iptables works by setting up chains of filters for certain types of requests. To see all your chains, type:
# This gives you a verbose list of the rules, with numerical displays for port numbers
iptables -L -v -n
You may find that some chains feed into other chains. Understanding the flow of how iptables handles letting packets through is the first step toward getting your rules in the right place. There are 3 predefined chains (INPUT, FORWARD, and OUTPUT). These are the starting points for processing any network traffic handled by iptables.
iptables works by running rules against packets in order until it finds one that matches. When it finds a rules that matches, it applies the relevant action to the packet, which could be accepting, dropping, rejecting, forwarding, or any of a number of other actions.
The rules are processed by order in their chains, so order matters. Often a chain will end with a line that looks like this:
REJECT all -- anywhere anywhere reject-with icmp-host-prohibited
This rule rejects all traffic on all ports. This is a common way to handle whitelisting only approved activities and rejecting everything else. For your rule to take effect, it has to come before this rule in the chain.
Once you understand this, the value of the insert command makes more sense. You need to get your rule into the appropriate place in the chain. An example of opening port 8080 is below. In this example I'm adding the rule to a specific chain (RH-Firewall-1-INPUT) that is handling all packets routed through the default INPUT and FORWARD chains.
# The rule closing all ports was previously in the 16th spot in the chain
# This new rule opens port 8080 by putting a rule right before that "catch all" exclusion rule
iptables -I RH-Firewall-1-INPUT 16 -m state --state NEW -p tcp --dport 8080 -j ACCEPT
If you happen to make a mistake, you can easily delete a rule at a specific point in your chain with the following.
# Deletes rule 12 in chain RH-Firewall-1-INPUT
iptables -D RH-Firewall-1-INPUT 12
It's usually good to add a line blocking all unspecified traffic at the end of your config file.
# Reject all traffic not explicitly allowed in previous rules
iptables -A RH-Firewall-1-INPUT -p all -j REJECT
There is a lot more you can do with iptables, but hopefully this was a helpful starting point.
If you're working a VM in VirtualBox, you can edit the port forwarding rules and they will take effect without having to reboot the VM.
When trying to make sure a network service is working, here are a few good steps that I found to minimize frustration:
- Turn off selinux (sudo setenforce 0)
- Turn off iptables (service iptables stop)
- Use nmap to scan open ports (nmap -sS -O 127.0.0.1)
- Use curl to make sure you can access the service locally (applies to HTTP services only)