What is Port Forwarding & why should you consider using one

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Port forwarding in a less derogative term is a network technique widely used throughout the industry as an efficient way of routing signals between computers connected to both Local area and wide areas networks. It allows external devices to communicate or connect to devices with in a private network.

If it sounds a bit familiar, well that is because every time you Google a solution to boost your online gaming performance or downloading speeds, more or less you will be presented with Port forwarding or port mapping.

So what exactly is it…? Port Forwarding identifies the most optimal path for signals to travel. Think of it this way, you might prefer taking the freeway rather than going through downtown in the middle of a rush hour.

Generally, Port Forwarding is implemented through hardware components like routers and firewalls, however more recently VPNs are being used for signal redirection. In this blog, I am going to give an overview of what is Port Forwarding technology and why should you consider using it.

How port forwarding works?

In order for computers to communicate online, they need some sort of information. Just as emails need an address to communicate, computers need data packets for successful delivery. A data packet is a payload, which contains your data along with header information. If you do not know what a header is, it is basically an address file, which contains the origin and destination IP addresses.

Typically, routers handle all the work related to data packets, in a sense, which packets needs to travel where, however port forwarding handles things a bit differently. If you configure it in your router or use the built in port forwarder of your VPN client then it will automatically jot down all the original destination headers and rewrite them before forwarding them to an intermediary host resource (computer/ server).

Now you might be wondering why send data packets to a different resource other than the intended one. Well that is because this additional process helps mask your original IP address.

WHAT-IS-PORT-FORWARDIN-TECHNOLOGY

Why use port forwarding?

Aside from online gaming and boosting downloading speeds, Port forwarding has a lot if security and privacy benefits as well. For one, it can help mask public IP address and restricts unauthorized access to resources on a private network, which in turns cloaks your network resources (i.e. computers and servers).

Port forwarding also streamlines network communications as it limits network administrators to use a single IP for external requests while allocating different server resources with varying IPs to conduct tasks internally. By limiting all networks request to a single IP, administrators can accomplish multiple tasks while concurrently restricting all unrelated traffic.

Port forwarding is ideal for office networks, online gamers and hiding from outside world.

Working example of port forwarding

Port forwarding is relatively easy to understand and for someone who has dealt with networks before it is quite straightforward. However, if you are new to all this then take a look at the example below.

WHAT-IS-PORT-FORWARDIN-SEND-PROCESS

As you can see in the table above, IP address 100.0.0.1 transmits a request 100.0.0.3 on port number 80, however instead of 100.0.0.3 receiving the request, IP-100.0.0.2 that is an intraday IP, intercepts it. After intercepting the data packet IP-100.0.0.2 alters the packet header and forwards it to IP-100.0.0.4 on port 8080.

Now in order to send the response back to 100.0.0.1, the intermediary IP-100.0.0.4 sends the response back to 100.0.0.2, which again rewrites the packet header but this time mentioning that the response is from 100.0.0.3 and sends it back to 100.0.0.1.

WHAT-IS-PORT-FORWARDIN-RECIEVE-PROCESS

Even though the actual request of 100.0.0.1 never directly reached 100.0.0.3 due to multiple interception and rerouting of data packets, 100.0.0.1 still sees the response to be from 100.0.0.3 despite 100.0.0.4 being the end destination.

How do I setup port forwarding?

Configuring port forwarding with your router is quite easy considering you know a couple of things like:

  • Your router configurations like gateway address (example: 192.166.0.2). If you are unsure about your specific router configuration then you should check out this link
  • Port and range of ports required for forwarding.
  • IP addresses of the computers you are forwarding to.

Well than now that, you have everything out of the way it is time to configure port forwarding on your router.

  1. Open up the configurations page of your particular router and look for the page that says port forwarding, which can be typically found under security settings.
  2. Now look for where it says Application and enter whatever name you like, just make sure it makes sense to you.
  3. After that, define the starting and ending ranges of ports that you wish to forward to. If you just want to forward to a single port then you might just want to provide the starting port and leave the ending port empty.
  4. Now select the protocols. You can choose the one you prefer as it totally depends upon your specific requirements.
  5. Enter the IP addresses you want to forward to.
  6. That’s it, you are done.

WHAT-IS-PORT-FORWARDING-MANUAL-SETTINGS

You can also check out an example of port forwarding rules below.

NamePort rangeProtocolsIP addresses
Torrenting5600TCP&UDP192.168.2.1
Streaming7777TCP192.168.2.2
Gaming12300TCP&UDP192.168.2.3
Home2334- 2555TCP&UDP192.168.2.4

Port forwarding in reference to proxies & VPNs

The concept of port forwarding is nothing new, in fact you won’t believe me if I say you have probably already used port forwarding before. That is because proxies and VPN services use port forwarding technique to prevent users from directly coming in to contact with the web servers. Similar to the working of port forwarding discussed above, proxy server and VPNs intercepts, rewrites and transmits data packets back and forth though out the network.

What is port forwarding used for?

As I said earlier, there are many commercial and noncommercial uses of port forwarding; however, I still feel we should discuss some of its real world examples. Therefore, I have compiled a comprehensive list all the potential uses of port forwarding in a table below.

Remotely access IP cameras from anywhere.
Remotely access computing resources
Online and server based gaming
Email and online chatting securely
Boost up torrenting speeds
Port testing
Router optimization
Access geo restricted websites
Protection against DDoS Attacks

Is Port Forwarding even safe?

Port forwarding through a router in itself is not secure, as there are plenty of loopholes to deal with. Malicious hackers often target vulnerabilities in online computing devices through open ports. However, as we discussed earlier, port forwarding enabled routers automatically restricts unauthorized IPs from establishing connection with your device.

Therefore, the only thing that would be comprised in such a case would be your router, which is great considering that your computer, which has all your important files and data is left unharmed. With that said, a compromised router does leave you with one less layer of security to keep you out of harm’s way. Therefore, you should consider a VPN service to carry on your port forwarding tasks as opposed to using port forwarding on its own.

Does VPN work with Port Forwarding

Technically most VPNs do not tend to work with port forwarding in place, simply because it blocks many connection requests that you might require. Therefore, you may have to compromise on either unwanted network traffic or privacy. With that said, some VPN providers actually include a port forwarding add-on with their application, which safely restricts unwanted traffic while providing complete access to safe web pages, games and file sharing programs.

Wrapping up!

While port forwarding is a convenient way of streamlining and securing network traffic, there are a couple of issues with this technology that you should be aware of. For one, port forwarding restricts all the traffic to a single port, therefore the computing resource that is implementing  port forwarding on network requests can only view the information as coming from the router instead of the intended machine.

Besides that, port forwarding can open up network ports on other commuting resource, which can potentially allow unwanted or unauthorized access. That said, port forwarding through a trusted and reputable VPN service can expose you to a world online privacy and internet freedom.

I hope that you found my blog useful and I hope I helped you explain what is port forwarding a bit better.

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Abdul Rehman

Abdul Rehman

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Abdul Rehman's Biography :


Abdul Rehman is a simple Tech savvy bloke with a neck for writing. Monday to Friday, he enjoys delving down in to the inner workings of privacy and security of top-tier VPN providers. Nevertheless, on the weekend he is a bit modest and simply loves spending time with his dog.


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