iptables-converter - description

In linux iptables exists since kernel version 2.4.

A corresponding userland command iptables is used to control them.

The tables are grouped in filter, nat, mangle and raw. In every group there are chains, which contain more or less traffic specific rules. Predefined in filter tables are INPUT, FORWARD and OUTPUT chain. Perhaps you like to read the fine manuals about the iptables command in Linux to get to know more about these.

Usually a systemadministrator wants to write his rules in a shell script, which is run within the boot sequence or every now and then on every change… Over the time this script will grow. The longer it gets, the more time takes it to complete. Exactly this is the reason, why iptables-converter was written. Only motivation was to speed up the loading of long scripts with multiple iptables commands.

The iptables-converter is a pure python script with two entrypoints:

  • iptables-converter
  • ip6tables-converter

They reside in linux userland, that means to run one of them you don’t need root priviledges, which are only needed to load the output of the converters into the kernelspace.

Command line interface

To have an idea which command line options are supported, just ask it for help:

$ iptables-converter --help
Usage:  iptables-converter --help | -h

        iptables-converter: version 0.9.11  Have Fun!

  -h, --help            show this help message and exit
  -d DESTFILE, --dest-file=DESTFILE
                        output filename, default: stdout
  -s SOURCEFILE, --source-file=SOURCEFILE
                        file with iptables commands, default: rules
  --sloppy              -N name-of-userchain is inserted automatically, by
                        default -N is neccessary in input

ip6tables-converter surprisingly behaves exactly the same way, except from the ‘6’ in the command and version line:

$ ip6tables-converter --help
Usage:  ip6tables-converter --help | -h

    ip6tables-converter: version 0.9.11 Have Fun!

  -h, --help            show this help message and exit
  -d DESTFILE, --dest-file=DESTFILE
                        output filename, default: stdout
  -s SOURCEFILE, --source-file=SOURCEFILE
                        file with iptables commands, default: rules
  --sloppy              -N name-of-userchain is inserted automatically, by
                        default -N is neccessary in input

The only difference in between them is what is looked at. iptables-converter just handles lines starting with iptables or /sbin/iptables, ip6tables-converter only lines starting with ip6tables or /sbin/ip6tables.


These should be clear, the default values are build in for your convenience only. A script generating iptables command writes them into a file named rules, which is then read by the converter, if the -s option is not used. The converters ouptut is then written to stdout, if the -d option is not used. So it might be piped or somehow else processed.


The option –sloppy perhaps needs some explanation. Usually the iptables command insists on defined chains, especially you cannot insert or append a rule into a non-existent user defined chain. Especially the -N UserChain is needed normally in advance to the append operation. Inserting into an empty chain is forbidden as well. By using the –sloppy option this -N command is not needed in the input for the converter as it defines the UserCHain automatically on the first occurance of any.

Default operating

Assume a plain file with following contents:

iptables -F
iptables -t nat -F
iptables -N USER_CHAIN
iptables -A INPUT -p tcp --dport 23 -j ACCEPT
iptables -A USER_CHAIN -p icmp -j DROP
iptables -P INPUT DROP
iptables -t nat -A POSTROUTING -s -p tcp --dport   80 -j SNAT --to-source
iptables -t nat -A PREROUTING  -d -p tcp --dport 443 -j DNAT --to-destination

As times goes by, this script will grow. The more lines it has, the longer will it take to be loaded. This is because every iptables statement needs to modify the kernels iptables as an atomar operation, which is a lot of overhead from locking the tables, modifying and unlocking them. There should be a quicker way of getting things done. Using iptables-save we can save easily the actual ruleset from the kernel to a file. To load it’s content into the kernel again is a very quick action compared to the loading of the originating shellscript. The iptables-restore operation is one atomar operation from the kernels view regardless of the number of modifications. It’s clear to be the much quicker the more lines are covered. The disadvantage of this proceeding is, the table, f.e. the filter tables, are loaded at once, i.e. no appending or inserterting using the same command is possible. You only need a complete set of iptable commands within a file, just like iptables-save gives it. So the idea came up to have a converter just for saving time.

Lets assume, the file shown above is named generated-rules, then we have easy going:

$ iptables-converter -s generated-rules -d converted-rules
$ cat converted-rules
-A PREROUTING -d -p tcp --dport 443 -j DNAT --to-destination
-A POSTROUTING -s -p tcp --dport 80 -j SNAT --to-source
:USER_CHAIN - [0:0]
-A INPUT -p tcp --dport 23 -j ACCEPT
-A USER_CHAIN -p icmp -j DROP

On the same machine or after beeing transferred to another one, the converted-rules file can be loaded into the kernel by using the command iptables-restore as root user:

# iptables-restore -c converted-rules

Of course you use pathnames where filenames are mentioned.

Usage example

So you probably may want to run the converter from within a shell script or the like:


set -e

# needs to be executable as indicator that writing has ended
[ ! -r $INPUT_FILE ] && exit 0
[ ! -x $INPUT_FILE ] && exit 0

iptables-converter.py -s $INPUT_FILE -d $OUTPUT_FILE

# do it only once!

iptables-restore < $OUTPUT_FILE
echo "$INPUT_FILE successfully converted and loaded"
exit 0
# EoF

Error handling

In accidental cases of errors the converter should give you a traceback wherin the word ConverterError appears. This is to let you get to know, where in your whole programming universe the error happend.

Two things can not be handled: Shell functions and shell variables, because the converter does not interpret your input-file.

Shell functions and shell commands

As the file which is read is not interpreted in any way, there are few known error conditions:

  1. the file contains some shell variables, indicated by ‘$’, this leads to an errormessage and exits immediately with returncode 1.
  2. the file contains some shell functions, indicated by ‘(‘ and/or ‘)’, this leads to an errormessage and exits immediately with returncode 1.

If you have such a file, and you want to speed up by converting, please execute it and feed the output as a file to iptables-converter.

Non existent user chains

iptables-converter does some more error-checking while reading input.

Normal behavior is to raise an ConverterError, if any append or insert statement to an userdefined chain is not preceeded by a corresonding chain creation statement ‘-N’. This may be changed to a more smooth handling with an additional commandline option –sloppy. Having this, a non existent userchain is created on the fly when the first append statement is seen. So it is set as first entry gracefully.

Inserting into an emtpy chain anyhow raises an error as iptables-restore would do it later on trying to set the files content into the kernel.

Not implemented

Just to mention it: iptables -E xyz and iptables -L are not implemented in the iptables-converter and throw exceptions for now!