3.5. The conf/ variables

The conf directory is split up in several different directories which in turn contains a lot of settings that may be done. If you look closer at this directory listing you will see that most of the directories corresponds to your network interface names, such as eth0, tr0 or lo. These directories allows you to set different values depending on the different network interfaces. There are also the all and default directories which contains variables which will change the specific behaviour of all the different network interfaces. The listing of the conf directory may look like shown in the listing below.

root@firewall:/proc/sys/net/ipv4/conf# ls -l
total 0
dr-xr-xr-x    2 root     root            0 May  1 20:04 all/
dr-xr-xr-x    2 root     root            0 May  1 20:04 default/
dr-xr-xr-x    2 root     root            0 May  1 20:04 eth0/
dr-xr-xr-x    2 root     root            0 May  1 20:04 eth1/
dr-xr-xr-x    2 root     root            0 May  1 20:04 eth2/
dr-xr-xr-x    2 root     root            0 May  1 20:04 eth3/
dr-xr-xr-x    2 root     root            0 May  1 20:04 lo/

In the above configuration, we have 4 different ethernet adapters (eth0-3) and one lo adapter. Everyone should have the lo, or localhost, adapter since it is an integral part of most - if not all - unix systems, as long as it has any kind of network stack.

3.5.1. conf/DEV/, conf/all/ and conf/default/ differences

The /conf/DEV/ directory, where DEV stands for some device or another, will only change the behaviour of the specific device in question. Now, conf/all/ on the other hand will change the behaviour of all the other interfaces if changed.

The final directory named conf/default/ will change the default values. This doesn't change the values in the already set up devices, but it will change the default values used for all the interfaces that may be brought up in the future. One usage would be if we set up a new interface eth0, change the conf/eth0 variables for it, and finally set the defaults used. If we would then load five modems on ppp+, these variables would change since the default variables have changed.

3.5.2. accept_redirects

This variable tells your system whether it should accept ICMP redirects or not. ICMP redirects are normally used to tell a router, or sometimes hosts, that there is a better way to send the packets to specific hosts or networks, which is faster or is less congested.

This value takes a boolean value, and is turned off if it is set to 0 and turned on if it is set to 1. Per default, Linux does accept redirects, but I suggest you turn it off since it is generally considered as a security risk. Most machines should never have any specific requirements to accept being redirected, and hence you should mostly keep this setting off, unless you know that you will seriously need redirects once in a while.

3.5.3. accept_source_route

This variable tells the kernel if it should allow source routed packets or not. Source routed packets are generally looked upon as a security risk, and generally bad. For more information about source routing, see the ip-param.txt document.

This variable is per default turned on in all kernels. Of course, it takes a boolean value, and may be turned on (1) or off (0).

3.5.4. arp_filter

The arp_filter variable tells the kernel whether the IP address should be bound to a specific ARP address or not. The kernel decides to answer a specific packet incoming on a specific interface, if it decides that it would also send the reply back out through the same interface. This is what happens if you turn this option on. In general, it is a good idea to answer on an IP address bound to this computer be answered from whichever interface the packet was received on. However, in some cases, this may cause troubles.

In general, we should only turn this variable on if we are doing load-balancing, otherwise it should be turned off. Per default, this variable is turned off, since it is somewhat breaking the new thoughts about IP addresses. Previously, IP addresses where looked upon as a way of reaching a specific device on a piece of hardware, today, it is looked upon as a separate service in a way, which means that we should (and generally are) answering requests for a specific IP address, not depending on where we received it.


For more information about ARP fluxing, I suggest that you read the information available in the Guide to IP Layer Network Administration with Linux document.

3.5.5. bootp_relay

The bootp_relay variable is supposed to accept packets with source address of 0.b.c.d destined not to this host as local packets. The BOOTP relay daemon will then catch these packets and forward them to the correct destination.

The bootp_relay variable takes a boolean value, and is per default turned off. It can either be turned on (1), or off (0). See the caution admonition before turning it on.


The bootp_relay variable is not implemented yet, hence this very short description. If you have needs of this, you should be welcome to implement it properly. If you want to implement this, you should get in touch with the netdev mailinglist to find out more specific information.

3.5.6. forwarding

This variable tells us if IP forwarding is turned on for a specific device. This could be used to turn on only forwarding between 2 devices, while the third is turned off. Hence, we limit which subnets has access to what. The value in this variable defaults to the same value as ipv4/ip_forward, so if you turn on ip_forward, all of these variables will change to 1 (on), and if you turn ip_forward off, all of the variables will be switched to 0 (off).

3.5.7. log_martians

This variable tells the kernel to log all packets that contains impossible addresses to the kernel logging facility. An impossible IP address may mean an IP address that we do not know how to contact, since the IP address is not contained in the routing tables.


The log_martians will increase verbosity under specific circumstances, but you should be aware that it is not as verbose as one may think. The main problems getting logged by this option are impossible redirects, bad classes, limited broadcasts or otherwise invalid according to the Forwarding Information Base (FIB). This may sound much, but the sircumstances are rather restrictive before anything gets logged.

Martian logging takes a boolean value, where 1 turns it on and 0 turns it off. Per default it is turned off.

3.5.8. mc_forwarding

This option turns on multicast routing for the specific device that we are configuring. To do this, the kernel must be configured and compiled with CONFIG_MROUTE. Additionally, you need a routing daemon that is available at AT&T Research FTP site.. This is a Multicast routing daemon that implements DVMRP. Another Multicast routing daemon that is available is the PIMd. PIMd implements the PIM (Protocol Independent Multicast) multicast routing protocol, in sparse mode. There are also links to other PIM-DM (Protocol Independent Multicast--Dense Mode) and PIM-SM (Protocol Independant Multicast--Sparse Mode) implementations from the last site. If you need more information about Multicasting under Linux, I suggest you read the Multicast HOWTO which contains tons of information about multicasting.

Briefly, The main usage of multicast is to send packets to several different hosts, on different networks. For example, a webpage is OK to send once to everyone who wants to see it, but if we want to have a video conference or video stream to several hundreds of users at once, we have two options of doing this. Either we send the packets once to every host, which means we will have to send hundreds of packets at the same time, and thus draining our bandwidth. The other solution is to use Multicast, in which case we only send one packet, and the packet will then be multiplexed along the road so that everyone who wants to receive the specific stream will get it.

This option takes a boolean value, and is per default turned off. Note that you do not need to turn it on, if you want your host to just listen to multicast packets. This is only needed if you want to forward multicast over the box.

3.5.9. proxy_arp

This variable sets Proxy ARP on or off in kernel for specific devices. Proxy ARP is a system of automatically answering ARP queries for other hosts, that may for example be located on other network segments that we have contact with. This may be necessary under certain circumstances, where other routers do not know how to reach specific networks or hosts. The Linux firewall/router may then answer the ARP queries on behalf of the hosts that we want to Proxy ARP for.

Proxy ARP is turned on for the network segment that we want to answer ARP queries for. We will then answer all ARP queries for that specific network or host, hence receiving the packets destined for the specific host, and we can then send them onwards to the real host.

The proxy_arp variables takes a boolean value. Per default, it is turned off, and may be turned on (1) or off (2) at will. If you want more information about Proxy ARP, read the Proxy-ARP mini HOWTO.

3.5.10. rp_filter

The rp_filter variable sets up a reverse patch (rp) filter on the specific interface. What this means, is quite simple. All it does, is to validate that the actual source address used by packets correlates properly with our routing table, and that packets with this specific source IP address are supposed to get their replies back through that interface again.


If you are using policy routing, or advanced routing, in one way or another, you are seriously suggested to turn the rp_filter variable off, since it may cause packets to be dropped. For example, if you have set up your routers to receive packets through one of them, and send outgoing packets through the other one. Now, if your webserver is connected through one interface to the incoming router, and one to the outgoing router, and the rp_filter variable is turned on, it will simply drop all incoming packets since the packets are not coming in to the webserver through the propriate interface in accordance to the routing table.

The variable takes a boolean value, and is per default turned off. However, a lot of Linux distributions turns on rp_filter through their startup scripts. Hence, if rp_filter is turned on, on your distribution and you want it turned off, start by looking at the rc.d scripts. The variable can either be turned off (0), or on (1).


The behaviour of the rp_filter variable is specified in RFC 1812 - Requirements for IP Version 4 Routers on pages 46-49 (section, page 55 (section and page 90 (section If you are doing serious routing, you should carefully read this document anyways.

3.5.11. secure_redirects

This variable turns on secure redirects. If it is turned off, the Linux kernel will accept ICMP redirects from any host, anywhere. However, if it is turned on, ICMP redirects will only be accepted from gateways listed in the default gateway list. This way we can get rid of most illegal redirects that can be used to log your traffic and grab sensitive data, such as passwords etcetera.

The secure_redirects variable takes a boolean value and is per default turned on. It may both be turned on or turned off. Note that this variable is overridden by the shared_media variable, so to turn this one on, you must turn on shared_media as well.

3.5.12. send_redirects

The send_redirects option tells the Linux kernel to send out ICMP redirects to other hosts. This should only be turned on, if the computer acts as a router of some sort. The ICMP redirects are mainly sent out to hosts, if we for example know that the other router/host should instead contact another server on their same subnet as the one we are receiving the packets on.

The send_redirects variable takes a boolean value and is per default turned on. It can take the values 0 (off) and 1 (on). In most cases where the computer is not running as a router of some kind, we could safely turn it off.

3.5.13. shared_media

The shared_media setting tells the kernel if the physical network connected to a specific network card is a shared media or not. For example, if several different IP networks with different netmasks operate over the same physical media or not. The main effect that this variable makes, is to tell the kernel whether it should send ICMP redirects to specific networks or not.

Per default this variable is turned on. It takes a boolean value, and may hence be turned on or off. Note that this variable overrides secure_redirects below.