#TechStaff: What is Network Address Translation (NAT)?

NAT stands for Network Address Translation. It is a very important and one of the most crucial configurations done on a network in-order to allow users to access Internet services.

By Cisco Eng. Shingie Lev Muringi 

NAT was technically designed to conserve public IPv4 Addresses which are limited in numbers and can no longer cater for the expected 50 billion devices on the Internet by 2020.        

NAT has many uses, but its primary use is to conserve public IPv4 addresses. It does this by allowing networks to use private IPv4 addresses internally and providing translation to a public address only when needed. NAT has an added benefit of adding a degree of privacy and security to a network, because it hides internal IPv4 addresses from outside networks.

NAT-enabled routers can be configured with one or more valid public IPv4 addresses. These public addresses are known as the NAT pool. When an internal device sends traffic out of the network, the NAT-enabled router translates the internal IPv4 address of the device to a public address from the NAT pool. To outside devices, all traffic entering and exiting the network appears to have a public IPv4 address from the provided pool of addresses.


A simple architecture showing how NAT is implemented on a small enterprise network

A NAT router typically operates at the border of a stub network. A stub network is a network that has a single connection to its neighboring network, one way in and one way out of the network. In the example in the figure, R2 is a border router. As seen from the ISP, R2 forms a stub network.

When a device inside the stub network wants to communicate with a device outside of its network, the packet is forwarded to the border router. The border router performs the NAT process, translating the internal private address of the device to a public, outside, routable address.

Note: The connection to the ISP may also use a private address or a public address that is shared among customers. For the purposes of this chapter, a public address is shown.

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