Network Address Translation

In computer networking, network address translation (NAT) is the process of modifying IP address information in IP packet headers while in transit across a traffic routing device.

The simplest type of NAT provides a one-to-one translation of IP addresses. RFC 2663 refers to this type of NAT as basic NAT. It is often also referred to as one-to-one NAT. In this type of NAT only the IP addresses, IP header checksum and any higher level checksums that include the IP address need to be changed. The rest of the packet can be left untouched (at least for basic TCP/UDP functionality, some higher level protocols may need further translation). Basic NATs can be used when there is a requirement to interconnect two IP networks with incompatible addressing.

However, it is common to hide an entire IP address space, usually consisting of private IP addresses, behind a single IP address (or in some cases a small group of IP addresses) in another (usually public) address space. To avoid ambiguity in the handling of returned packets, a one-to-many NAT must alter higher level information such as TCP/UDP ports in outgoing communications and must maintain a translation table so that return packets can be correctly translated back. RFC 2663 uses the term NAPT (network address and port translation) for this type of NAT. Other names include PAT (port address translation), IP masquerading, NAT Overload and many-to-one NAT. Since this is the most common type of NAT it is often referred to simply as NAT.

As described, the method enables communication through the router only when the conversation originates in the masqueraded network, since this establishes the translation tables. For example, a web browser in the masqueraded network can browse a website outside, but a web browser outside could not browse a web site in the masqueraded network. However, most NAT devices today allow the network administrator to configure translation table entries for permanent use. This feature is often referred to as "static NAT" or port forwarding and allows traffic originating in the "outside" network to reach designated hosts in the masqueraded network.

In the mid-1990s NAT became a popular tool for alleviating the consequences of IPv4 address exhaustion. It has become a common, indispensable feature in routers for home and small-office Internet connections. Most systems using NAT do so in order to enable multiple hosts on a private network to access the Internet using a single public IP address.

Network address translation has serious drawbacks in terms of the quality of Internet connectivity and requires careful attention to the details of its implementation. In particular, all types of NAT break the originally envisioned model of IP end-to-end connectivity across the Internet and NAPT makes it difficult for systems behind a NAT to accept incoming communications. As a result, NAT traversal methods have been devised to alleviate the issues encountered.

Read more about Network Address TranslationOne-to-many NATs, NAT and TCP/UDP, Destination Network Address Translation (DNAT), SNAT, Dynamic Network Address Translation, Applications Affected By NAT, Advantages of PAT, Drawbacks, Specifications, Examples of NAT Software

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