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17.1. How snull Is Designed
This section discusses the design concepts that led to the snull network interface. Although this information might appear to be of marginal use, failing to understand it might lead to problems when you play with the sample code.
The first, and most important, design decision was that the sample interfaces should remain independent of real hardware, just like most of the sample code used in this book. This constraint led to something that resembles the loopback interface. snull is not a loopback interface; however, it simulates conversations with real remote hosts in order to better demonstrate the task of writing a network driver. The Linux loopback driver is actually quite simple; it can be found in drivers/net/loopback.c.
Another feature of snull is that it supports only IP traffic. This is a consequence of the internal workings of the interface—snull has to look inside and interpret the packets to properly emulate a pair of hardware interfaces. Real interfaces don't depend on the protocol being transmitted, and this limitation of snull doesn't affect the fragments of code shown in this chapter.
17.1.1. Assigning IP Numbers
The snull module creates two interfaces. These interfaces are different from a simple loopback, in that whatever you transmit through one of the interfaces loops back to the other one, not to itself. It looks like you have two external links, but actually your computer is replying to itself.
Unfortunately, this effect can't be accomplished through IP number assignments alone, because the kernel wouldn't send out a packet through interface A that was directed to its own interface B. Instead, it would use the loopback channel without passing through snull. To be able to establish a communication through the snull interfaces, the source and destination addresses need to be modified during data transmission. In other words, packets sent through one of the interfaces should be received by the other, but the receiver of the outgoing packet shouldn't be recognized as the local host. The same applies to the source address of received packets.
To achieve this kind of "hidden loopback," the snull interface toggles the least significant bit of the third octet of both the source and destination addresses; that is, it changes both the network number and the host number of class C IP numbers. The net effect is that packets sent to network A (connected to sn0, the first interface) appear on the sn1 interface as packets belonging to network B.
The operation of the snull interfaces is depicted in Figure 17-1, in which the hostname associated with each interface is printed near the interface name.
Figure 17-1. How a host sees its interfaces
Here are possible values for the network numbers. Once you put these lines in /etc/networks, you can call your networks by name. The values were chosen from the range of numbers reserved for private use.
snullnet0 192.168.0.0 snullnet1 192.168.1.0
The following are possible host numbers to put into /etc/hosts:
192.168.0.1 local0 192.168.0.2 remote0 192.168.1.2 local1 192.168.1.1 remote1
The important feature of these numbers is that the host portion of local0 is the same as that of remote1, and the host portion of local1 is the same as that of remote0. You can use completely different numbers as long as this relationship applies.
Be careful, however, if your computer is already connected to a network. The numbers you choose might be real Internet or intranet numbers, and assigning them to your interfaces prevents communication with the real hosts. For example, although the numbers just shown are not routable Internet numbers, they could already be used by your private network.
Whatever numbers you choose, you can correctly set up the interfaces for operation by issuing the following commands:
ifconfig sn0 local0 ifconfig sn1 local1
You may need to add the netmask 255.255.255.0 parameter if the address range chosen is not a class C range.
At this point, the "remote" end of the interface can be reached. The following screendump shows how a host reaches remote0 and remote1 through the snull interface:
morgana% ping -c 2 remote0 64 bytes from 192.168.0.99: icmp_seq=0 ttl=64 time=1.6 ms 64 bytes from 192.168.0.99: icmp_seq=1 ttl=64 time=0.9 ms 2 packets transmitted, 2 packets received, 0% packet loss morgana% ping -c 2 remote1 64 bytes from 192.168.1.88: icmp_seq=0 ttl=64 time=1.8 ms 64 bytes from 192.168.1.88: icmp_seq=1 ttl=64 time=0.9 ms 2 packets transmitted, 2 packets received, 0% packet loss
Note that you won't be able to reach any other "host" belonging to the two networks, because the packets are discarded by your computer after the address has been modified and the packet has been received. For example, a packet aimed at 192.168.0.32 will leave through sn0 and reappear at sn1 with a destination address of 192.168.1.32, which is not a local address for the host computer.
17.1.2. The Physical Transport of Packets
snull emulates Ethernet because the vast majority of existing networks—at least the segments that a workstation connects to—are based on Ethernet technology, be it 10base-T, 100base-T, or Gigabit. Additionally, the kernel offers some generalized support for Ethernet devices, and there's no reason not to use it. The advantage of being an Ethernet device is so strong that even the plip interface (the interface that uses the printer ports) declares itself as an Ethernet device.
The last advantage of using the Ethernet setup for snull is that you can run tcpdump on the interface to see the packets go by. Watching the interfaces with tcpdump can be a useful way to see how the two interfaces work.
As was mentioned previously, snull works only with IP packets. This limitation is a result of the fact that snull snoops in the packets and even modifies them, in order for the code to work. The code modifies the source, destination, and checksum in the IP header of each packet without checking whether it actually conveys IP information. This quick-and-dirty data modification destroys non-IP packets. If you want to deliver other protocols through snull, you must modify the module's source code.
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