Skip to content Skip to navigation Skip to footer

Network Address Translation

What is NAT in networking? One of the most common problems that can occur when setting up a home or office network is an Internet Protocol (IP) address conflict. IP addresses are assigned to each device on a network, and no two devices can have the same IP address. If two devices on the same network carry the same IP address, connection issues will arise.

There are a few ways you can avoid IP address conflicts. One is through network address translation (NAT). 

What Is Network Address Translation (NAT)?

Network address translation (NAT) is a technique commonly used by internet service providers (ISPs) and organizations to enable multiple devices to share a single public IP address. By using NAT, devices on a private network can communicate with devices on a public network without the need for each device to have its own unique IP address.

NAT was originally intended as a short-term solution to alleviate the shortage of available IPv4 addresses. By sharing a single IP address among multiple computers on a local network, NAT conserves the limited number of publicly routable IPv4 addresses. NAT also provides a layer of security for private networks because it hides devices' actual IP addresses behind a single public IP address. 

How Does Network Address Translation Work?

NAT is typically implemented on a router, a device that connects two networks. When a device on the private network sends data to a device on the public network, the router intercepts the data and replaces the source IP address with its own public IP address. The router then sends the data to the destination device.

When the destination device sends data back to the router, the router intercepts this data and replaces the public IP address with the original source IP address. The router then sends the data to the original source device. This process is transparent to the devices on both networks.

What Is NAT? Examples of Network Address Translation (NAT)

To help you better visualize how NAT works, here are a few network address translation examples:

  1. A router connects a private network to the internet: The router, configured to use NAT, translates the private IP addresses of devices on the network into public IP addresses. This enables internal devices to communicate with devices on the internet, while remaining hidden from public view.
  2. An organization has multiple office locations and wants to connect them all using a private network: NAT can be used to translate the IP addresses of devices on each network so they can communicate with one another as if they were on the same network. This allows the company to keep its internal network private and secure, while allowing employees at different locations to communicate with each other.

Why Is NAT Important?

Network address translation offers multiple significant benefits:

  1. IP address conservation: By enabling multiple devices to share a single IP address, NAT helps conserve IP address space. This is especially important for organizations that have been assigned a limited number of IP addresses by their ISP.
  2. Improved security: NAT can provide a measure of security by hiding the internal network from the outside world. This can be useful for preventing attacks that target specific IP addresses or for preventing devices on the internal network from being accessed directly from the internet. NAT can also help prevent devices on the internal network from accessing malicious or unwanted websites.
  3. Better speed: NAT can improve communication speed by reducing the number of packets that need to be routed through the network. This is because NAT eliminates the need for each device on the internal network to have its own unique IP address.
  4. Flexibility: NAT can also be used to provide flexibility in network design, which is particularly useful for organizations that want to change their network configuration without changing their IP addresses. Organizations may want to change their network configuration to improve security or performance or to add new devices to the network.
  5. Multi-homing: NAT can be used to allow devices on a private network to connect to multiple public networks, a network configuration practice called multi-homing. This can be valuable for organizations that want to connect to multiple ISPs or that want to provide failover in case one of the ISPs goes down. Multi-homing with NAT provides connection redundancy and increases uptime by allowing traffic to be routed through multiple ISPs.
  6. Cost savings: NAT reduces the number of IP addresses an organization needs, which can save them money on IP address licenses and other associated costs.
  7. Easier network administration: NAT makes it easier to manage a network by reducing the number of IP addresses that need to be assigned. This benefits organizations with a large fleet of devices and those that want to reduce the amount of time and effort required to manage their networks.

Types of NAT

There are three network address translation types:

Static NAT

In static NAT, every internal IP address is mapped to a unique external IP address. This is one-to-one mapping. When outgoing traffic arrives at the router, the router replaces the destination IP address with the mapped global IP. When the return traffic comes back to the router, the router replaces the mapped global IP address with the source IP address. 

Static NAT is mostly used in servers that need to be accessible from the internet, such as web servers and email servers.

Dynamic NAT

In dynamic network address translation, internal IP addresses are mapped to a pool of external IP addresses. This is one-to-many mapping. When the outgoing traffic arrives at the router, the router replaces the destination IP address with a free global IP address from the pool. When the return traffic comes back to the router, the router replaces the mapped global IP address with the source IP address. 

Dynamic NAT is mostly used in networks that need outbound internet connectivity.

Port Address Translation (PAT)

PAT is a type of dynamic NAT that maps multiple internal IP addresses to a single external IP address via port numbers. This is many-to-one mapping. When a computer connects to the internet, the router assigns it a port number that it then appends to the computer's internal IP address, in turn giving the computer a unique IP address. When a second computer connects to the internet, it gets the same external IP address but a different port number. 

PAT is mostly used in home networks.

How Does Network Address Translation (NAT) Help Organizations Improve Network Security?

One way that NAT can help improve network security is by hiding internal IP addresses from external users. This makes it more difficult for attackers to target specific devices on the network.

Another way that NAT can improve security is by providing a level of traffic filtering. By controlling which internal IP addresses are mapped to external IP addresses, NAT can be used to block certain types of traffic from reaching internal systems. For example, an organization can use NAT to block all inbound traffic from a specific IP address or range of IP addresses that are known to be associated with malicious activity.

NAT can also help improve network security by making it easier to track and manage network traffic. By mapping internal IP addresses to a single external IP address, NAT can simplify the process of tracking and logging network activity. This can be helpful for identifying suspicious or unusual activity on the network.

How Fortinet Can Help?

The Fortinet Security Fabric offers a unified, integrated approach to security to enable organizations to better protect their networks from a variety of threats. It includes several built-in features, such as:

  1. A NAT engine for hiding internal IP addresses and providing a level of traffic filtering
  2. A traffic monitoring system to track and log network activity
  3. An intrusion prevention system for detecting and blocking suspicious traffic

Fortinet also boosts network security through the FortiGate Next-Generation Firewall (NGFW), which provides complete visibility and threat protection across your organization.

FAQs

What is network address translation and its types?

Network address translation (NAT) is a technique commonly used by internet service providers (ISPs) and organizations to enable multiple devices to share a single public IP address. By using NAT, devices on a private network can communicate with devices on a public network without the need for each device to have its own unique IP address. 

The three main NAT types are static NAT, dynamic NAT, and port address translation (PAT).

How does network address translation work?

When a device on the private network sends data to a device on the public network, the router intercepts the data and replaces the source IP address with its own public IP address. The router then sends the data to the destination device. When the destination device responds by sending data back to the router, the router intercepts this data and replaces the public IP address with the original source IP address. The router then sends the data to the original source device. This allows devices on a local network to communicate with devices on a public network without revealing their true IP addresses.

What is the importance of network address translation?

There are several benefits of using NAT. These include improved security, increased privacy, and improved network performance. NAT can also help conserve IP addresses by allowing multiple devices to share a single public IP address.