Virtual Public Network

Using the GNUnet Virtual Public Network (VPN) application you can tunnel IP traffic over GNUnet. Moreover, the VPN comes with built-in protocol translation and DNS-ALG support, enabling IPv4-to-IPv6 protocol translation (in both directions). This chapter documents how to use the GNUnet VPN.

The first thing to note about the GNUnet VPN is that it is a public network. All participating peers can participate and there is no secret key to control access. So unlike common virtual private networks, the GNUnet VPN is not useful as a means to provide a "private" network abstraction over the Internet. The GNUnet VPN is a virtual network in the sense that it is an overlay over the Internet, using its own routing mechanisms and can also use an internal addressing scheme. The GNUnet VPN is an Internet underlay — TCP/IP applications run on top of it.

The VPN is currently only supported on GNU/Linux systems. Support for operating systems that support TUN (such as FreeBSD) should be easy to add (or might not even require any coding at all — we just did not test this so far). Support for other operating systems would require re-writing the code to create virtual network interfaces and to intercept DNS requests.

The VPN does not provide good anonymity. While requests are routed over the GNUnet network, other peers can directly see the source and destination of each (encapsulated) IP packet. Finally, if you use the VPN to access Internet services, the peer sending the request to the Internet will be able to observe and even alter the IP traffic. We will discuss additional security implications of using the VPN later in this chapter.

Setting up an Exit node

Any useful operation with the VPN requires the existence of an exit node in the GNUnet Peer-to-Peer network. Exit functionality can only be enabled on peers that have regular Internet access. If you want to play around with the VPN or support the network, we encourage you to setup exit nodes. This chapter documents how to setup an exit node.

There are four types of exit functions an exit node can provide, and using the GNUnet VPN to access the Internet will only work nicely if the first three types are provided somewhere in the network. The four exit functions are:

  • DNS: allow other peers to use your DNS resolver

  • IPv4: allow other peers to access your IPv4 Internet connection

  • IPv6: allow other peers to access your IPv6 Internet connection

  • Local service: allow other peers to access a specific TCP or UDP service your peer is providing

By enabling "exit" in gnunet-setup and checking the respective boxes in the "exit" tab, you can easily choose which of the above exit functions you want to support.

Note, however, that by supporting the first three functions you will allow arbitrary other GNUnet users to access the Internet via your system. This is somewhat similar to running a Tor exit node. The Torproject has a nice article about what to consider if you want to do this here. We believe that generally running a DNS exit node is completely harmless.

The exit node configuration does currently not allow you to restrict the Internet traffic that leaves your system. In particular, you cannot exclude SMTP traffic (or block port 25) or limit to HTTP traffic using the GNUnet configuration. However, you can use your host firewall to restrict outbound connections from the virtual tunnel interface. This is highly recommended. In the future, we plan to offer a wider range of configuration options for exit nodes.

Note that by running an exit node GNUnet will configure your kernel to perform IP-forwarding (for IPv6) and NAT (for IPv4) so that the traffic from the virtual interface can be routed to the Internet. In order to provide an IPv6-exit, you need to have a subnet routed to your host’s external network interface and assign a subrange of that subnet to the GNUnet exit’s TUN interface.

When running a local service, you should make sure that the local service is (also) bound to the IP address of your EXIT interface (e.g. It will NOT work if your local service is just bound to loopback. You may also want to create a "VPN" record in your zone of the GNU Name System to make it easy for others to access your service via a name instead of just the full service descriptor. Note that the identifier you assign the service can serve as a passphrase or shared secret, clients connecting to the service must somehow learn the service’s name. VPN records in the GNU Name System can make this easier.

Fedora and the Firewall

When using an exit node on Fedora 15, the standard firewall can create trouble even when not really exiting the local system! For IPv4, the standard rules seem fine. However, for IPv6 the standard rules prohibit traffic from the network range of the virtual interface created by the exit daemon to the local IPv6 address of the same interface (which is essentially loopback traffic, so you might suspect that a standard firewall would leave this traffic alone). However, as somehow for IPv6 the traffic is not recognized as originating from the local system (and as the connection is not already "established"), the firewall drops the traffic. You should still get ICMPv6 packets back, but that’s obviously not very useful.

Possible ways to fix this include disabling the firewall (do you have a good reason for having it on?) or disabling the firewall at least for the GNUnet exit interface (or the respective IPv4/IPv6 address range). The best way to diagnose these kinds of problems in general involves setting the firewall to REJECT instead of DROP and to watch the traffic using wireshark (or tcpdump) to see if ICMP messages are generated when running some tests that should work.

Setting up VPN node for protocol translation and tunneling

The GNUnet VPN/PT subsystem enables you to tunnel IP traffic over the VPN to an exit node, from where it can then be forwarded to the Internet. This section documents how to setup VPN/PT on a node. Note that you can enable both the VPN and an exit on the same peer. In this case, IP traffic from your system may enter your peer’s VPN and leave your peer’s exit. This can be useful as a means to do protocol translation. For example, you might have an application that supports only IPv4 but needs to access an IPv6-only site. In this case, GNUnet would perform 4to6 protocol translation between the VPN (IPv4) and the Exit (IPv6). Similarly, 6to4 protocol translation is also possible. However, the primary use for GNUnet would be to access an Internet service running with an IP version that is not supported by your ISP. In this case, your IP traffic would be routed via GNUnet to a peer that has access to the Internet with the desired IP version.

Setting up an entry node into the GNUnet VPN primarily requires you to enable the "VPN/PT" option in "gnunet-setup". This will launch the "gnunet-service-vpn", "gnunet-service-dns" and "gnunet-daemon-pt" processes. The "gnunet-service-vpn" will create a virtual interface which will be used as the target for your IP traffic that enters the VPN. Additionally, a second virtual interface will be created by the "gnunet-service-dns" for your DNS traffic. You will then need to specify which traffic you want to tunnel over GNUnet. If your ISP only provides you with IPv4 or IPv6-access, you may choose to tunnel the other IP protocol over the GNUnet VPN. If you do not have an ISP (and are connected to other GNUnet peers via WLAN), you can also choose to tunnel all IP traffic over GNUnet. This might also provide you with some anonymity. After you enable the respective options and restart your peer, your Internet traffic should be tunneled over the GNUnet VPN.

The GNUnet VPN uses DNS-ALG to hijack your IP traffic. Whenever an application resolves a hostname (like ‘’), the "gnunet-daemon-pt" will instruct the "gnunet-service-dns" to intercept the request (possibly route it over GNUnet as well) and replace the normal answer with an IP in the range of the VPN’s interface. "gnunet-daemon-pt" will then tell "gnunet-service-vpn" to forward all traffic it receives on the TUN interface via the VPN to the original destination.

For applications that do not use DNS, you can also manually create such a mapping using the gnunet-vpn command-line tool. Here, you specify the desired address family of the result (e.g. "-4"), and the intended target IP on the Internet (e.g. "-i") and "gnunet-vpn" will tell you which IP address in the range of your VPN tunnel was mapped.

gnunet-vpn can also be used to access "internal" services offered by GNUnet nodes. So if you happen to know a peer and a service offered by that peer, you can create an IP tunnel to that peer by specifying the peer’s identity, service name and protocol (–tcp or –udp) and you will again receive an IP address that will terminate at the respective peer’s service.