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docker-fw is a complementary tool for Docker to manage their iptables firewall rules; it features persistence of rules and dynamic port assignments, in case host or container are restarted.

docker-fw expects your firewall to be using the *filter FORWARD chain with a default policy of REJECT/DROP (or an equivalent rule at bottom); this is default behavior starting from Docker version 1.5.

docker-fw does not work with Docker daemon --restart options because docker-fw would not be called automatically on container start. However, you can customize initialization of containers on host boot script via /etc/rc.local, for example to loop through existing containers and initialize their firewall rules using docker-fw start.

It is also possible to use this utility completely manage your internal docker0 bridge traffic between containers, as it will play nicely along with --icc=false and --iptables=true Docker daemon options.

Willing to contribute? Please submit a pull request or create an issue.

Iptables workflow explanation

This is how docker-fw expects network flow to happen (e.g. iptables explained in human terms) under a strict whitelisting firewall:

  1. no link between FORWARD and DOCKER chains for all traffic from any source (rule FORWARD -o docker0 -j DOCKER added by Docker and removed by docker-fw init)
  2. all internal traffic on FORWARD chain is linked to DOCKER chain (FORWARD -i docker0 -o docker0 -j DOCKER as 1st rule)
  3. existing connections keep being forwarded (rule FORWARD -o docker0 -m conntrack --ctstate RELATED,ESTABLISHED -j ACCEPT added by Docker is not touched)
  4. outgoing connections from all containers are kept being forwarded (FORWARD -i docker0 ! -o docker0 -j ACCEPT added by Docker is not touched)
  5. a DROP rule is appeneded on FORWARD table as exiting rule
  6. custom firewall rules are added before such DROP rule (usually with an insert) and/or to the DOCKER chain itself

See also example-iptables.txt.


Author is not officially involved with Docker development, thus this is not an official tool either.

docker-fw is licensed under GNU GPL version 2, see LICENSE.


Running the make command should suffice. The Makefile will use a locally-generated GOPATH without populating it with any package; all source code dependencies are submodules under vendor/.



Removes the iptables rule added by docker daemon at startup -o docker0 -j DOCKER from *filter FORWARD chain. It will fail if docker daemon is not running or if rule does not exist.

docker-fw init

Add actions

'add' is used to add a firewall specification for a container (any network external to Docker circuit, e.g. or a public internet address) and targets the FORWARD chain, while 'add-internal'/'add-two-ways' target the INPUT chain. If a valid container id/name is specified, then its IPv4 will be always aliased by docker-fw. Some special values exist for address specification:

  • . to reference the container for which rules are being added
  • / to reference the Docker host (usually

NOTE: referencing the Docker host / is mostly intended for the 'add-internal' action; since it is considered a poor practice to create firewall rules to allow traffic that target the docker host

docker-fw add container-id --source=(|.|container-id) [--rev-lookup] [--sport=xxxx] [--dest=(|.|container-id)] [--dport=xxxx] [--protocol=(tcp|udp)] [--filter="-i docker0 -o docker0"]
docker-fw (add-internal|add-two-ways) container-id --source=(|.|container-id|/) [--rev-lookup] [--sport=xxxx] --dest=(|.|container-id|/) --dport=xxxx [--protocol=(tcp|udp)] [--filter="-i docker0 -o docker0"]

Some rules to use 'add', 'add-two-ways', 'add-internal' and 'add-input':

  • address specifications (source/destination) can also be in IPv4 subnet notation
  • specifying --dport is mandatory for 'add-internal' action.
  • protocol default is 'tcp'.
  • at least source or destination must be equivalent to '.' (container for which rule is being specified), but cannot be both. If no destination is specified, '.' is assumed.
  • specification of extra iptables filter is optional, and empty by default
  • using --rev-lookup allows to specify a container IPv4 address, that otherwise would be an error (name/id form is preferred)

'add-two-ways' requires that source is a container and performs two tasks:

  • execute add-internal with the specified rule
  • always make sure that the source container will have a /etc/hosts rule for the source container
  • the internal rules and the custom hosts will be restored when using docker-fw start for the container

These commands can also parse and add multiple rules from a file or stdin (using '-' as filename):

docker-fw add --from=(filename|-)
docker-fw add-internal --from=(filename|-)
docker-fw add-input --from=(filename|-)

When using --from, any other parameter (except --rev-lookup) is disallowed.

Two-ways linking

An example of how to apply two-ways linking (assumes --icc=false on your Docker daemon):

export IMAGE=ubuntu
docker run --detach --name=promoted $IMAGE sleep 1000
docker run --detach --expose=1025 --link promoted:promoted --name=endpoint $IMAGE sleep 1000

## enable iptables + hosts via docker-fw
docker-fw add-two-ways endpoint --source promoted --dport 1025

## test (it's advised to use 2 terminals for these commands)
docker exec endpoint nc -l 1025 &

docker exec promoted sh -c "echo 'Hello from promoted container' | nc endpoint 1025"


Save host configuration of a running and correctly network-enabled container. Such configuration will be used when starting the container through docker-fw. It always happens by default after a successful start.

See also

docker-fw save-hostconfig container1 [container2] [container3] [...] [containerN]


Replay all firewall rules; will not add them again if existing on current iptables and will update the IPv4 addresses referenced in source/destination by looking up the aliases (if any specified). Use --dry-run to display which stateful changes would be applied, and report exit code zero only if there would be none.

docker-fw replay [--dry-run] container1 [container2] [container3] [...] [containerN]


List all existing firewall rules for specified container(s); if no container is specified, all containers' rules will be displayed.

docker-fw ls [container1] [container2] [container3] [...] [containerN]


Drop all firewall rules for specified container; iptables rules are deleted and the json file that contains them is deleted from the container directory.

docker-fw drop container1 [container2] [container3] [...] [containerN]


Allow specified source address (external) as an 'add' command for each of the available published ports of the container.

docker-fw allow container-id ip-address-1 [ip-address-2] [ip-address-3] [...] [ip-address-N]

This command is explicitly meant to allow access from external networks to the container's network address.


docker-fw start [--dry-run] [--paused] [--pull-deps] container1 [container2] [container3] [...] [containerN]

It does the following:

  • sort input list of containers second their dependencies
  • start each of them sequentially (paused when --paused is specified)
  • execute the equivalent of 'replay' action for each container as it is started

The option --paused allows to start containers in paused status (for example in case user doesn't want to allow any activity until all firewall restore operations are completed). The option --pull-deps will automatically make dependant (by link relationship) containers part of the selection. If a container is already started or paused, its state is not changed. By specifying --dry-run containers will be displayed in the order they would be started, but their state will not be changed.


Please note that Docker currently (1.8) lacks a correct dependency DAG when starting containers, thus it does not start them in correct order (unless you use --restart=true has a hack); unfortunately, nothing is mentioned in documentation there regarding this issue, which is solved as explained above by docker-fw start action (even if you don't use any of the other docker-fw features).

See also:


docker-fw uses Docker API through go-dockerclient, and command-line based iptables access; libiptc is not being used because its API is not published (and it would be a tad too complex, see also go-libiptc).

Container information is retrieved via API when needed and cached for the duration of the execution of docker-fw. Any id/name valid for the Docker API can be used with docker-fw.

Known issues

  • Has some hardcoded features/settings inherited from Docker defaults (e.g. 172.x.x.x subnet)
  • Not thoroughly tested, and no unit tests coverage
  • Stores its .json descriptors in Docker's own containers metadata directory

All of the above can be addressed with some effort, and probably will (in due time); as always, patches welcome!


If you see an error like this when running docker-fw init:

2015/01/24 21:01:20 init: Could not find docker-added rule

You have two issues:

  • you didn't RTFM :)
  • you are using Docker older than version 1.5 (it didn't have this PR merged in its codebase)


docker-fw is a complementary tool for Docker to manage iptables-based custom firewall rules between/towards containers, persistence and two-ways links.




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