Setting up NAT on Amazon AWS

When it comes to Amazon AWS, there are a few options for configuring Network Address Translation (NAT).  Here is a brief overview.

NAT Gateway

NAT Gateway is a configuration very similar to Internet Gateway.  My understanding is that the only major difference between the NAT Gateway and the Internet Gateway is that you have the control over the external public IP address of the NAT Gateway.  That’ll be one of your allocated Elastic IPs (EIPs).  This option is the simplest out of the three that I considered.  If you need plain and simple NAT – than that’s a good one to go for.

NAT Instance

NAT Instance is a special purpose EC2 instance, which is configured to do NAT out of the box.  If you need anything on top of plain NAT (like load balancing, or detailed traffic monitoring, or firewalls), but don’t have enough confidence in your network and system administration skills, this is a good option to choose.

Custom Setup

If you are the Do It Yourself guy, this option is for you.   But it can get tricky.  Here are a few things that I went through, learnt and suffered through, so that you don’t have to (or future me, for that matter).

Let’s start from the beginning.  You’ve created your own Virtual Private Cloud (VPC).  In that cloud, you’ve created two subnets – Public and Private (I’ll use this for example, and will come back to what happens with more).  Both of these subnets use the same routing table with the Internet Gateway.  Now you’ve launched an EC2 instance into your Public subnet and assigned it a private IP address.  This will be your NAT instance.  You’ve also launched another instance into the Private subnet, which will be your test client.  So far so good.

This instance will be used for translating internal IP addresses from the Private subnet to the external public IP address.  So, we, obviously, need an external IP address.  Let’s allocate an Elastic IP and associate it with the EC2 instance.  Easy peasy.

Now, we’ll need to create another routing table, using our NAT instance as the default gateway.  Once created, this routing table should be associated with our Private subnet.  This will cause all the machines on that network to use the NAT instance for any external communications.

Let’s do a quick side track here – security.  There are three levels that you should keep in mind here:

  • Network ACLs.  These are Amazon AWS access control lists, which control the traffic allowed in and out of the networks (such as our Public and Private subnets).  If the Network ACL prevents certain traffic, you won’t be able to reach the host, irrelevant of the host security configuration.  So, for the sake of the example, let’s allow all traffic in and out of both the Public and Private networks.  You can adjust it once your NAT is working.
  • Security Groups.  These are Amazon AWS permissions which control what type of traffic is allowed in or out of the network interface.  This is slightly confusing for hosts with the single interface, but super useful for machines with multiple network interfaces, especially if those interfaces are transferred between instances.  Create a single Security Group (for now, you can adjust this later), which will allow any traffic in from your VPC range of IPs, and any outgoing traffic.  Assign this Security Group to both EC2 instances.
  • Host firewall.  Chances are, you are using a modern Linux distribution for your NAT host.  This means that there is probably an iptables service running with some default configuration, which might prevent certain access.  I’m not going to suggest to disable it, especially on the machine facing the public Internet.  But just keep it in mind, and at the very least allow the ICMP protocol, if not from everywhere, then at least from your VPC IP range.

Now, on to the actual NAT.  It is technically possible to setup and use NAT on the machine with the single network interface, but you’d probably be frowned upon by other system and network administrators.  Furthermore, it doesn’t seem to be possible on the Amazon AWS infrastructure.  I’m not 100% sure about that, but I’ve spent more time than I had to figure this out and I failed miserably.

The rest of the steps would greatly benefit from a bunch of screenshots and step-by-step click through guides, which I am too lazy to do.  You can use this manual, as a base, even though it covers a slightly different, more advanced setup.  Also, you might want to have a look at CentOS 7 instructions for NAT configuration, and the discussion on the differences between SNAT and MASQUERADE.

We’ll need a second network interface.  You can create a new Network Interface with the IP in your Private subnet and attach it to the NAT instance.  Here comes a word of caution:  there is a limit on how many network interfaces can be attached to EC2 instance.  This limit is based on the type of the instance.   So, if you want to use a t2.nano or t2.micro instance, for example, you’d be limited to only two interfaces.  That’s why I’ve used the example with two networks – to have a third interface added, you’d need a much bigger instance, like t2.medium. (Which is a total overkill for my purposes.)

Now that you’ve attached the second interface to your EC2 instance, we have a few things to do.  First, you need to disable “Source/Destination Check” on the second network interface.  You can do it in your AWS Console, or maybe even through the API (I haven’t gone that deep yet).

It is time to adjust the configuration of our EC2 instance.  I’ll assume CentOS 7 Linux distribution, but it’d be very easy to adjust to whatever other Linux you are running.

Firstly, we need to configure the second network interface.  The easiest way to do this is to copy /etc/sysconfig/network-scripts/ifcfg-eth0 file into /etc/sysconfig/network-scripts/ifcfg-eth1, and then edit the eth1 one file changing the DEVICE variable to “eth1“.  Before you restart your network service, also edit /etc/sysconfig/network file and add the following: GATEWAYDEV=eth0 .  This will tell the operating system to use the first network interface (eth0) as the gateway device.  Otherwise, it’ll be sending things into the Private network and things won’t work as you expect them.  Now, restart the network service and make sure that both network interfaces are there, with correct IPs and that your routes are fine.

Secondly, we need to tweak the kernel for the NAT job (sounds funny, doesn’t it?).  Edit your /etc/sysctl.conf file and make sure it has the following lines in it:

# Enable IP forwarding
# Disable ICMP redirects

Apply the changes with sysctl -p.

Thirdly, and lastly, configure iptables to perform the network address translation.  Edit /etc/sysconfig/iptables and make sure you have the following:

:PREROUTING ACCEPT [48509:2829006]
:INPUT ACCEPT [33058:1879130]
:OUTPUT ACCEPT [57243:3567265]
:POSTROUTING ACCEPT [55162:3389500]

Adjust the IP range from to your VPC range or the network that you want to NAT.  Restart the iptables service and check that everything is hunky-dory:

  1. The NAT instance can ping a host on the Internet (like
  2. The NAT instance can ping a host on the Private network.
  3. The host on the Private network can ping the NAT instance.
  4. The host on the Private network can ping a host on the Internet (like

If all that works fine, don’t forget to adjust your Network ACLs, Security Groups, and iptables to whatever level of paranoia appropriate for your environment.  If something is still not working, check all of the above again, especially for security layers, IP addresses (I spent a coupe of hours trying to find the problem, when it was the IP address typo – 10.0.0/16 – not the most obvious of things), network masks, etc.

Hope this helps.

Forcing Amazon Linux AMI compatibility with CentOS in Ansible

One of the things that makes Ansible so awesome is a huge collection of shared roles over at Ansible Galaxy.  These bring you best practices, flexible configurations and in general save hours and hours of hardcore swearing and hair pulling.

Each role usually supports multiple versions of multiple Linux distributions.  However, you’ll find that the majority of the supported distributions are Ubuntu, Debian, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, CentOS, and Fedora.  The rest aren’t as popular.

Which brings me to the point with Amazon Linux AMI.  Amazon Linux AMI is mostly compatible with CentOS, but it uses a different version approach, which means that most of those Ansible roles will ignore or complain about not supporting Amazon AMI.

Here is an example I came across yesterday from the dj-wasabi.zabbix-server role.  The template for the Yum repository uses ansible_os_major_version variable, which is expected to be similar to Red Hat / CentOS version number – 5, 6, 7, etc.  Amazon Linux AMI’s major version is reported as “NA” – not available.   That’s probably because Amazon Linux AMI versions are date-based – with the latest one being 2016.03.

name=Zabbix Official Repository - $basearch
baseurl={{ zabbix_version }}/rhel/{{ ansible_distribution_major_version }}/$basearch/

Officially, Amazon Linux AMI is not CentOS or Red Hat Enterprise Linux.  But if you don’t care about such little nuances, and you are brave enough to experiment and assume things, than you can make that role work, by simply setting the appropriate variables to the values that you want.

First, here is a standalone test.yml playbook to try things out:

- name: Test
  hosts: localhost
  - set_fact: ansible_distribution_major_version=6
    when: ansible_distribution == "Amazon"
  - debug: msg={{ ansible_distribution_major_version }}

Let’s run it and look at the output:

$ ansible-playbook test.yml

PLAY [Test] *******************************************************************

GATHERING FACTS ***************************************************************
ok: [localhost]

TASK: [set_fact ansible_distribution_major_version=6] *************************
ok: [localhost]

TASK: [debug msg={{ ansible_distribution_major_version }}] ********************
ok: [localhost] => {
  "msg": "6"

PLAY RECAP ********************************************************************
localhost : ok=3 changed=0 unreachable=0 failed=0

So far so good.  Now we need to integrate this into our playbook in such a way that the variable is set before the third-party role is executed.  For that, we’ll use pre_tasks.  Here is an example:

- name: Zabbix Server
  hosts: zabbix.server
  sudo: yes
    - set_fact: ansible_distribution_major_version=6
      when: ansible_distribution == "Amazon" and ansible_distribution_major_version == "NA"
    - role: dj-wasabi.zabbix-server

A minor twist here is also checking if the major version is not set yet. You can skip that, or you can change it, for example, to examine the Amazon Linux AMI version and set corresponding CentOS version.

Let’s Encrypt on CentOS 7 and Amazon AMI

The last few weeks were super busy at work, so I accidentally let a few SSL certificates expire.  Renewing them is always annoying and time consuming, so I was pushing it until the last minute, and then some.

Instead of going the usual way for the renewal, I decided to try to the Let’s Encrypt deal.  (I’ve covered Let’s Encrypt before here and here.)  Basically, Let’s Encrypt is a new Certification Authority, created by Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), with the backing of Google, Cisco, Mozilla Foundation, and the like.  This new CA is issuing well recognized SSL certificates, for free.  Which is good.  But the best part is that they’ve setup the process to be as automated as possible.  All you need is to run a shell command to get the certificate and then another shell command in the crontab to renew the certificate automatically.  Certificates are only issued for 3 months, so you’d really want to have them automatically updated.

It took me longer than I expected to figure out how this whole thing works, but that’s because I’m not well versed in SSL, and because they have so many different options, suited for different web servers, and different sysadmin experience levels.

Eventually I made it work, and here is the complete process, so that I don’t have to figure it out again later.

We are running a mix of CentOS 7 and Amazon AMI servers, using both Nginx and Apache.   Here’s what I had to do.

First things first.  Install the Let’s Encrypt client software.  Supposedly there are several options, but I went for the official one.  Manual way:

# Install requirements
yum install git bc
cd /opt
git clone letsencrypt

Alternatively, you can use geerlingguy’s lets-encrypt-role for Ansible.

Secondly, we need to get a new certificate.  As I said before, there are multiple options here.  I decided to use the certonly way, so that I have better control over where things go, and so that I would minimize the web server downtime.

There are a few things that you need to specify for the new SSL certificate.  These are:

  • The list of domains, which the certificate should cover.  I’ll use and here.
  • The path to the web folder of the site.  I’ll use /var/www/vhosts/
  • The email address, which Let’s Encrypt will use to contact you in case there is something urgent.  I’ll use here.

Now, the command to get the SSL certificate is:

/opt/letsencrypt/certbot-auto certonly --webroot --email --agree-tos -w /var/www/vhosts/ -d -d

When you run this for the first time, you’ll see that a bunch of additional RPM packages will be installed, for the virtual environment to be created and used.  On CentOS 7 this is sufficient.  On Amazon AMI, the command will run, install things, and will fail with something like this:

WARNING: Amazon Linux support is very experimental at present...
if you would like to work on improving it, please ensure you have backups
and then run this script again with the --debug flag!

This is useful, but insufficient.  Before you can run successfully, you’ll also need to do the following:

yum install python26-virtualenv

Once that is done, run the certbot command with the –debug parameter, like so:

/opt/letsencrypt/certbot-auto certonly --webroot --email --agree-tos -w /var/www/vhosts/ -d -d --debug

This should produce a success message, with “Congratulations!” and all that.  The path to your certificate (somewhere in /etc/letsencrypt/live/ and its expiration date will be mentioned too.

If you didn’t get the success message, make sure that:

  • the domain, for which you are requesting a certificate, resolves back to the server, where you are running the certbot command.  Let’s Encrypt will try to access the site for verification purposes.
  • that public access is allowed to the /.well-known/ folder.  This is where Let’s Encrypt will store temporary verification files.  Note that the folder starts with dot, which in UNIX means hidden folder, which are often denied access to by many web server configurations.

Just drop a simple hello.txt to the /.well-known/ folder and see if you can access it with the browser.  If you can, then Let’s Encrypt shouldn’t have any issues getting you a certification.  If all else fails, RTFM.

Now that you have the certificate generated, you’ll need to add it to the web server’s virtual host configuration.  How exactly to do this varies from web server to web server, and even between the different versions of the same web server.

For Apache version >= 2.4.8 you’ll need to do the following:

SSLEngine on
SSLCertificateKeyFile /etc/letsencrypt/live/
SSLCertificateFile /etc/letsencrypt/live/

For Apache version < 2.4.8 you’ll need to do the following:

SSLEngine on
SSLCertificateKeyFile /etc/letsencrypt/live/
SSLCertificateFile /etc/letsencrypt/live/
SSLCertificateChainFile /etc/letsencrypt/live/

For Nginx >= 1.3.7 you’ll need to do the following:

ssl_certificate /etc/letsencrypt/live/;
ssl_certificate_key /etc/letsencrypt/live/;

You’ll obviously need the additional SSL configuration options for protocols, ciphers and the like, which I won’t go into here, but here are a few useful links:

Once your SSL certificate is issued and web server is configured to use it, all you need is to add an entry to the crontab to renew the certificates which are expiring in 30 days or less.  You’ll only need a single entry for all your certificates on this machine.  Edit your /etc/crontab file and add the following (adjust for your web server software, obviously):

# Renew Let's Encrypt certificates at 6pm every Sunday
0 18 * * 0 root (/opt/letsencrypt/certbot-auto renew && service httpd restart)

That’s about it.  Once all is up and running, verify and adjust your SSL configuration, using Qualys SSL Labs excellent tool.

Absolute stupidity of include directive in /etc/sudoers, and Microsoft Azure

I’ve just spent three hours (!!!) trying to troubleshoot why sudo was misbehaving on a brand new CentOS 7 server.  I was doing the setup of two identical servers in parallel (for two different clients).   One server worked as expected, the other one didn’t.

The thing I was trying to do was trivial – allow users in the wheel group execution of sudo commands without password. I’ve done it a gadzillion times in the past, and probably at least a dozen times just this week alone.  Here’s what’s needed:

  1. Add user to the wheel group.
  2. Edit /etc/sudoers file to uncommen tthe line (as in: remove the hash comment character from the beginning of the file): # %wheel ALL=(ALL) NOPASSWD: ALL
  3. Enjoy!

Imagine my surprise when it only worked on one server and not on the other.  I’ve dug deep and wide.  Took a break. And dug again.  Then, I’ve summoned the great troubleshooting powers of my brother.  But even those didn’t help.

Lots of logging, diff-ing, strace-ing, swearing and hair pulling later, the problem was found and fixed.  The issue was due to two separate reasons.

Reason 1: /etc/sudoers syntax uses the hash character (#) for two different purposes.

  1. For comments, which there are plenty of in the file.
  2. For the “#include” and “#includedir” directives, which include other files into the configuration.

The default /etc/sudoers file is full of lengthy comments.  Just to give you and idea:

(root@host ~)# wc -l /etc/sudoers
118 /etc/sudoers
(root@host ~)# grep -v '^#' /etc/sudoers | grep -v '^$' | wc -l

Yup.  118 lines in total vs. 12 lines of configuration (comments and empty lines removed). Like with banner blindness, this causes comment blindness.  Especially towards the end of the file.  Especially if you’ve seen this file a billion times before.

And that’s where the problem starts.  Right at the bottom of the file, there are these two lines:

##Read drop-in files from /etc/sudoers.d (the # here does not mean a comment)
#includedir /etc/sudoers.d

Interesting, right? Usually there is nothing in the /etc/sudoers.d/ folder on the brand new CentOS box. But even if there was something, by now you’d assume that the include of the folder is commented out. Much like that wheel group configuration I mentioned earlier. I found it by accident, while reading sudoers(5) manual page, trying to find out if there are any other locations or defaults for included configurations. About 600 lines into the manual, there is this:

To include /etc/sudoers.local from within /etc/sudoers we 
would use the following line in /etc/sudoers:

    #include /etc/sudoers.local

When sudo reaches this line it will suspend processing of 
the current file (/etc/sudoers) and switch to 

So that comment is not a comment at all, but an include of the folder.  That’s the first part of the problem.

Reason #2: Windows Azure Linux Agent

As I mentioned above, the servers aren’t part of my infrastructure – they were provided by the clients.  I was basically given an IP address, a username and a password for each server – which is usually all I need.  In most cases I don’t really care where the server is hosted and what’s the hosting company in use.  Turns out, I should.

The server with the problem was hosted on the Microsoft Azure cloud infrastructure.  I assumed I was working off a brand new vanilla CentOS 7 box, but in fact I wasn’t.  Microsoft adds packages to the default install.  On of the packages that it adds is the Windows Azure Linux Agent, which “rpm -qi WALinuxAgent” describes as following:

The Windows Azure Linux Agent supports the provisioning and running of Linux VMs in the Microsoft Azure cloud. This package should be installed on Linux disk images that are built to run in the Microsoft Azure environment.

Harmless, right? Well, not so much.  What I found in the /etc/sudoers.d/ folder was a little file, called waagent, which included the different sudo configuration for the user which I had a problem with.

During the troubleshooting process, I’ve created a new test user, added the account to the wheel group and found out that it was working fine.  From there, I needed to find the differences between the two users.

I guess, the user that I was using initially was created by the client’s system administrator using Microsoft Azure web interface.  A quick Google search brings this page from the Azure documentation:

By default, the root user is disabled on Linux virtual machines in Azure. Users can run commands with elevated privileges by using the sudo command. However, the experience may vary depending on how the system was provisioned.

  1. SSH key and password OR password only – the virtual machine was provisioned with either a certificate (.CER file) or SSH key as well as a password, or just a user name and password. In this case sudo will prompt for the user’s password before executing the command.
  2. SSH key only – the virtual machine was provisioned with a certificate (.cer, .pem, or .pubfile) or SSH key, but no password. In this case sudo will not prompt for the user’s password before executing the command.

I checked the user’s home folder and found no keys in there, so I think it was provisioned using the first option, with password only.

I think Microsoft should make it much more obvious that the system behavior might be different.  Amazon AWS provides a good example to follow.  When you login into Amazon AMI instance, you see a message of the day (motd) banner, which looks like this:

$ ssh
Last login: Tue Apr  5 17:25:38 2016 from

       __|  __|_  )
       _|  (     /   Amazon Linux AMI


It’s dead obvious that you are now on the Amazon EC2 machine and you should adjust your expectations assumptions accordingly.

Deleting the file immediately solved the problem.  To avoid similar issues in the future, #includedir directive can be moved further up in the file, and surrounded by more visible comments.  Like, maybe, an ASCII art skull, or something.

ASCII skull

With that, I am off to heavy drinking and recovery… Stay sane!


Do Not Use Amazon Linux

I came across “Do Not Use Amazon Linux” opinion on Ex Ratione.  I have to say that I mostly agree with it.  When I initially started using Amazon Web Services, I assumed (due to time constraints mostly) that Amazon Linux was a close derivative of CentOs and I opted for that.  For the majority of things that affect applications in my environment that holds true, however it’s not all as simple as it sounds.

There are in fact differences that have to be taken into account.  Some of the configuration issues can be abstracted with the tools like Puppet (which I do use).  But not all of it.   I’ve been bitten by package names and version differences (hello PHP 5.3, 5.4, and 5.5; and MySQL and MariaDB) between Amazon AMI and CentOS distribution.  It’s an absolute worst when trying to push an application from our testing and development environments into the client’s production environment.  Especially when tight deadlines are involved.

One of the best reasons for CentOS is that developers can easily have their local environments (Vagrant anyone?) setup in an exactly the same way as test and production servers.

fpm – build packages for multiple platforms (deb, rpm, etc) with great ease and sanity

fpm – Effing package management! Build packages for multiple platforms (deb, rpm, etc) with great ease and sanity.

Red Hat and the CentOS Project Join Forces to Speed Open Source Innovation

Red Hat and the CentOS Project Join Forces to Speed Open Source Innovation

 Red Hat, Inc, (NYSE: RHT), the world’s leading provider of open source solutions, and the CentOS Project today announced they are joining forces to build a new CentOS, capable of driving forward development and adoption of next-generation open source technologies.