Alpine Wall User’s Guide


Alpine Wall (awall) is a Linux firewall configuration tool, providing various benefits over plain iptables:

Awall is lightweight: no additional daemons, Python, D-BUS etc. required. Awall translates high-level policies into the format accepted by iptables-restore.

Configuration File Processing

Awall reads its configuration from multiple JSON-formatted files, called policy files. The files located in directory /usr/share/awall/mandatory are mandatory policies shipped with APK packages. In addition, there can be installation-specific mandatory policies in /etc/awall.

The latter directory may also contain symbolic links to policy files located in /usr/share/awall/optional and /etc/awall/optional. These are optional policies, which can be enabled on need basis. Such symbolic links are easily created and destroyed using the awall enable and awall disable commands. awall list shows which optional policies are enabled and disabled. The command also prints the description of the optional policy if defined in the file using a top-level attribute named description.

Sometimes a policy file depends on other policy files. In this case, the policy file must have a top-level attribute import, the value of which is a list of policy names, which correspond to the file names without the .json suffix. The imported policies may be either optional policies or private policies, located in /usr/share/awall/private or /etc/awall/private. By default, the policies listed there are processed before the importing policy.

The order of the generated iptables rules generally reflects the processing order of their corresponding awall policies. The processing order of policies can be adjusted by defining top-level attributes after and before in policy files. These attributes are lists of policies, after or before which the declaring policy shall be processed. Putting a policy name to either of these lists does not by itself import the policy. The ordering directives are ignored with respect to those policies that are not enabled by the user or imported by other policies. If not defined, after is assumed to be equal to the relative complement of the before definition in the import definition of the policy.

As the import directive does not require the path name to be specified, awall expects policies to have unique names, even if located in different directories. It is allowed to import optional policies that are not explicitly enabled by the user. Such policies show up with the required status in the output of awall list.

Historically, awall has ignored superfluous attributes in JSON objects. This behavior is about to change. In order to enforce future-proof strict schema checking, one can set the awall_schema_check variable to true. Setting it to false will revert to the old behavior and suppress any warnings on schema violations.

List Parameters

Several awall parameters are defined as lists of values. In order to facilitate manual editing of policy files, awall also accepts single values in place of lists. Such values are semantically equivalent to lists containing one element.


Awall allows variable definitions in policy files. The top-level attribute variable is a dictionary containing the definitions. The value of a variable can be of any type (string, integer, list, or dictionary).

Variable Expansion

A variable is referenced in policy files by a string which equals the variable name prepended with the $ character. If the value of the variable is a string, the reference can be embedded into a longer string in order to substitute some part of that string (in shell style). Variable references can be used when defining other variables, as long as the definitions are not circular.

Policy files can reference variables defined in other policy files. Policy files can also override variables defined elsewhere by redefining them. In this case, the new definition affects all policy files, also those processed before the overriding policy. Awall variables are in fact simple macros, since each variable remains constant thoughout a single processing round. If multiple files define the same variable, the definition in the file processed last takes effect.

If defined as an empty string, all non-embedded references to a variable evaluate as if the attribute in question was not present in the configuration. This is also the case when a string containing embedded variable references finally evaluates to an empty string.

Control Variables

Variables controlling the awall behavior are prefixed with awall_.

VariableDescriptionDefault value
awall_dedicated_chains Install rules to dedicated chains false
awall_schema_check Disable (false), enable (null), or enforce (true) schema check for policy files null
awall_tproxy_mark Mark for packets diverted to a transparent proxy 1

Configuration Objects

Configuration objects can be divided into two main types. Auxiliary objects model high-level concepts such as services and zones. Rule objects translate into one or more iptables rules, and are often defined with the help of some auxiliary objects.


A service represents a set of network protocols. A top-level attribute service is a dictionary that maps service names to service definition objects, or lists thereof in more complex cases.

A service definition object contains an attribute named proto, which corresponds to the --protocol option of iptables. The protocol can be defined as a numerical value or string as defined in /etc/protocols. If the protocol is tcp or udp, the scope of the service definition may be constrained by defining an attribute named port, which is a list of TCP or UDP port numbers or ranges thereof, separated by the - character. If the protocol is icmp or icmpv6, an analogous type attribute may be used. The replies to ICMP messages have their own type codes, which may be specified using the reply-type attribute.

If the protocol is icmp or icmpv6, the scope of the rule is also automatically limited to IPv4 or IPv6, respectively. There are also other services which are specific to IPv4 or IPv6. To constrain the scope of the service definition to either protocol version, an optional family attribute can be set to value inet or inet6, respectively.

Some services require the server or client to open additional connections to dynamically allocated ports or even different hosts. Connection tracking helpers are used to make the firewall aware of such additional connections. The ct-helper attribute is used to associate such a helper to a service definition when required by the service.

All rule objects, except for policy and MSS clamping rules, may have an attribute named service, constraining the rule’s scope to specific services only. This attribute is a list of service names, referring to the keys of the top-level service dictionary.


A zone represents a set of network hosts. A top-level attribute zone is a dictionary that maps zone names to zone objects. A zone object has any combination of attributes named iface, addr, and ipsec. iface is a list of network interfaces and addr is a list of IPv4/IPv6 host and network addresses (CIDR notation). addr may also contain domain names, which are expanded to IP addresses using DNS resolution. If not defined, addr defaults to the entire address space and iface to all interfaces. An empty zone can be defined by setting either addr or iface to an empty list.

Rule objects contain two attributes, in and out, which are lists of zone names. These attributes control whether a packet matches the rule or not. If a particular zone is referenced by the in attribute, the rule applies to packets whose ingress interface and source address are covered by the zone definition. Correspondingly, if a zone is referenced by the out attribute, the rule applies to packets whose egress interface and destination address are included in the zone. If both in and out are defined, the packet must fulfill both criteria in order to match the rule.

The firewall host itself can be referred to using the special value _fw as the zone name.

In general, it is not necessary to define rules for both directions of traffic. Awall policies are supposed to declare explicit rules in one direction, such that the in zone points to the client and out to the server side of the service, that is, the side where the TCP/UDP port or ICMP type matches the service definition. The necessary iptables rules for the opposite direction are automatically deduced.

By default, awall does not generate iptables rules with identical ingress and egress interfaces. This behavior can be changed per zone by setting the optional route-back attribute of the zone to true. Note that this attribute can have an effect also in the case where in and out attributes of a rule are not equal but their definitions overlap. In this case, the route-back attribute of the out zone determines the behavior.

If used, the ipsec attribute is used to exclude from the zone any traffic that is or is not subject to IPsec processing. If set to true in the in zone, only the packets subject to IPsec decapsulation are considered originating from the zone. In the out zone, only the packets subject to IPsec encapsulation will be included if ipsec is set to true. The value of false would exclude any traffic requiring IPsec processing towards the respective direction.


A limit specifies the maximum rate for a flow of packets or new connections. Unlike the other auxiliary objects, limits are not named members of a top-level dictionary but are embedded into other objects.

In its simplest form, a limit definition is an integer specifying the maximum number of packets or connections per second. More complex limits are defined as objects, where the count attribute defines the maximum during an interval defined by the interval attribute. The unit of the interval attribute is second, and the default value is 1. The default value for count is 1 as well.

The maximum rate defined by a limit may be absolute or specific to blocks of IP addresses or pairs thereof. The number of most significant bits taken into account when mapping the source and destination IP addresses to blocks can be specified with the src-mask and dest-mask attributes, respectively. If set to true (boolean), all bits are considered. The value of false causes the respective address to be ignored. Address family–specific prefix lengths can be set by defining the mask as an object with attributes named inet and inet6.

The default behavior with respect to the masks depends on the type of the enclosing object. For filters, the default behavior is to apply the limit for each source address separately. For logging classes, the limit is considered absolute by default.

The packet rates contributing to the limit may be summed over multiple filters. This can be achieved by setting the optional name attribute to equal values among the related limits. If the update attribute is set to false (boolean), the rates measured at this limit are not included in the sum, but the referred sum is used to make the limiting decision. Named limits may be specific only to fixed-size blocks of either the source or the destination address, not both. However, the address to be considered may vary among the rules using the limit and may be selected by setting an attribute named addr to either src (default) or dest. By default, all bits of the selected address are taken into account, but address family–specific prefix lengths can be set via the top-level limit dictionary, where the keys correspond to limit names and values follow the syntax of src-mask and dest-mask.

Logging Classes

A logging class specifies how packets matching certain rules are logged. A top-level attribute log is a dictionary that maps logging class names to setting objects.

A setting object may have an attribute named mode, which specifies which logging facility to use. Allowed values are log, nflog, ulog, and none. The default is log, i.e. in-kernel logging.

The following table shows the optional attributes valid for all logging modes:

every Divide successive packets into groups, the size of which is specified by the value of this attribute, and log only the first packet of each group
limit Maximum number of packets to be logged defined as limit
prefix String with which the log entries are prefixed
probability Probability for logging an individual packet (default: 1)

With the in-kernel log mode log, the level of logging may be specified using the level attribute. Log modes nflog and ulog are about copying the packets into user space, at least partially. The following table shows the additional attributes valid with these modes:

groupNetlink group to be used
rangeNumber of bytes to be copied
threshold Number of packets to queue inside the kernel before copying them

Copies of the eligible packets are sent to all hosts defined with the mirror attribute of the logging class. The hosts may be defined using IP addresses or DNS names. If this attribute is defined, mode defaults to none.

Filter and policy rules can have an attribute named log. If it is a string, it is interpreted as a reference to a logging class, and logging is performed according to the definitions. If the value of the log attribute is true (boolean), logging is done using default settings. If the value is false (boolean), logging is disabled for the rule. If log is not defined, logging is done using the default settings except for accept and pass rules, for which logging is omitted.

Default logging settings can be set by defining a logging class named _default. Normally, default logging uses the log mode with packets limited to one per second.


There are several types of rule objects:

  • Filter rules
  • Policy rules
  • Packet logging rules
  • NAT rules
  • Packet marking rules
  • Packet classification rules
  • TTL adjustment rules
  • Transparent proxy rules
  • MSS clamping rules
  • Connection tracking bypass rules

All rule objects can have the in and out attributes referring to zones as described in the previous section. In addition, the scope of the rule can be further constrained with the following attributes:

src Similar to addr attribute of zone objects Packet's source address matches the value
dest Similar to addr attribute of zone objects Packet's destination address matches the value
ipset List of objects containing two attributes: name referring to an IP set and args, which is a list of strings in and out Packet matches any of the IP sets referred here when the match arguments are taken from the source (in) and destination (out) address, port, or interface in the order specified by args for the respective set
string String or object containing at least an attribute named match and optionally one or more of the following: algo, from, and to. Packet contains the given plain string or the one defined by the match attribute. Attributes from and to can be used to constrain the search to the specific byte range of the packet. The used algorithm may be selected using the algo attribute. The allowed values are bm for Boyer–Moore (default) and kmp for Knuth–Pratt–Morris.

Rule objects are declared in type-specific top-level dictionaries in awall policy files. If a packet matches multiple rules, the one appearing earlier in the list takes precedence. If the matching rules are defined in different policy files, the one that was processed earlier takes precedence in the current implementation, but this may change in future versions.

Filter Rules

Filter objects specify an action for packets fulfilling certain criteria. The top-level attribute filter is a list of filter objects.

Filter objects may have an attribute named action, the value of which can be one of the following:

acceptAccept the packet (default)
reject Reject the packet with an ICMP error message
dropSilently drop the packet
tarpit Put incoming TCP connections into persist state and ignore attempts to close them. Silently drop non-TCP packets. (Connection tracking bypass is automatically enabled for the matching packets.)
passNo action

Filter objects, the action of which is accept, may also contain limits for packet flow or new connections. These are specified with the flow-limit and conn-limit attributes, respectively. The values of these attributes are limit objects. The drop action is applied to the packets exceeding the limit. Optionally, the limit object may have an attribute named log. It defines how the dropped packets should be logged and is semantically similar to the log attribute of rule objects.

Filter objects may have an attribute named update-limit. This causes the packet flow or new connection attempts matching the filter to be included in the total rate of a named limit without any packets being dropped. When defined as a string, it is interpreted as the name of the limit. It can also be defined as an object with a name attribute and additional attributes. The measure attribute is used to select whether to measure the packet flow (flow) or connection attempts (conn, default). The addr attribute is used to select whether to consider the source (src, default) or destination (dest) address. When update-limit is defined, action defaults to pass and cannot be set to any other value.

Filter objects may have an attribute named dnat, the value of which is an IPv4 address or a DNS name resolving to a single IPv4 address. If defined, this enables destination NAT for all IPv4 packets matching the rule, such that the specified address replaces the original destination address. If also port translation is desired, the attribute may be defined as an object consisting of attributes addr and port. The format of the port attribute is similar to that of the to-port attribute of NAT rules. This option has no effect on IPv6 packets.

Filter objects may have a boolean attribute named no-track. If set to true, connection tracking is bypassed for the matching packets. In addition, if action is set to accept, the corresponding packets travelling to the reverse direction are also allowed.

If one or more connection tracking helpers are associated with the services referred to by an accept rule, additional iptables rules are generated for the related connections detected by the helpers. The related attribute can be used to override the default rules generated by awall. It is a list of basic rule objects, the packets matching to which are accepted, provided that they are also detected by at least one of the helpers.

Policy Rules

Policy objects describe the default action for packets that did not match any filter. The top-level attribute policy is a list of policy objects.

Policy objects must have the action attribute defined. The possible values and their semantics are the same as in filter rules.

Packet Logging Rules

Packet logging rules allow packets matching the specified criteria to be logged before any filtering takes place. Such rules are contained in the top-level list named packet-log.

Logging class may be specified using the log attribute. Otherwise, default logging settings are used.

NAT Rules

NAT rules come in two flavors: source NAT rules and destination NAT rules. These are contained in two top-level lists named snat and dnat, respectively.

Each NAT rule may have an attribute named to-addr that specifies the IP address ranges to which the original source or destination address is mapped. It is a list that can contain

  • an IPv4 address or range
  • an IPv6 address or range
  • DNS name which resolves to an IPv4 and/or IPv6 address

Only one address or range per protocol version may be defined. Ranges are specified by two addresses, separated with the - character. If not defined, to-addr defaults to the primary address of the ingress interface in case of destination NAT, or that of the egress interface in case of source NAT.

When to-addr is defined, the NAT rule applies to those protocol versions for which an address is given. The protocol version scope can be explicitly defined using the family attribute. It is a list where the allowed values are inet and inet6, corresponding to IPv4 and IPv6. When both to-addr and family are undefined, the rule applies to IPv4 packets only.

Optionally, a NAT rule can specify the TCP and UDP port range to which the original source or destination port is mapped. The attribute is named to-port, and the value can be a single port number or a range specified by two numbers, separated with the - character. If to-port is not specified, the original port number is kept intact.

NAT rules, may have an action attribute set to value include or exclude. The latter means that NAT is not performed on the matching packets (unless they match an include rule processed earlier). The default value is include.

Packet Marking Rules

Packet marking rules are used to mark packets matching the specified criteria. The mark can be used as a basis for the routing decision. Each marking rule must specify the mark using the mark attribute, which is a 32-bit integer.

Normal marking rules are contained by the top-level list attribute named mark.

There is another top-level list attribute, named route-track, which contains route tracking rules. These are special marking rules which cause all the subsequent packets related to the same connection to be marked according to the rule.

Packet Classification Rules

Packet classification rules are used to set the DSCP field of the packets matching the specified criteria, in order to ensure quality of service. Each classification rule, contained in the top-level list attribute named classify, must specify the class using the class attribute. These rules apply to the both directions of the matching traffic.

TTL Adjustment Rules

TTL adjustment rules are used to set the TTL field of the IPv4 packets matching the specified criteria. The TTL adjustment rules are contained in the top-level list attribute named ttl and define an attribute named ttl. If the value is a non-negative integer, the TTL of the packet is set to the value. If it is a negative integer, the TTL value is decremented accordingly. The TTL value can be incremented by a constant by setting the attribute value to a string representing a positive integer, prepended with the plus sign (+).

Transparent Proxy Rules

Transparent proxy rules divert the matching packets to a local proxy process without altering their headers. Such rules are contained in the top-level list named tproxy.

In addition to the firewall configuration, using a transparent proxy requires a routing configuration where packets marked for proxying are diverted to a local process. The awall_tproxy_mark variable can be used to specify the mark for such packets, which defaults to 1.

Proxy rules may also have an attribute named to-port for specifying the TCP or UDP port of the proxy if it is different from the original destination port.

MSS Clamping Rules

MSS Clamping Rules are used to deal with ISPs that block ICMP Fragmentation Needed or ICMPv6 Packet Too Big packets. An MSS clamping rule overwrites the MSS option with a value specified with the mss attribute for the matching TCP connections. If mss is not specified, a suitable value is automatically determined from the path MTU. The MSS clamping rules are located in the top-level dictionary named clamp-mss.

Connection Tracking Bypass Rules

Connection tracking bypass rules are used to disable connection tracking for packets matching the specified criteria. The top-level attribute no-track is a list of such rules.

Like NAT rules, connection tracking bypass rules may have an action attribute set to value include or exclude.

IP Sets

Any IP set referenced by rule objects should be created by awall. Auxiliary IP set objects are used to defined them in awall policy files. The top-level attribute ipset is a dictionary, the keys of which are IP set names. The values are IP set objects, which have two mandatory attributes. The attribute named type corresponds to the type argument of the ipset create command. family specifies whether the set is for IPv4 or IPv6 addresses, and the possible values are inet and inet6, correspondingly.

If the timeout attribute is set to true, entries added to the IP set may be assigned a timeout, after which they are automatically deleted from the set. If set to an integer, the timeout functionality is enabled for the set and all entries are by default assinged a timeout corresponding to the value in seconds.

For bitmap-type IP sets, the range attribute specifies the range of allowed IPv4 addresses. It may be given as a network address or two addresses separated by the - character. It is not necessary to specify family for bitmaps, since the kernel supports only IPv4 bitmaps.

The maximum size of hash-type IP sets may be limited with the size attribute.

Customizing iptables Rules

In the rare event that awall’s capabilities do not suffice for your use case, it is possible to manually define match options, targets, and additional chains. Match options can be added via the match attribute in the corresponding awall rule. The iptables target with possible options can be set via the action attribute. The iptables targets are always spelled in upper case, so awall can distinguish them from other actions.

Customized chains can be defined in the top-level dictionary named custom. The key is the unique identifier of the chain, and packets can be sent to the chain by defining the value of the action attribute of an awall rule as this identifier prefixed by custom:. The values of the dictionary are lists of objects. Each object maps to a single rule in the custom iptables chain, typically defined using two attributes: match for match options and target for the target with its options. The target can also refer to another customized chain, using the custom: prefix. If match is left unspecified, the rule will match all packets. It is also possible to constrain each rule to IPv4 or IPv6 only by defining the family attribute as inet or inet6, respectively.

Co-Existence with Other Firewall Management Tools

If awall is used on a host running other software that manipulates iptables rules, it is recommended to set the awall_dedicated_chains variable to true, which will have the following effects:

  • Awall installs its own rules to dedicated chains prefixed with awall-.
  • Activation of awall rules leaves any unrelated rule intact.

Command Line Syntax

Translating Policy Files to Firewall Configuration Files

awall translate [-o | –output DIRECTORY] [-V | –verify]

The --verify option makes awall verify the configuration using the test mode of iptables-restore before overwriting the old files.

Specifying the output directory allows testing awall policies without overwriting the current iptables and ipset configuration files. By default, awall generates the configuration to /etc/iptables and /etc/ipset.d, which are read by the init scripts.

Run-Time Configuration of Firewall

awall activate [-f | –force]

This command genereates firewall configuration from the policy files and enables it. If the user confirms the new configuration by hitting the Return key within 10 seconds or the --force option is used, the configuration is saved to the files. Otherwise, the old configuration is restored.

awall flush [-a | –all]

Normally, this command deletes all firewall rules and configures it to drop all packets.

If awall is configured to co-exist with other firewall management tools, this command flushes only the rules installed by awall. Specifying --all overrides this behavior and causes all rules to be flushed.

Optional Policies

Optional policies can be enabled or disabled using this command:

awall {enable | disable} POLICY…

Optional policies can be listed using this command:

awall list [-a | –all]

The enabled status means that the policy has been enabled by the user. The disabled status means that the policy is not in use. The required status means that the policy has not been enabled by the user but is in use because it is required by another policy which is in use.

Normally, the command lists only optional policies. Specifying --all makes it list all policies and more information about them.

Debugging Policies

This command can be used to dump variable, zone, and other definitions as well as their source policies:

awall dump [LEVEL]

The level is an integer in range 0–5 and defaults to 0. More information is displayed on higher levels.

awall diff [ -o | –output DIRECTORY]

Displays the difference in the input policy files and generated output files since the last translate or activate command.

When the --output option is used, the updated configuration is compared to the generated files in the specified directory (generated by the equivalent translate command).

Default Policies

Awall ships with a set of optional policies, which can be used as the basis for firewall configuration:

adp-clamp-mss Clamp MSS on WAN
adp-dhcp Allow DHCP on specified zones
adp-http-server Allow HTTP server on the firewall host
adp-local-outbound Policy for local outbound traffic
adp-ntp-client Allow DNS and NTP clients on the firewall host
adp-ping Allow ICMP echo request. On WAN, rate is limited to 3 packets per second.
adp-router Routing policy from LAN to WAN, possibly with NAT. Prevent LAN address spoofing from WAN.
adp-ssh-client Allow SSH clients on the firewall host
adp-ssh-server Allow SSH server on the firewall host. On WAN, rate is limited to 1 connection per 10 seconds.
adp-web-client Allow DNS, HTTP, and HTTPS from specified zones to WAN

The behavior of these policies can be tuned by defining variables and zones in a policy named adp-config or another policy imported by this policy. On Alpine Linux, the setup-firewall utility automatically enables some of the policies and generates an initial adp-config policy by making an educated guess.


NameUsed byDescription
adp-lan adp-router Local Area Network (LAN), defined by variables prefixed with adp_lan_
adp-wan adp-clamp-mss
Wide Area Network (WAN), to be defined in adp-config


NameUsed byDescriptionDefault value
adp_dhcp_zones adp-dhcp Zones on which DHCP is allowed
adp_lan_addrs adp-router LAN addresses
adp_lan_ifaces adp-router LAN interfaces
adp_lan_private_addrs adp-router Private LAN addresses for which NAT must be applied when routing to WAN
adp_local_policy adp-local-outbound Policy for local outbound traffic reject
adp_router_policy adp-router Routing policy from LAN to WAN accept
adp_web_client_zones adp-web-client Zones on which web clients are allowed _fw (firewall host only)