4.3. User-land states

As you have seen, packets may take on several different states within the kernel itself, depending on what protocol we are talking about. However, outside the kernel, we only have the 4 states as described previously. These states can mainly be used in conjunction with the state match which will then be able to match packets based on their current connection tracking state. The valid states are NEW, ESTABLISHED, RELATED and INVALID states. The following table will briefly explain each possible state.

Table 4-1. User-land states

NEWThe NEW state tells us that the packet is the first packet that we see. This means that the first packet that the conntrack module sees, within a specific connection, will be matched. For example, if we see a SYN packet and it is the first packet in a connection that we see, it will match. However, the packet may as well not be a SYN packet and still be considered NEW. This may lead to certain problems in some instances, but it may also be extremely helpful when we need to pick up lost connections from other firewalls, or when a connection has already timed out, but in reality is not closed.
ESTABLISHEDThe ESTABLISHED state has seen traffic in both directions and will then continuously match those packets. ESTABLISHED connections are fairly easy to understand. The only requirement to get into an ESTABLISHED state is that one host sends a packet, and that it later on gets a reply from the other host. The NEW state will upon receipt of the reply packet to or through the firewall change to the ESTABLISHED state. ICMP error messages and redirects etc can also be considered as ESTABLISHED, if we have generated a packet that in turn generated the ICMP message.
RELATEDThe RELATED state is one of the more tricky states. A connection is considered RELATED when it is related to another already ESTABLISHED connection. What this means, is that for a connection to be considered as RELATED, we must first have a connection that is considered ESTABLISHED. The ESTABLISHED connection will then spawn a connection outside of the main connection. The newly spawned connection will then be considered RELATED, if the conntrack module is able to understand that it is RELATED. Some good examples of connections that can be considered as RELATED are the FTP-data connections that are considered RELATED to the FTP control port, and the DCC connections issued through IRC. This could be used to allow ICMP replies, FTP transfers and DCC's to work properly through the firewall. Do note that most TCP protocols and some UDP protocols that rely on this mechanism are quite complex and send connection information within the payload of the TCP or UDP data segments, and hence require special helper modules to be correctly understood.
INVALIDThe INVALID state means that the packet can not be identified or that it does not have any state. This may be due to several reasons, such as the system running out of memory or ICMP error messages that do not respond to any known connections. Generally, it is a good idea to DROP everything in this state.

These states can be used together with the --state match to match packets based on their connection tracking state. This is what makes the state machine so incredibly strong and efficient for our firewall. Previously, we often had to open up all ports above 1024 to let all traffic back into our local networks again. With the state machine in place this is not necessary any longer, since we can now just open up the firewall for return traffic and not for all kinds of other traffic.