The -t option specifies which table to use. Per default, the filter table is used. We may specify one of the following tables with the -t option. Do note that this is an extremely brief summary of some of the contents of the Traversing of tables and chains chapter.
Table 9-1. Tables
The nat table is used mainly for Network Address Translation. "NAT"ed packets get their IP addresses altered, according to our rules. Packets in a stream only traverse this table once. We assume that the first packet of a stream is allowed. The rest of the packets in the same stream are automatically "NAT"ed or Masqueraded etc, and will be subject to the same actions as the first packet. These will, in other words, not go through this table again, but will nevertheless be treated like the first packet in the stream. This is the main reason why you should not do any filtering in this table, which we will discuss at greater length further on. The PREROUTING chain is used to alter packets as soon as they get in to the firewall. The OUTPUT chain is used for altering locally generated packets (i.e., on the firewall) before they get to the routing decision. Finally we have the POSTROUTING chain which is used to alter packets just as they are about to leave the firewall.
This table is used mainly for mangling packets. Among other things, we can change the contents of different packets and that of their headers. Examples of this would be to change the TTL, TOS or MARK. Note that the MARK is not really a change to the packet, but a mark value for the packet is set in kernel space. Other rules or programs might use this mark further along in the firewall to filter or do advanced routing on; tc is one example. The table consists of five built in chains, the PREROUTING, POSTROUTING, OUTPUT, INPUT and FORWARD chains. PREROUTING is used for altering packets just as they enter the firewall and before they hit the routing decision. POSTROUTING is used to mangle packets just after all routing decisions have been made. OUTPUT is used for altering locally generated packets after they enter the routing decision. INPUT is used to alter packets after they have been routed to the local computer itself, but before the user space application actually sees the data. FORWARD is used to mangle packets after they have hit the first routing decision, but before they actually hit the last routing decision. Note that mangle can't be used for any kind of Network Address Translation or Masquerading, the nat table was made for these kinds of operations.
The filter table should be used exclusively for filtering packets. For example, we could DROP, LOG, ACCEPT or REJECT packets without problems, as we can in the other tables. There are three chains built in to this table. The first one is named FORWARD and is used on all non-locally generated packets that are not destined for our local host (the firewall, in other words). INPUT is used on all packets that are destined for our local host (the firewall) and OUTPUT is finally used for all locally generated packets.
The raw table and its chains are used before any other tables in netfilter. It was introduced to use the NOTRACK target. This table is rather new and is only available, if compiled, with late 2.6 kernels and later. The raw table contains two chains. The PREROUTING and OUTPUT chain, where they will handle packets before they hit any of the other netfilter subsystems. The PREROUTING chain can be used for all incoming packets to this machine, or that are forwarded, while the OUTPUT chain can be used to alter the locally generated packets before they hit any of the other netfilter subsystems.
The above details should have explained the basics about the three different tables that are available. They should be used for totally different purposes, and you should know what to use each chain for. If you do not understand their usage, you may well dig a pit for yourself in your firewall, into which you will fall as soon as someone finds it and pushes you into it. We have already discussed the requisite tables and chains in more detail within the Traversing of tables and chains chapter. If you do not understand this fully, I advise you to go back and read through it again.