D.2. ip route

Another part of the iproute2 suite of tools for IP management, ip route provides management tools for manipulating any of the routing tables. Operations include displaying routes or the routing cache, adding routes, deleting routes, modifying existing routes, and fetching a route and clearing an entire routing table or the routing cache.

One thing to keep in mind when using the ip route is that you can operate on any of the 255 routing tables with this command. Where the route command operated only on the main routing table (table 254), the ip route command operates by default on the main routing table, but can be easily coaxed into using other tables with the table parameter.

Fortunately, as mentioned earlier, the iproute2 suite of tools does not rely on DNS for any operation so, the ubiquitous -n switch in previous examples will not be required in any example here.

All operations with the ip route command are atomic, so each command will return either RTNETLINK answers: No such process in the case of an error, or nothing in the face of success. The -s switch which provides additional statistical information when reporting link layer information will only provide additional information when reporting on the state of the routing cache or fetching a specific route..

The ip route utility when used in conjunction with the ip rule utility can create stateless NAT tables. It can even manipulate the local routing table, a routing table used for traffic bound for broadcast addresses and IP addresses hosted on the machine itself.

In order to understand the context in which this tool runs, you need to understand some of the basics of IP routing, so if you have read the above introduction to the ip route tool, and are confused, you may want to read Chapter 4, IP Routing and grasp some of the concepts of IP routing (with linux) before continuing here.

D.2.1. Displaying a routing table with ip route show

In its simplest form, ip route can be used to display the main routing table output. The output of this command is significantly different from the output of the route. For comparison, let's look at the output of both route -n and ip route show.

Example D.11. Viewing the main routing table with ip route show

[root@tristan]# route -n
Kernel IP routing table
Destination     Gateway         Genmask         Flags Metric Ref    Use Iface   U     0      0        0 eth0       U     0      0        0 lo         UG    0      0        0 eth0
[root@tristan]# ip route show dev eth0  scope link dev lo  scope link 
default via dev eth0

If you are accustomed to the route output format, the ip route output can seem terse. The same basic information is displayed, however. As with our former example, let's ignore the loopback route for the moment. This is a required route for any IPs hosted on the loopback interface. We are far more interested in the other two routes.

The network is available on eth0 with a scope of link, which means that the network is valid and reachable through this device (eth0). Refer to Table C.2, “IP Scope under ip address for definitions of possible scopes. As long as link remains good on that device, we should be able to reach any IP address inside of through the eth0 interface.

Finally, our all-important default route is expressed in the routing table with the word default. Note that any destination which is reachable through a gateway appears in the routing table output with the keyword via. This final line matches semantically with the final line of output from route -n above.

Now, let's have a look at the local routing table, which we can't see with route. To be fair, it is usually completely unnecessary to view and/or manipulate the local routing table, which is why route provides no way to access this information.

Example D.12. Viewing the local routing table with ip route show table local

[root@tristan]# ip route show table local
local dev eth0  proto kernel  scope host  src 
broadcast dev lo  proto kernel  scope link  src 
broadcast dev eth0  proto kernel  scope link  src 
broadcast dev lo  proto kernel  scope link  src 
local dev lo  proto kernel  scope host  src 
local dev lo  proto kernel  scope host  src

This gives us a good deal of information about the IP networks to which the machine is directly connected, and an inside look into the way that the routing tables treat special addresses like broadcast addresses and locally configured addresses.

The first field in this output tells us whether the route is for a broadcast address or an IP address or range locally hosted on this machine. Subsequent fields inform us through which device the destination is reachable, and notably (in this table) that the kernel has added these routes as part of bringing up the IP layer interfaces.

For each IP hosted on the machine, it makes sense that the machine should restrict accessiblity to that IP or IP range to itself only. This explains why, in Example D.12, “Viewing the local routing table with ip route show table local, has a host scope. Because tristan hosts this IP, there's no reason for the packet to be routed off the box. Similarly, a destination of localhost ( does not need to be forwarded off this machine. In each of these cases, the scope has been set to host.

For broadcast addresses, which are intended for any listeners who happen to share the IP network, the destination only makes sense as for a scope of devices connected to the same link layer [49].

The final characteristic available to us in each line of the local routing table output is the src keyword. This is treated as a hint to the kernel about what IP address to select for a source address on outgoing packets on this interface. Naturally, this is most commonly used (and abused) on multi-homed hosts, although almost every machine out there uses this hint for connections to localhost [50].

Now that we have inspected the main routing table and the local routing table, let's see how easy it is to look at any one of the other routing tables. This is as simple as specifying the table by its name in /etc/iproute2/rt_tables or by number. There are a few reserved table identifiers in this file, but the other table numbers between 1 and 252 are available for the user. Please note that this example is for demonstration only and has no intrinsic value other than showing the use of the table parameter.

Example D.13. Viewing a routing table with ip route show table

[root@tristan]# ip route show table special
Error: argument "special" is wrong: table id value is invalid

[root@tristan]# echo 7 special >> /etc/iproute2/rt_tables
[root@tristan]# ip route show table special
[root@tristan]# ip route add table special default via
[root@tristan]# ip route show table special
default via dev eth0

In the above example you get a first glance at how to add a route to a table other than the main routing table, but what we are really interested in is the final command and output. In Example D.13, “Viewing a routing table with ip route show table, we have identified table 7 by the name "special" and have added a route to this table. The command ip route show table special shows us routing table number 7 from the kernel.

ip route consults /etc/iproute2/rt_tables for a table identifier. If it finds no identifier, it complains that it cannot find a reference to such a table. If a table identifier is found, then the corresponding routing table is displayed.

The use of multiple routing tables can make a router very complex, very quickly. Using names instead of numbers for these tables can assist in the management of this complexity. For further discussion on managing multiple routing tables and some issues of handling them see Section 10.3, “Using the Routing Policy Database and Multiple Routing Tables”.

D.2.2. Displaying the routing cache with ip route show cache

The routing cache is used by the kernel as a lookup table analogous to a quick reference card. It's faster for the kernel to refer to the cache (internally implemented as a hash table) for a recently used route than to lookup the destination address again. Routes existing in the route cache are periodically expired.

The routing cache can be displayed in all its glory with ip route show cache, which provides a detailed view of recent destination IP addresses and salient characteristics about those destinations. On routers, masquerading boxen and firewalls, the routing cache can become very large. Instead of viewing the entire routing cache even on a workstation, we'll select a particular destination from the routing cache to examine.

Example D.14. Displaying the routing cache with ip route show cache

[root@tristan]# ip route show cache from via dev eth0 
    cache  mtu 1500 rtt 18ms rttvar 15ms cwnd 15 advmss 1460 via dev eth0  src 
    cache  mtu 1500 advmss 1460

FIXME! I don't know how to explain rtt, rttvar, and cwnd, even after reading Alexey's comments in the iproute2 documentation! Not only that, I'm not sure why there are two entries!

The output in Example D.14, “Displaying the routing cache with ip route show cache summarizes the reachability of the destination from The first line of each entry provides some important information for us: the destination IP, the source IP, the gateway through which the destination is reachable, and the interface through which packets were routed. Together, these data identify a route entry in the cache.

Characteristics of that route are summarized in the second line of each entry. For the route between tristan and isolde, we see that Path MTU discovery has identified 1500 bytes as the maximum packet size from end to end. The maximum segment size (MSS) of data is 1460 bytes. Although this is not usually of any but the most casual of interest, it can be helpful diagnostic information.

If you are a die-hard fan of statistics, and can't get enough information about the routing on your machine, you can always throw the -s switch.

Example D.15. Displaying statistics from the routing cache with ip -s route show cache

[root@tristan]# ip -s route show cache from via dev eth0 
    cache  users 1 used 326 age 12sec mtu 1500 rtt 72ms rttvar 22ms cwnd 2 advmss 1460 via dev eth0  src 
    cache  users 1 used 326 age 12sec mtu 1500 advmss 1460

With this output, you'll get just a bit more information about the routes. The most interesting datum is usually the "used" field, which indicates the number of times this route has been accessed in the routing cache. This can give you a very good idea of how many times a particular route has been used. The age field is used by the kernel to decide when to expire a cache entry. The age is reset every time the route is accessed [51].

In sum, you can use the routing cache to learn a good deal about remote IP destinations and some of the characteristics of the network path to those destinations.

D.2.3. Using ip route add to populate a routing table

ip route add is a used to populate a routing table. Although you can use route add to do the same thing, ip route add offers a large number of options that are not possible with the venerable route command. After we have looked at some simple examples, we'll discuss more complex routes with ip route.

In Section D.1, “route, we used two classic examples of adding a network route (to our service provider's network from ) and a host route. Let's look at the difference in syntax with the ip route command.

Example D.16. Adding a static route to a network with route add, cf. Example D.4, “Adding a static route to a network route add

[root@masq-gw]# ip route add via

This is one of the simplest examples of the syntax of the ip route. As you may recall, you can only add a route to a destination network through a gateway that is itself already reachable. In this case, masq-gw already knows a route to (service-router). Now any packets bound for will be forwarded to

Other interesting examples of this command involve the use of prohibit and from. Use of the prohibit will cause the router to report that the requested destination is unreachable. If you know a netblock that hosts a service you are not interested in allowing your users to access, this is an effective way to block the outbound connection attempts.

Let's look at an example of tcpdump output which shows the prohibit route in action.

Example D.17. Adding a prohibit route with route add

[root@masq-gw]# ip route add prohibit
[root@tristan]# ssh
ssh: connect to address port 22: No route to host
[root@masq-gw]# tcpdump -nnq -i eth2
tcpdump: listening on eth2
22:13:13.740406 > tcp 0 (DF)
22:13:13.740714 > icmp: host unreachable - admin prohibited filter [tos 0xc0]

Compare the ICMP packet returned to the sender in this case with the ICMP packet returned if you used iptables and the REJECT target [52]. Although the net effect is identical (the user is unable to reach the intended destinatioan), the user gets two different error messages. With an iptables REJECT, the user sees Connection refused, where the user sees No route to host with the use of prohibit. These are but two of the options for controlling outbound access from your network.

Supposing you don't want to block access to this particular host for all of your users, the from option comes to your aid.

Example D.18. Using from in a routing command with route add

[root@masq-gw]# ip route add prohibit from

Now, you have effectively blocked the source IP from reaching Any packets matching this source and destination address will match this route. In this case, masq-gw will generate an ICMP error message indicating that the destination is administratively unreachable.

If you are still following along here, you can see that the options for identifying particular routes are many and multi-faceted. The src option provides a hint to the kernel for source address selection. When you are working with multiple routing tables and different classes of traffic, you can ease your administrative burden, by hosting several different IPs on your linux machine and setting the source address differently, depending on the type of traffic.

In the example below, let's assume that our masquerading host also runs a DNS resolver for the internal network and we have selected all of the outbound DNS packets to be routed according to table 7 [53]. Now, any packet which originates on this box (or is masqueraded through this table) will have its source IP set to

Example D.19. Using src in a routing command with route add

[root@masq-gw]# ip route add default via src table 7

FIXME!! I have nothing to say about nexthop yet, because I have never used it, this goes for equalize and onlink as well. If anybody has some examples s/he would like to contribute, I'd love to hear.

There are other options to the ip route add documented in Alexey's thorough iproute2 documentation. For further research, I'd suggested acquiring and reading this manual.

D.2.4. Adding a default route with ip route add default

Naturally, one of the most important routes on a machine is its default route. Adding a default route is one of the simplest operations with ip route.

We need exactly one piece of information in order to set the default route on a machine. This is the IP address of the gateway. The syntax of the command is extremely simple and aside from the use of the via instead of gw, it is almost the same command as the equivalent route -n.

Example D.20. Setting the default route with ip route add default

[root@tristan]# ip route add default via

D.2.5. Setting up NAT with ip route add nat

Be sure to see Chapter 5, Network Address Translation (NAT) for a full treatment of the issues involved in network address translation (NAT). If you are here to learn a bit more about how to set up NAT in your network, then you should know that the ip route add nat is only half of the solution. You must understand that performing NAT with iproute2 involves one component to rewrite the inbound packet (ip route add nat), and another command to rewrite the outbound packet (ip rule add nat). If you only get half of the system in place, your NAT will only work halfway--or not at all, depending on how you define "work".

Alexey documents clearly in the appendix to the iproute2 manual that the NAT provided by the iproute2 suite is stateless. This is distinctly unlike NAT with netfilter. Refer to Section 5.5, “Destination NAT with netfilter (DNAT)” and Section 8.3, “Netfilter Connection Tracking” for a better look at the connection tracking and network address translation support available under netfilter.

The ip route add nat command is used to rewrite the destination address of a packet from one IP or range to another IP or range. The iproute2 tools can only operate on the entire IP packet. There is no provision directly within the iproute2 suite to support conditional rewriting based on the destination port of a UDP datagram or TCP segment. It's the whole packet, every packet, and nothing but the packet [54].

Example D.21. Creating a NAT route for a single IP with ip route add nat

[root@masq-gw]# ip route add nat via
[root@masq-gw]# ip route show table local | grep ^nat
nat via  scope host

The route entry we have just made tells the kernel to rewrite any inbound packet bound for to The actual rewriting of the packet occurs at the routing stage of the packets trip through the kernel. This is an important detail, illuminated more fully in Section 5.4, “Stateless NAT and Packet Filtering”.

Not only can iproute2 support network address translation for single IPs, but also for entire network ranges. The syntax is substantially similar to the syntax above, but uses a CIDR network address instead of a single IP.

Example D.22. Creating a NAT route for an entire network with ip route add nat

[root@masq-gw]# ip route add nat via
[root@masq-gw]# ip route show table local | grep ^nat
nat via  scope host

In this example, we are adding a route for an entire network. Any IP packets which come to us destined for any address between and will be rewritten to the corresponding address in the range through This is a shorthand way to specify multiple translations with CIDR notation.

Again, this is only one half of the story for NAT with iproute2. Please be certain to read the section below for usage information on ip rule add nat, in addition to Chapter 5, Network Address Translation (NAT) which will provide fuller documentation for NAT support under linux. Don't forget to use ip route flush cache after you add NAT routes and the corresponding NAT rules [55].

D.2.6. Removing routes with ip route del

The ip route del takes exactly the same syntax as the ip route add command, so if you have familiarized yourself with the syntax, this should be a snap.

It is, in fact, almost trivial to delete routes on the command line with ip route del. You can simply identify the route you wish to remove with ip route show command and append the output line verbatim to ip route del.

Example D.23. Removing routes with ip route del [56]

[root@masq-gw]# ip route show dev eth3  scope link dev eth1  scope link dev eth0  scope link dev eth0  scope link via dev eth0 via dev eth3 dev lo  scope link 
default via dev eth1
[root@masq-gw]# ip route del via dev eth3

We identified the network route to as the route we wished to remove, and simply appended the description of the route to our ip route del command.

This command can be used to remove routes such as broadcast routes and routes to locally hosted IPs in addition to manipulation of any of the other routing tables. This means that you can cause some very strange problems on your machine by inadvertently removing routes, especially routes to locally hosted IP addresses.

D.2.7. Altering existing routes with ip route change

Occasionally, you'll want to remove a route and replace it with another one. Fortunately, this can be done atomically with ip route change.

Let's change the default route on tristan with this command.

Example D.24. Altering existing routes with ip route change

[root@tristan]# ip route change default via dev eth0
[root@tristan]# ip route show dev eth0  scope link dev lo  scope link 
default via dev eth0

If you do use the ip route change command, you should be aware that it does not communicate a routing table state change to the routing cache, so here is another good place to get in the habit of using ip route flush cache.

There's not much more to say about the use of this command. If you don't want to use an ip route del immediately followed by an ip route add you can use ip route change.

D.2.8. Programmatically fetching route information with ip route get

When configuring routing tables, it is not always sufficient to search for the destination manually. Especially with large routing tables, this can become a rather boring and time-consuming endeavor. Fortunately, ip route get elegantly solves the problem. By simulating a request for the specified destination, ip route get causes the routing selection algorithm to be run. When this is complete, it prints out the resulting path to the destination. In one sense, this is almost equivalent to sending an ICMP echo request packet and then using ip route show cache.

Example D.25. Testing routing tables with ip route get

[root@tristan]# ip -s route get
ip -s route get
local dev lo  src 
    cache <local>  users 1 used 1 mtu 16436 advmss 16396
[root@tristan]# ip -s route get
local dev lo  src 
    cache <local>  users 1 used 2 mtu 16436 advmss 16396

For casual use, ip route get is an invaluable tool. An obvious side effect of using ip route get the increase in the usage count of every touched entry in the routing cache. While this is no problem, it will alter the count of packets which have used that particular route. If you are using ip to count outbound packets (people have done it!) you should be cautious with this command.

D.2.9. Clearing routing tables with ip route flush

The flush option, when used with ip route empties a routing table or removes the route for a particular destination. In Example D.26, “Removing a specific route and emptying a routing table with ip route flush, we'll first remove a route for a destination network using ip route flush, and then we'll remove all of the routes in the main routing table with one command.

If you do not wish to delete routes by hand, you can quickly empty all of the routes in a table by specifying a table identifier to the ip route flush command.

Example D.26. Removing a specific route and emptying a routing table with ip route flush

[root@masq-gw]# ip route flush
"ip route flush" requires arguments
[root@masq-gw]# ip route flush 10.38
Nothing to flush.
[root@masq-gw]# ip route flush
[root@masq-gw]# ip route show dev eth3  scope link dev eth1  scope link dev eth0  scope link dev eth0  scope link via dev eth0 dev lo  scope link 
default via dev eth1
[root@masq-gw]# ip route flush table main
[root@masq-gw]# ip route show

Note that you should exercise caution when using ip route flush table because you can easily destroy your own route to the machine by specifying the main routing table or a routing table that is used to send packets to your workstation. Naturally, this is not a problem if you are connected to the machine via a serial, modem, console, or other out of band connection.

D.2.10. ip route flush cache

Above, in Section D.2.2, “Displaying the routing cache with ip route show cache, we looked at the contents of the routing cache, a hash table in the kernel which contains recently used routes. To quote John S. Denker, you should not forget to use ip route flush cache after you have changed the routing tables; "otherwise changes will take effect only after some maddeningly irreproducible delay." [57]

Since the kernel refers to the routing cache before fetching a new route from the routing tables, ip route flush cache empties the cache of any data. Now when the kernel goes to the routing cache to locate the best route to a destination, it finds the cache empty. Next, it traverses the routing policy database and routing tables. When the kernel finds the route, it will enter the newly fetched destination into the routing cache.

Example D.27. Emptying the routing cache with ip route flush cache

[root@tristan]# ip route show cache
local from tos 0x10 dev lo 
    cache <local>  mtu 16436 advmss 16396
local from dev lo 
    cache <local>  mtu 16436 advmss 16396 from via dev eth0 
    cache  mtu 1500 rtt 18ms rttvar 15ms cwnd 15 advmss 1460 via dev eth0  src 
    cache  mtu 1500 advmss 1460
[root@tristan]# ip route flush cache
[root@tristan]# ip route show cache
[root@tristan]# ip route show cache
local from tos 0x10 dev lo 
    cache <local>  mtu 16436 advmss 16396
local from dev lo 
    cache <local>  mtu 16436 advmss 16396

When making routing changes to a linux box, you can save yourself some troubleshooting time (and confusion) by getting in the habit of finishing your routing commands with ip route flush cache.

D.2.11. Summary of the use of ip route

With this overview of the use of the ip route utility, you should be ready to step into some advanced territory to harness multiple routing tables, take advantage of special types of routes, use network address translation, and gather detailed statistics on the usage of your routing tables.

[49] I'm going to specifically neglect a discussion of bridging and broadcast addresses for now. Let's assume a simple Ethernet where the entire IP network is on one hub or switch.

[50] When a user initiates a connection to localhost (let's say localhost:25, where a private SMTP server is listening), the connection could, of course, come from the IP assigned to any of the Ethernet interfaces. It makes the most sense, however, for the source IP to be set to, since the connection is actually initiated from on the local machine. Some services running on a local machine rely on the loopback interface and will restrict incoming connections to source addresses of Frankly, I find this quite sensible for services which are not intended for public use.

[51] Be wary of using ip route get and ip route show cache because ip route get implicitly causes a route lookup to be performed, thus increasing the used counter on the route, and resetting the age. This will alter the statistics reported by ip -s route show cache.

[52] Please note that I in the cross-referenced example I have used iptables. The same behaviour should be expected with ipchains. (Anybody have any proof?)

[53] If you wonder how this kind of magic is accomplished, you'll want to read Section 10.3.2, “Using fwmark for Policy Routing”.

[54] This should not lead you into believing it cannot be done. This is linux after all! By routing via fwmark, and using the --mark option to ipchains or the MARK target and --set-mark option in iptables, you can perform conditional routing based on characteristics and contents of the packet.

[55] You can always use my SysV initialization script and configuration file instead of entering your own commands, however, it is always important to understand the tool you are using.

[56] Please note that this is the same routing table as is shown in the Example D.2, “Viewing a complex routing table with route, which displays the output from route -n on masq-gw.

[57] See this remark in his documentation of a workaround with FreeS/WAN and iproute2 to approximate more RFC-like SPD behaviour for a linux IPSec tunnel.