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TCP Port Forwarding for Remote Device Management

Port forwarding is a method that enables a router to make a computer or other network device that is connected to it accessible to other computers and network devices from outside of the local network. Port forwarding uses a combination of an IP address and a port number to route network requests to specific devices. This technique is often used to make services on a host or gateway, residing on an internal network, accessible to a host on an external network by remapping the destination IP address and port number for the communication request.

Starting in Junos OS Release 18.3R1, TCP port forwarding (also referred to as TCP forwarding) enables a BNG to mediate communication between its connected access nodes and service provider back-office systems, such as external management and provisioning systems and TACACS+ servers. The BNG and its downstream access nodes are presented to back-office systems as a single addressable network element. You configure unique combinations of listening ports and addresses on the BNG. TCP connections are triggered when traffic from acceptable prefixes arrives on the listening port and matching listening address. Communication requests to and from access nodes are redirected from one address and port number combination to another when packets traverse the MX series router.

Back-office systems use NETCONF XML management protocol over SSH and TACACS+ to exchange requests with access nodes. For provisioning, they can use PCRF and RADIUS to supply service configurations for subscribers. Figure 1 shows a sample topology for an external management system use case with optical line terminals (OLTs) connected to the BNG. Similar topologies might have different access nodes, such as DSLAMs, rather than OLTs.

Figure 1: Topology for Remote Device ManagementTopology for Remote Device Management

The access nodes in this kind of topology act as logical extensions (remote devices) of the BNG so that the BNG can proxy all external management interactions for them. The BNG is configured with a public address and acts as the single point of management for itself and the access nodes. The remote devices have private addresses and are not publicly accessible. This means that the external systems cannot interact directly with the access nodes. The BNG must be able to mediate management requests between the access nodes and the management system, but it does not need to parse or act on the full content of the requests. This need is met with TCP port forwarding as follows for this use case:

  • The external management system uses NETCONF XML protocol over SSH for tasks such as base configuration of the remote device before subscriber negotiation begins, configuration of Layer 2 data paths for new subscribers, displaying remote device status, and troubleshooting the remote device.

    In this case, the BNG demultiplexes requests from the management system to the remote devices.

  • TACACS+ is used to authenticate and validate access to the remote device, perform system accounting, and control operator access.

    In this case, the BNG multiplexes request from the remote devices to the TACACS+ server that works with the external management system.

TCP port forwarding maps one or more combinations of an IPv4 listening address and a TCP port to destination addresses and ports so that the BNG can forward messages appropriately for both use cases. Each mapping is referred to as a TCP connection pair. TCP port forwarding operates as follows:

  1. When the mapping is configured, the TCP port forwarding process opens the configured listening port and waits for an external system or access node to trigger a connection; that system or node can then be referred to as the triggering entity.

  2. After the connection between the triggering entity and the BNG is established, TCP port forwarding attempts to open a TCP connection to the other half of the connection pair, which is the forwarding address and port combination defined in the mapping. TCP port forwarding examines only the TCP header information in the management traffic.

  3. When both TCP connections have been established, TCP port forwarding monitors the connections for data traffic. When data is received on one connection, it is transmitted on the paired connection.

  • If one side of the connection pair closes for any reason, TCP port forwarding closes the paired connection. This connection pair is not reestablished unless the triggering entity makes the connection on the TCP listening port again.

  • If a configuration change is made to a TCP mapping while associated connection pairs are active, these connections are closed down. The connections are not reestablished unless the triggering entity makes the connection on the TCP listening port again

TCP port forwarding allows multiple simultaneous TCP connections for any single TCP mapping. You can place a limit on the maximum number of allowed connections.

You can use the following operational commands to manage and monitor TCP port forwarding:

  • clear tcp-forwarding connections—Enables you to administratively close any current TCP connection pair.

  • clear tcp-forwarding statistics—Enables you to clear (zero) statistics for the configured TCP mappings and any current TCP connection pairs. You can limit statistics clearing to all connections associated with a specific listening port/listening address combination or to only a single connection pair represented by a specific source address/source port combination. For either combination, you can optionally specify a routing instance; otherwise, the default routing instance is assumed.

  • show tcp-forwarding status—Displays the status of TCP mapping and the current connections for each mapping. You can limit the display to a specific listening port/listening address combination, per routing instance. If you do not specify a routing instance, the default routing instance is assumed.

Traffic between the remote devices and the external systems is expected to be relatively small-sized management requests. Consequently, excessive traffic is not buffered and is dropped by TCP port forwarding. TCP port forwarding does not maintain or recover established TCP connections in the event of a graceful Routing Engine switchover (GRES) or a daemon restart.

You can disable TCP port forwarding by including the disable statement at the [edit system processes] hierarchy level. You can also configure TCP port forwarding event tracing at the same hierarchy level by including the traceoptions statement. See Tracing TCP Port Forwarding Events for Troubleshooting for more information.

Benefits of TCP Port Forwarding

  • Simplifies BNG and remote device configuration and management in topologies that use external management and provisioning systems.

  • TCP port forwarding is a generic functionality and can work with any application that can use TCP sessions for communication with remote devices and the BNG.

  • Provides several options for tuning the TCP connections to your needs, including restriction to specific IPv4 prefixes, specific listening and forwarding address and port combinations, and the maximum number of allowed connections.

Release History Table
Starting in Junos OS Release 18.3R1, TCP port forwarding (also referred to as TCP forwarding) enables a BNG to mediate communication between its connected access nodes and service provider back-office systems, such as external management and provisioning systems and TACACS+ servers.