AWS News Blog

Let Your IPv6-only Workloads Connect to IPv4 Services

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Today we are announcing two new capabilities for Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC) NAT gateway and Amazon Route 53, allowing your IPv6-only workloads to transparently communicate with IPV4-only services. Curious? Read on; I have details for you.

Some of you are running very large workloads involving tens of thousands of virtual machines, containers, or micro-services. To do so, you configured these workloads to work in the IPv6 address space. This avoids the problem of running out of available IPv4 addresses (a single VPC has a maximum theoretical size of 65,536 IPv4 addresses, compared to /56 ranges for IPv6, allowing for a maximum theoretical size of 2^73 -1 IPv6 addresses), and it saves you from additional headaches caused by managing complex IPv4-based networks (think about non-overlapping subnets in between VPCs belonging to multiple AWS accounts, AWS Regions, or on-premises networks).

But can you really run an IPv6 workload in isolation from the rest of the IPv4 world? Most of you told us it is important to let such workloads continue to communicate with IPv4 services, either to make calls to older APIs or just as a transient design, while you are migrating multiple dependent workloads from IPv4 to IPv6. Not having the ability to call an IPv4 service from IPv6 hosts makes migrations slower and more difficult than it needs to be. It obliged some of you to build custom solutions that are hard to maintain.

This is why we are launching two new capabilities allowing your IPv6 workloads to transparently communicate with IPv4 services: NAT64 (read “six to four”) for the VPC NAT gateway and DNS64 (also “six to four”) for the Amazon Route 53 resolver.

How Does It Work?
As illustrated by the following diagram, let’s imagine I have an Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instance with an IPv6-only address that has to make an API call to an IPv4 service running on another EC2 instance. In the diagram, I chose to have the IPv4-only host in a separate VPC in the same AWS account, but these capabilities work to connect to any IPv4 service, whether in the same VPC or in another AWS account’s VPC, your on-premises network, or even on the public internet. My IPv6-only host only knows the DNS name of the service.

NAT64 DNS64 beforeHere is the sequence happening when the IPv6-only host initiates a connection to the IPv4 service:

1. The IPV6 host makes a DNS call to resolve the service name to an IP address. Without DNS64, Route 53 would have returned an IPv4 address. The IPv6-only hosts would not have been able to connect to that IPv4 address. But starting today, you can turn on DNS64 for your subnet. The DNS resolver first checks if the record contains an IPv6 address (AAAA record). If it does, the IPv6 address is returned. The IPv6 host can connect to the service using just IPv6. When the record only contains an IPv4 address, the Route 53 resolver synthesizes an IPv6 address by prepending the well-known 64:ff9b::/96 prefix to the IPv4 address.

For example, when the IPv4 service has the address, Route 53 returns 64:ff9b::ffff:22cf:fa3e.

IPv6 (hexadecimal) : 64:ff9b::ffff: 22 cf fa 3e
IPv4 (decimal) : 34 207 250 62

64:ff9b::/96is a well-known prefix defined in the RFC 6052 proposed standard to the IETF. Reading the text of the standard is a great way to fall asleep rapidly to learn all the details about IPv6 to IPv4 translation.

2. The IPv6 host initiates a connection to 64:ff9b::ffff:22cf:fa3e. You may configure subnet routing to send all packets starting with 64:ff9b::/96 to the NAT gateway. The NAT gateway recognizes the IPv6 address prefix, extracts the IPv4 address from it, and initiates an IPv4 connection to the destination. As usual, the source IPv4 address is the IPv4 address of the NAT gateway itself.

3. When the packet response arrives, the NAT gateway repopulates the destination host IPv6 address and prepends the well-known prefix 64:ff9b::/96 to the source IP address of the response packet.

Now that you understand how it works, how can you configure your VPC to take advantage of these two new capabilities?

How to Get Started
To enable these two capabilities, I have to adjust two configurations: first, I flag the subnets that require DNS64 translation, and second, I add a route to the IPv6 subnet routing table to send part of the IPv6 traffic to the NAT gateway.

To enable DNS64, I have to use the new --enable-dns64 option to modify my existing subnets. In this demo, I use the modify-subnet-attribute command. This is a one-time operation. I can do it using the VPC API, the AWS Command Line Interface (AWS CLI), or the AWS Management Console. Notice this is a subnet-level configuration that must be turned on explicitly. By default, the existing behavior is maintained.

aws ec2 modify-subnet-attribute --subnet-id subnet-123 --enable-dns64

I have to add a route to the subnet’s routing table to allow VPC to forward IPv6 packets prefixed by DNS64 to the NAT gateway. It tells it to route all packets with destination 64:ff9b::/96 to the NAT gateway.

aws ec2 create-route --route-table-id rtb-123 –-destination-ipv6-cidr-block 64:ff9b::/96 –-nat-gateway-id nat-123

The following diagram illustrates these two simple configuration changes.

NAT64 DNS64 afterWith these two simple changes, my IPv6-only workloads in the subnet may now communicate with IPv4 services. The IPv4 service might live in the same VPC, in another VPC, or anywhere on the internet.

You can continue to use your existing NAT gateway, and no change is required on the gateway itself or on the routing table attached to the NAT gateway subnet.

Pricing and Availability
These two new capabilities to the VPC NAT gateway and Route 53 are available today in all AWS Regions at no additional costs. Regular NAT gateway charges may apply.

Go and build your IPv6-only networks!

-- seb
Sébastien Stormacq

Sébastien Stormacq

Seb has been writing code since he first touched a Commodore 64 in the mid-eighties. He inspires builders to unlock the value of the AWS cloud, using his secret blend of passion, enthusiasm, customer advocacy, curiosity and creativity. His interests are software architecture, developer tools and mobile computing. If you want to sell him something, be sure it has an API. Follow him on Twitter @sebsto.