Note] Note

Use of packages such as libnss-resolve together with systemd-resolved, or libnss-myhostname, or libnss-mymachine, with coressponding listings on the "hosts" line in the "/etc/nsswitch.conf" file may override the traditional network configuration discussed in the above. See nss-resolve(8), systemd-resolved(8), nss-myhostname(8), and nss-mymachines(8) for more.

Network interfaces are typically initialized in "networking.service" for the lo interface and "NetworkManager.service" for other interfaces on modern Debian desktop system under systemd.

Debian can manage the network connection via management daemon software such as NetworkManager (NM) (network-manager and associated packages).

  • They come with their own GUI and command-line programs as their user interfaces.

  • They come with their own daemon as their backend system.

  • They allow easy connection of your system to the Internet.

  • They allow easy management of wired and wireless network configuration.

  • They allow us to configure network independent of the legacy ifupdown package.

[Note] Note

Do not use these automatic network configuration tools for servers. These are aimed primarily for mobile desktop users on laptops.

These modern network configuration tools need to be configured properly to avoid conflicting with the legacy ifupdown package and its configuration file "/etc/network/interfaces".

Official documentations for NM on Debian are provided in "/usr/share/doc/network-manager/README.Debian".

Essentially, the network configuration for desktop is done as follows.

  1. Make desktop user, e.g. foo, belong to group "netdev" by the following (Alternatively, do it automatically via D-bus under modern desktop environments such as GNOME and KDE).

    $ sudo usermod -a -G foo netdev
  2. Keep configuration of "/etc/network/interfaces" as simple as in the following.

    auto lo
    iface lo inet loopback
  3. Restart NM by the following.

    $ sudo systemctl restart network-manager
  4. Configure your network via GUI.

[Note] Note

Only interfaces which are not listed in "/etc/network/interfaces" are managed by NM to avoid conflict with ifupdown.

[Tip] Tip

If you wish to extend network configuration capabilities of NM, please seek appropriate plug-in modules and supplemental packages such as network-manager-openconnect, network-manager-openvpn-gnome, network-manager-pptp-gnome, mobile-broadband-provider-info, gnome-bluetooth, etc.

Under systemd, the network may be configured in /etc/systemd/network/ instead. See systemd-resolved(8), resolved.conf(5), and systemd-networkd(8).

This allows the modern network configuration without GUI.

A DHCP client configuration can be set up by creating "/etc/systemd/network/". E.g.:



A static network configuration can be set up by creating "/etc/systemd/network/". E.g.:



The modern network configuration for cloud may use cloud-init and packages (see Section 3.7.4, “Cloud system initialization”).

The package supports systemd-networkd and NetworkManager as its network configuration backends, and enables the declarative network configuration using YAML data. When you change YAML:

  • Run "netplan generate" command to generate all the necessary backend configuration from YAML.

  • Run "netplan apply" command to apply the generated configuration to the backends.

See "Netplan documentation", netplan(5), netplan-generate(8), and netplan-apply(8).

See also "Cloud-init documentation" (especially around "Configuration sources" and "Netplan Passthrough") for how cloud-init can integrate configuration with alternative data sources.

For the low level network configuration on Linux, use the iproute2 programs (ip(8), …) .

Generic network optimization is beyond the scope of this documentation. I touch only subjects pertinent to the consumer grade connection.

NM normally sets optimal Maximum Transmission Unit (MTU) automatically.

In some occasion, you may wish to set MTU manually after experiments with ping(8) with "-M do" option to send a ICMP packet with various data packet size. MTU is the maximum succeeding data packet size without IP fragmentation plus 28 bytes for the IPv4 and plus 48 bytes for the IPv6. For example the following finds MTU for IPv4 connection to be 1460 and MTU for IPv6 connection to be 1500.

$ ping -4 -c 1 -s $((1500-28)) -M do
PING  ( 1472(1500) bytes of data.
ping: local error: message too long, mtu=1460

---  ping statistics ---
1 packets transmitted, 0 received, +1 errors, 100% packet loss, time 0ms

$ ping -4 -c 1 -s $((1460-28)) -M do
PING  ( 1432(1460) bytes of data.
1440 bytes from ( icmp_seq=1 ttl=50 time=325 ms

---  ping statistics ---
1 packets transmitted, 1 received, 0% packet loss, time 0ms
rtt min/avg/max/mdev = 325.318/325.318/325.318/0.000 ms
$ ping -6 -c 1 -s $((1500-48)) -M do
PING (2603:400a:ffff:bb8::801f:3e)) 1452 data bytes
1460 bytes from (2603:400a:ffff:bb8::801f:3e): icmp_seq=1 ttl=47 time=191 ms

--- ping statistics ---
1 packets transmitted, 1 received, 0% packet loss, time 0ms
rtt min/avg/max/mdev = 191.332/191.332/191.332/0.000 ms

This process is Path MTU (PMTU) discovery (RFC1191) and the tracepath(8) command can automate this.

In addition to these basic guide lines, you should know the following.

  • Any use of tunneling methods (VPN etc.) may reduce optimal MTU further by their overheads.

  • The MTU value should not exceed the experimentally determined PMTU value.

  • The bigger MTU value is generally better when other limitations are met.

The maximum segment size (MSS) is used as an alternative measure of packet size. The relationship between MSS and MTU are the following.

  • MSS = MTU - 40 for IPv4

  • MSS = MTU - 60 for IPv6

[Note] Note

The iptables(8) (see Section 5.7, “Netfilter infrastructure”) based optimization can clamp packet size by the MSS and is useful for the router. See "TCPMSS" in iptables(8).

The TCP throughput can be maximized by adjusting TCP buffer size parameters as in "TCP tuning" for the modern high-bandwidth and high-latency WAN. So far, the current Debian default settings serve well even for my LAN connected by the fast 1G bps FTTP service.

Netfilter provides infrastructure for stateful firewall and network address translation (NAT) with Linux kernel modules (see Section 3.9, “The kernel module initialization”).

Main user space program of netfilter is iptables(8). You can manually configure netfilter interactively from shell, save its state with iptables-save(8), and restore it via init script with iptables-restore(8) upon system reboot.

Configuration helper scripts such as shorewall ease this process.

See documentations at Netfilter Documentation (or in "/usr/share/doc/iptables/html/").

[Tip] Tip

Although these were written for Linux 2.4, both iptables(8) command and netfilter kernel function apply for Linux 2.6 and 3.x kernel series.