Creating a Home IPv6 Network

One of the recent experiences of Linux Plumbers Conference convinced me that if you want to be part of a true open source WebRTC based peer to peer audio/video interaction, you need an internet address that’s not behind a NAT. In reality, the protocol still works as long as you can contact a stun server to tell you what your external address is and possibly a turn server to proxy the packets if both endpoints are NATed but all this seeking external servers takes time as those of you who complained about the echo test found. The solution to all this is to connect over IPv6 which has an address space large enough to support every device on the planet having its own address. All modern Linux distributions support IPv6 out of the box so the chances are you’ve actually accidentally used it without ever noticing, which is one of the beauties of IPv6 autoconfiguration (it’s supposed to just work).

However, I recently moved, and so lost my fibre internet connection to cable but cable that did come with an IPv6 address, so this is my story of getting it all to work. If you don’t really care about the protocol basics, you can skip down to the how. This guide is also focussed on a “dual stack” configuration (one that has both IPv6 and IPv4 addresses). Pure IPv6 configurations are possible, but because some parts of the internet are still IPv4 only, they’re not complete unless you set up an IPv4 encapsulating bridge.

The Basics of IPv6

IPv6 has been a mature protocol for a long time now, so I erroneously assumed there’d be a load of good HOWTOs about it. However, after reading 20 different descriptions of how the IPv6 128 bit address space works and not much else, I gave up in despair and read the RFCs instead. I’ll assume you’ve read at least one of these HOWTOS, so I don’t have to go into IPv6 address prefixes, suffixes, interface IDs or subnets so I’ll begin where most of the HOWTOs end.

How does IPv6 Just Work?

In IPv4 there’s a protocol called dynamic host configuration protocol (DHCP) so as long as you can find a DHCP server you can get all the information you need to connect (local address, router, DNS server, time server, etc). However, this service has to be set up by someone and IPv6 is designed to configure a network without it.

The first assumption IPv6 StateLess Address AutoConfiguration (SLAAC) makes is that it’s on a /64 subnet (So every subnet in IPv6 contains 1010 times as many addresses as the entire IPv4 internet). This means that, since most real subnets contain <100 systems, they can simply choose a random address and be very unlikely to clash with the existing systems. In fact, there are three current ways of choosing an address in the /64:

  1. EUI-64 (RFC 4291) based on the MAC address which is basically the MAC with one bit flipped and ff:fe placed in the middle.
  2. Stable Private (RFC 7217) which generate from a hash based on a static key, interface, prefix and a counter (the counter is incremented if there is a clash). These are preferred to the EUI-64 ones which give away any configuration associated with the MAC address (such as what type of network card you have)
  3. Privacy Extension Addresses (RFC 4941) which are very similar to stable private addresses except they change over time using the IPv6 address deprecation mechanism and are for client systems who want to preserve anonymity.

The next problem in Linux is who configures the interface? The Kernel IPv6 stack is actually designed to do it, and will unless told not to, but most of the modern network controllers (like NetworkManager) are control freaks and turn off the kernel’s auto configuration so they can do it themselves. They also default to stable private addressing using a static secret maintained in the filesystem (/var/lib/NetworkManager/secret_key).

The next thing to understand about IPv6 addresses is that they are divided into scopes, the most important being link local (unrouteable) addresses which conventionally always have the prefix fe80::/64. The link local address is configured first using one of the above methods and then used to probe the network.

Multicast and Neighbour Discovery

Unlike IPv4, IPv6 has no broadcast capability so all discovery is done by multicast. Nodes coming up on the network subscribe to particular multicast addresses, via special packets intercepted by the switch, and won’t receive any multicast to which they’re not subscribed. Conventionally, all link local multicast addresses have the prefix ff02::/64 (for other types of multicast address see RFC 4291). All nodes subscribe to the “all nodes” multicast address ff02::1 and also must subscribe to their own solicited node multicast address at ff02::1:ffXX:XXXX where the last 24 bits correspond to the lowest 24 bits of the node’s IPv6 address. This latter is to avoid the disruption that used to occur in IPv4 from ARP broadcasts because now you can target a specific subset of nodes for address resolution.

The IPV6 address resolution protocol is called Neighbour Solicitation (NS), described in RFC 4861 and it’s use with SLAAC described in RFC 4862, and is done by sending a multicast to the neighbor solicitation address of the node you want to discover containing the full IPv6 address you want to know, a node with the matching address replies with its link layer (MAC) address in a Neighbour Advertisement (NA) packet.

Once a node has chosen its link local address, it first sends out a NS packet to its chosen address to see if anyone replies and if no-one does it assumes it is OK to keep it otherwise it follows the collision avoidance protocol associated with its particular form of address. Once it has found a unique address, the node configures this link local address and looks for a router. Note that if an IPv6 network isn’t present, discovery stops here, which is why most network interfaces always show a link local IPv6 address.

Router Discovery

Once the node has its own unique link local address, it uses it to send out Router Solicitation (RS) packets to the “all routers” multicast address ff02::2. Every router on the network responds with a Router Advertisement (RA) packet which describes (among other things) the the router lifetime, the network MTU, a set of one or more prefixes the router is responsible for, the router’s link address and a set of option flags including the M (Managed) and O (Other Configuration) flag and possibly a set of DNS servers.

Each advertised prefix contains the prefix and prefix length, a set of flags including the A (autonomous configuration) and L (link local) and a set of lifetimes. The Link Local prefixes tell you what global prefixes the local network users (there may be more than one) and whether you are allowed to do SLAAC on the global prefix (if the A flag is clear, you must ask the router for an address using DHCPv6). If the router has a non zero lifetime, you may assume it is a default router for the subnet.

Now that the node has discovered one or more routers it may configure its own global address (note that every IPv6 routeable node has at least two addresses: a link local and a global). How it does this depends on the router and prefix flags

Global Address Configuration

The first thing a node needs to know is whether to use SLAAC for the global address or DHCPv6. This is entirely determined by the A flag of any link local prefix in the RA packet. If A is set, then the node may use SLAAC and if A is clear then the node must use DHCPv6 to obtain an address. If A is set and also the M (Managed) flag then the node may use either SLAAC or DHCPv6 (or both) to obtain an address and if the M flag is clear, but the O (Other Config) flag is present then the node must use SLAAC but may use DHCPv6 to obtain other information about the network (usually DNS).

Once the node has a global address in now needs a default route. It forms the default route list from the RA packets that have a non-zero router Lifetime. All of these are configured as default routes to their link local address with the RA specified hop count. Finally, the node may add specific prefix routes from RA packets with zero router LifeTimes but non link local prefixes.

DHCPv6 is a fairly complex configuration protocol (see RFC 8415) but it cannot specify either prefix length (meaning all obtained addresses are configured as /128) or routes (these must be obtained from RA packets). This leads to a subtlety of outbound address selection in that the most specific is always preferred, so if you configure both by SLAAC and DHCPv6, the SLAAC address will be added as /64 and the DHCPv6 address as /128 meaning your outbound IP address will always be the DHCPv6 one (although if an external entity knows your SLAAC address, they will still be able to reach you on it).

The How: Configuring your own Home Router

One of the things you’d think from the above is that IPv6 always auto configures and, while it is true that if you simply plug your laptop into the ethernet port of a cable modem it will just automatically configure, most people have a more complex home setup involving a router, which needs some special coaxing before it will work. That means you need to obtain additional features from your ISP using special DHCPv6 requests.

This section is written from my own point of view: I have a rather complex IPv4 network which has a completely open but bandwidth limited (to untrusted clients) wifi network, and several protected internal networks (one for my lab, one for my phones and one for the household video cameras), so I need at least 4 subnets to give every device in my home an IPv6 address. I also use OpenWRT as my router distribution, so all the IPv6 configuration information is highly specific to it (although it should be noted that things like NetworkManager can also do all of this if you’re prepared to dig in the documentation).

Prefix Delegation

Since DHCPv6 only hands out a /128 address, this isn’t sufficient because it’s the IP address of the router itself. In order to become a router, you must request delegation of part of the IPv6 address space via the Identity Association for Prefix Delection (IA_PD) option of DHCPv6. Once this is done the router IP address will be assumed by the ISP to be the route for all of the delegated prefixes. The subtlety here is that if you want more than one subnet, you have to ask for it specifically (the client must specify the exact prefix length it’s looking for) and since it’s a prefix length, and your default subnet should be /64, if you request a prefix length of 64 you only have one subnet. If you request 63 you have 2 and so on. The problem is how do you know how many subnets the ISP is willing to give you? Unfortunately there’s no way of finding this (I had to do an internet search to discover my ISP, Comcast, was willing to delegate a prefix length of 60, meaning 16 subnets). If searching doesn’t tell you how much your ISP is willing to delegate, you could try starting at 48 and working your way to 64 in increments of 1 to see what the largest delegation you can get away with (There have been reports of ISPs locking you at your first delegated prefix length, so don’t start at 64). The final subtlety is that the prefix you’re delegated may not be the same prefix as the address your router obtained (my current comcast configuration has my router at 2001:558:600a:… but my delegated prefix is 2601:600:8280:66d0:/60). Note you can run odhcp6c manually with the -P option if you have to probe your ISP to find out what size of prefix you can get.

Configuring the Router for Prefix Delegation

In OpenWRT terms, the router WAN DHCP(v6) configuration is controlled by /etc/default/network. You’ll already have a WAN interface (likely called ‘wan’) for DHCPv4, so you simply add an additional ‘wan6’ interface to get an additional IPv6 and become dual stack. In my configuration this looks like

config interface 'wan6'
        option ifname '@wan'
        option proto 'dhcpv6'
        option reqprefix 60

The slight oddity is the ifname: @wan simply tells the config to use the same ifname as the ‘wan’ interface. Naming it this way is essential if your wan is a bridge, but it’s good practice anyway. The other option ‘reqprefix’ tells DHCPv6 to request a /60 prefix delegation.

Handing Out Delegated Prefixes

This turns out to be remarkably simple. Firstly you have to assign a delegated prefix to each of your other interfaces on the router, but you can do this without adding a new OpenWRT interface for each of them. My internal IPv4 network has all static addresses, so you add three directives to each of the interfaces:

config interface 'lan'
        ... interface designation (bridge for me)
        option proto 'static'
        ... ipv4 addresses
        option ip6assign '64'
        option ip6hint '1'
        option ip6ifaceid '::ff'

ip6assign ‘N’ means you are a /N network (so this is always /64 for me) and ip6hint ‘N’ means use N as your subnet id and ip6ifaceid ‘S’ means use S as the IPv6 suffix (This defaults to ::1 so if you’re OK with that, omit this directive). So given I have a 2601:600:8280:66d0::/60 prefix, the global address of this interface will be 2601:600:8280:66d1::ff. Now the acid test, if you got this right, this global address should be pingable from anywhere on the IPv6 internet (if it isn’t, it’s likely a firewall issue, see below).

Advertising as a Router

Simply getting delegated a delegated prefix on a local router interface is insufficient . Now you need to get your router to respond to Router Solicitations on ff02::2 and optionally do DHCPv6. Unfortunately, OpenWRT has two mechanisms for doing this, usually both installed: odhcpd and dnsmasq. What I found was that none of my directives in /etc/config/dhcp would take effect until I disabled odhcpd completely

/etc/init.d/odhcpd stop
/etc/init.d/odhcpd disable

and since I use dnsmasq extensively elsewhere (split DNS for internal/external networks), that suited me fine. I’ll describe firstly what options you need in dnsmasq and secondly how you can achieve this using entries in the OpenWRT /etc/config/dhcp file (I find this useful because it’s always wise to check what OpenWRT has put in the /var/etc/dnsmasq.conf file).

The first dnsmasq option you need is ‘enable-ra’ which is a global parameter instructing dnsmasq to handle router advertisements. The next parameter you need is the per-interface ‘ra-param’ which specifies the global router advertisement parameters and must appear once for every interface you want to advertise on. Finally the ‘dhcp-range’ option allows more detailed configuration of the type of RA flags and optional DHCPv6.

SLAAC or DHCPv6 (or both)

In many ways this is a matter of personal choice. If you allow SLAAC, hosts which want to use privacy extension addresses (like Android phones) can do so, which is a good thing. If you also allow DHCPv6 address selection you will have a list of addresses assigned to hosts and dnsmasq will do DNS resolution for them (although it can do DNS for SLAAC addresses provided it gets told about them). A special tag ‘constructor’ exists for the ‘dhcp-range’ option which tells it to construct the supplied address (for either RA or DHCPv6) from the IPv6 global prefix of the specified interface, which is how you pass out our delegated prefix addresses. The modes for ‘dhcp-range’ are ‘ra-only’ to disallow DHCPv6 entirely, ‘slaac’ to allow DHCPv6 address selection and ‘ra-stateless’ to disallow DHCPv6 address selection but allow other DHCPv6 configuration information.

Based on trial and error (and finally examining the scripting in /etc/init.d/dnsmasq) the OpenWRT options required to achieve the above dnsmasq options are

config dhcp lan
        option interface lan
        option start 100
        option limit 150
        option leasetime 1h
        option dhcpv6 'server'
        option ra_management '1'
        option ra 'server'

with ‘ra_management’ as the key option with ‘0’ meaning SLAAC with DHCPv6 options, ‘1’ meaning SLAAC with full DHCPv6, ‘2’ meaning DHCPv6 only and ‘3’ meaning SLAAC only. Another OpenWRT oddity is that there doesn’t seem to be a way of setting the lease range: it always defaults to either static only or ::1000 to ::ffff.

Firewall Configuration

One of the things that trips people up is the fact that Linux has two completely separate firewalls: one for IPv4 and one for IPv6. If you’ve ever written any custom rules for them, the chances are you did it in the OpenWRT /etc/firewall.user file and you used the iptables command, which means you only added the rules to the IPv4 firewall. To add the same rule for IPv6 you need to duplicate it using the ip6tables command. Another significant problem, if you’re using a connection tracking for port knock detection like I am, is that Linux connection tracking has difficulty with IPv6 multicast, so packets that go out to a multicast but come back as unicast (as most of the discovery protocols do) get the wrong conntrack state. To fix this, I eventually had to have an INPUT rule just accepting all ICMPv6 and DHCPv6 (udp ports 546 [client] and 547 [server]). The other firewall considerations are that now everyone has their own IP address, there’s no need to NAT (OpenWRT can be persuaded to take care of this automatically, but if you’re duplicating the IPv4 rules manually, don’t duplicate the NAT rules). The final one is likely more applicable to me: my wifi interface is designed to be an extension of the local internet and all machines connecting to it are expected to be able to protect themselves since they’ll migrate to such hostile environments as airport wifi, thus I do complete exposure of wifi connected devices to the general internet for all ports, including port probes. For my internal devices, I have a RELATED,ESTABLISHED rule to make sure they’re not probed since they’re not designed to migrate off the internal network.

Now the problems with OpenWRT: since you want NAT on IPv4 but not on IPv6 you have to have two separate wan zones for them: if you try to combine them (as I first did), then OpenWRT will add an IPv6 –ctstate INVALID rule which will prevent Neighbour Discovery from working because of the conntrack issues with IPv6 multicast, so my wan zones are (well, this is a lie because my firewall is now hand crafted, but this is what I checked worked before I put the hand crafted firewall in place):

config zone
        option name 'wan'
        option network 'wan'
        option masq '1'
        ...

config zone
        option name 'wan6'
        option network 'wan6'
        ...

And the routing rules for the lan zone (fully accessible) are

config forwarding
        option src 'lan'
        option dest 'wan'

config forwarding
        option src 'lan'
        option dest 'wan6'

config forwarding
        option src 'wan6'
        option dest 'lan'

Putting it Together: Getting the Clients IPv6 Connected

Now that you have your router configured, everything should just work. If it did, your laptop wifi interface should now have a global IPv6 address

ip -6 address show dev wlan0

If that comes back empty, you need to enable IPv6 on your distribution. If it has only a link local (fe80:: prefix) address, IPv6 is enabled but your router isn’t advertising (suspect firewall issues with discovery packets or dnsmasq misconfiguration). If you see a global address, you’re done. Now you should be able to go to https://testv6.com and secure a 10/10 score.

The final piece of the puzzle is preferring your new IPv6 connection when DNS offers a choice of IPv4 or IPv6 addresses. All modern Linux clients should prefer IPv6 when available if connected to a dual stack network, so try … if you ping, say, www.google.com and see an IPv6 address you’re done. If not, you need to get into the murky world of IPv6 address labelling (RFC 6724) and gai.conf.

Conclusion

Adding IPv6 to and existing IPv4 setup is currently not a simple plug in and go operation. However, provided you understand a handful of differences between the two protocols, it’s not an insurmountable problem either. I have also glossed over many of the problems you might encounter with your ISP. Some people have reported that their ISPs only hand out one IPv6 address with no prefix delegation, in which case I think finding a new ISP would be wisest. Others report that the ISP will only delegate one /64 prefix so your choice here is either to only run one subnet (likely sufficient for a lot of home networks), or subnet at greater than /64 and forbid SLAAC, which is definitely not a recommended configuration. However, provided your ISP is reasonable, this blog post should at least help get you started.

1 thought on “Creating a Home IPv6 Network

  1. Ben Hutchings

    “Nodes coming up on the network subscribe to particular multicast addresses, via special packets intercepted by the switch, and won’t receive any multicast to which they’re not subscribed.”

    Multicast is much better than broadcast in terms of unwanted packets reaching the host network stack, but the filtering isn’t perfect. Ethernet switches may treat multicast frames as broadcast; IGMP and MLD snooping are premium features. Most NICs do support multicast filtering, but it’s often done by hashing the destination address and indexing a small bitmap so hash collisions can occur.

    Reply

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