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    This document describes details on how NAT-T works.





    ESP  encrypts all critical information, encapsulating the entire inner TCP/UDP datagram within an ESP header. ESP is an IP protocol in the same sense  that TCP and UDP are IP protocols (OSI Network Layer 3), but it does not  have any port  information like TCP/UDP (OSI Transport Layer 4).  This is a difference from  ISAKMP which uses UDP port 500 as its transport layer.


    PAT (Port Address Translation) is used to provide many hosts access to the internet through the same publically routable ip address.  PAT works by building a database that binds each local host's ip address to the publically routable ip address using a specific port number.  In this manner, any packet sourced from an inside host will have its IP header modified by the PAT devcie such that the source address and port number are changed from the RFC 1918 address/port to the publically routable ip address and a new unique port.  Referencing this binding database, any return traffic can be untranslated in the same manner.


    Q1: Why can't an ESP packet pass through a PAT device?

    It is precisely because ESP is a protocol without ports that prevents it from passing through PAT devices.  Because there is no port to change in the ESP packet, the binding database can't assign a unique port to the packet at the time it changes its RFC 1918 address to the publically routable address.  If the packet can't be assigned a unique port then the database binding won't complete and there is no way to tell which inside host sourced this packet.  As a result there is no way for the return traffic to be untranslated successfully.



    Q2: How does NAT-T work with ISAKMP/IPsec?

    NAT Traversal performs two tasks:

    1. Detects if both ends support NAT-T
    2. Detects NAT devices along the transmission path (NAT-Discovery)


    Step one occurs in ISAKMP Main Mode messages one and two.  If both devices support NAT-T, then NAT-Discovery is performed in ISKAMP Main Mode messages (packets) three and four.  THe NAT-D payload sent is a hash of the original IP address and port. Devices exchange two NAT-D packets, one with source IP and port, and another with destination IP and port. The receiving device recalculates the hash and compares it with the hash it received; if they don't match a NAT device exists. 

    If a NAT device has been determined to exist, NAT-T will change the ISAKMP transport with ISAKMP Main Mode messages five and six, at which point all ISAKMP packets change from UDP port 500 to UDP port 4500.  NAT-T encapsulates the Quick Mode (IPsec Phase 2) exchange inside UDP 4500 as well.  After Quick Mode completes data that gets encrypted on the IPsec Security Association is encapsulated inside UDP port 4500 as well, thus providing a port to be used in the PAT device for translation. 


    To visualize how this works and how the IP packet is encapsulated:

    1. Clear text packet will be encrypted/encapsulated inside an ESP packet
    2. ESP packet will be encapsulated inside a UDP/4500 packet.


    NAT-T  encapsulates ESP packets inside UDP and assigns both the Source and Destination ports as 4500.  After this encapsulation there is enough information for the PAT database binding to build successfully.  Now ESP packets can be translated through a PAT device.


    When a packet with source and destination port of 4500 is sent through a PAT device (from inside to outside), the PAT device will change the source port from 4500 to a random high port, while keeping the destination port of 4500. When a different NAT-T session passes through the PAT device, it will change the source port from 4500 to a different random high port, and so on. This way each local host has a unique database entry in the PAT devices mapping its RFC1918 ip address/port4500 to the public ip address/high-port.

    Q3: What is the difference between NAT-T and IPSec-over-UDP ?


    Although both these protocols work similiar, there are two main differences.


    • When NAT-T is enabled, it encapsulates the ESP packet with UDP only when it encounters a NAT device. Otherwise, no UDP encapsulation is done. But, IPSec Over UDP, always encapsulates the packet with UDP.


    • NAT-T always use the standard port, UDP-4500. It is not configurable. IPSec over UDP normally uses UDP-10000 but this could be any other port based on the configuration on the VPN server.











    In above diagram, how does the device with PAT make unique identifiers in the PAT Table for both users if NAT-T sets the source and destination UDP ports 4500 ?


    If client A sends a packet, the packet will have the form:

    src:  dst:         - >       src:  dst:


    If client B sends a packet, the packet will have the form:

    src:  dst:         - >       src:  dst:


    the response from the server will have the form to each Client:

    src:  dst:                    - >       src:  dst:
    src:  dst:                    - >       src:  dst:







    Here is the RFC for the IPSec aware NAT (NAT-Traversal) for your reference:

    (It includes the full explaination of the negotiation for your reference)

    Document was create from the following discussion thread----


    Level 1
    Level 1

    Thank you very much. I'm definately going to need this tomorrow.

    Level 1
    Level 1

    Thank you that is clear my doupts

    Level 4
    Level 4

    Thanks a lot for this explanation.

    Julio Carvajal
    VIP Alumni
    VIP Alumni

    Amazing document,

    Good job

    shine pothen
    Level 3
    Level 3

    Thanks for the clear understanding :)

    Level 1
    Level 1

    The NAT-D just apply if exist a device that make just PAT? If there is a device that apply NAT 1 to 1 (for example an static NAT), also apply NAT-T?

    Thans in advance for the answer.

    Best Regards.


    uday bhatia
    Level 1
    Level 1

    Explained nicely.. Thanks.. :)

    Very Nice Explained.!

    Not applicable

    Very good document! Thanks for this!

    Community Member

    Thank you very much for your beneficial explanation 

    Level 1
    Level 1

    Great One..........

    Loc Nguyen
    Level 1
    Level 1

    Great explanation! Thanks you.

    Community Member

    NAT-T is used to detect NAT device in the path and change port to UDP 4500. This UDP port 4500 is used to PAT ESP packet over ipsec unaware NAT device.

    if this UDP encapsulation in not done then the ESP packet will be dropped and data will not flow.

    well my question is : the ESP packet starts after 9 th packet of quick mode. but the NAT-T is detected and changes the port from udp 500 to 4500 on 5th packet. why is this done on 5th packet, is there any particular reason to do this in 5th packet.

    Shakti Kumar
    Cisco Employee
    Cisco Employee

    Hi Arun ,

    The paramater for NAT-T detection is in phase 1 negotiation , developers wanted to enure that there is no issues with Nat-t i.e udp port 4500 being blocked somewhere in between or other issues that might be coming up with the udp port 4500 being used before hopping on to phase 2 negotiations, so if the tunnel i stuck in MM_wait_5 (responder) on MM_wait_6(initiator) with NAT being detected  , inspite of the correct pre-shared key used , we can then proceed with checking if port 4500 traffic is being dropped somewhere 



    Community Member

    One of the best descriptions of NAT-T

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