A Declarative API for Host Network Management

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Linux Networking API

This document was created over the year 2018, much before this git repository and web site were a reality. It presents the original design of Nmstate and provides the motiviation for its existence.


Networking has always been a major subsystem in the Linux ecosystem. Its functionality is used broadly across domains, from connecting a local host to the network up to a fully functional network device (router, switch, traffic shaper, etc).

Linux distributions, have mainly focused on the host connectivity to the network and less on exposing it as a network component. With the coming of the virtualization and cloud technologies, their networking roles have extended to include and act as virtual edge network devices. Some of these roles include L2 bridging, traffic QoS, access rules, L3 routing and other services which support the virtualization and cloud needs.

Unfortunately, unlike the telco industry, where many networking services have been standardized, especially the management part, Linux distributions have no stable agreed management interface. It seems natural to expose Linux networking capabilities in a similar manner the telco industries does in order to make it easier to consume and reuse.

The internal Red Hat initiative to integrate and share resources between the existing solutions is one of the pushing forces for this paper proposal. Looking for a management solution that can be shared and used by multiple stakeholders is the main focus we will like to address.


  1. Provide a stable, extensible interface to manage RHEL networking capabilities.
  2. Support atomic and transactional operations on RHEL networking at the host level.
  3. Support atomic and transactional operations on RHEL networking at the cluster level.
  4. Increase RHEL networking reusage by modularizing and layering its management, serving different users through the same management stack.
  5. Integrate RHEL networking seamlessly with existing management, controlling and monitoring systems.
  6. Standardizing RHEL networking specifics and confirm with existing ones.

Existing Solutions


Cockpit is used as a front-end UI to various host services, including networking. It is not exposing any API for the moment.

D-BUS for Network Manager

NetworkManager is currently the main service on RHEL through which networking capabilities are exposed on the local host. One option to expose it to a remote client is through D-BUS.


Ansible provides multiple modules and roles to manage network devices.

Specifically for RHEL, networking is exposed through the System Roles, which in practice exposes NetworkManager capabilities.

The availability of Ansible to expose not only RHEL, but other network device vendors, places it in a good position for abstracting networking to upper layers. Ansible networking has defined some cross-vendor/platform modules, aimed to abstract differences between vendors, something that RHEL can also take advantage of.

Currently, the major limitation seen is with the missing transaction capabilities (mainly between modules) and the existing NM module schema which exposes the configuration as “connection profiles” or a per device. Both should be addressed by Ansible in future versions.

Another note worth mentioning regarding Ansible is that it does not attempt to monitor and/or listen to events from the target devices.


Under the OpenStack project, os-net-config is a host network configuration tool that applies a configuration described in a YAML or JSON on the host.

It is using ifcfg, eni and iproute2 to apply the configuration on the host.

os-net-config is run with a YAML file describing the desired networking state, and optionally a mapping file that maps MAC address or interface alias to real NIC names.

In TripleO, os-net-config is triggered with a script that runs once on deployment. This causes the ifcfg files to be written and the interfaces to have ifdown/ifup run on them. This is done only on initial deployment, although a separate setting can cause this to run again to modify the network configuration for upgrades or certain changes.

It covers a wide variety of networking options for Fedora-based systems, fewer for Debian-based systems. On Fedora/CentOS/RHEL supports Interfaces, VLANs, kernel bonds, OVS bonds, teamd bonds, Linux bridges, OVS bridges, DPDK interfaces/bonds, SR-IOV PFs/VFs, Infiniband, Contrail Vrouters, and Big Switch interface/bonds/bridges. In all these cases, os-net-config writes the ifcfg files according to the config specified, and in some cases runs scripts to help configure interfaces (such as SR-IOV PCI slot configuration or Contrail Vrouter configuration).

It does not attempt to monitor and/or listen to events from the target devices.

Transactions are not supported.

The device types supported by os-net-config are shown in Appendix E.

VDSM Networking

VDSM is the RHV hypervisor agent which runs on the hosts. VDSM networking exposed a portion of the host networking capabilities in an abstract manner, such that answers the needs of a hypervisor. It includes monitoring, transactional operations and a well defined schema.

It uses multiple network “drivers”, including ifcfg, NetworkManager, iproute2, netlink, ethtool and sysfs to accomplish its task.

As it is focused on hypervisor networking needs, it exposed a high level abstraction which does not expose all host networking capabilities. Currently it also mainly uses ifcfg and iproute2 to configure the host (and not NM).

Host level Requirements

State change atomicity (Transactions)

When attempting to change the host networking state, it should either fully succeed or fail. A fail should return the host networking state to the initial state before the change.

Such a state change request may include multiple changes on the host, therefore, it should be executed under a transaction. A failure in the transaction needs to be detected and a rollback to be issued to the pre-transaction state.

As an extension, a verification/check can be executed to confirm connectivity/health of the host.

Optionally, extend the transaction to be extended over multiple state request changes. Such an option separates between the state change operation and the apply/commit operation. The model this confirms to assumes that the client requests changes, expects them to be accumulated in a candidate state and with a dedicated operation it atomicly applies the configuration. It is suitable for stateless clients, which can save their configuration periodically on the server side.

Data model and Abstraction

The question of how a host networking state is to be represented has been answered multiple times by multiple solutions. The challenge seems to be in finding a representation that fits all (or most) and can be standardized.

There are several main approaches seen so far: one tries to be transparent and relay the host configuration as represented by the local implementation, another attempts to create a minimalistic abstraction that is flat and as close as possible to the individual network device (in practice, listing the devices and specifying their property). Others try to abstract the networking options on the host for dedicated purposes or domains, hiding low level structures.

Telco network devices (switches, routers and other services) have standardized some of the common networking configuration properties using IETF RFC/s to allow interoperability between vendors and the management systems. Each vendor may then extend the configuration options through additional properties.

It is therefore proposed to attempt and follow the existing relevant IETF RFC/s and format the networking state of a host in a similar model, utilizing the experience of others with the experienced gained on host specific sections.

Monitoring & Events

In many cases, managing and controlling network nodes requires the ability to monitor the network state, react to changes and adjust the configuration accordingly.

As a basic example, changes in the current state of the node needs to be reflected to the manager/controller.

RHEL, as a network node should provide such capabilities and allow a manager to query it for operational state and telemetries. An optional event service should allow managers to register for specific events and inform them on state changes.

State change effect on Data Path

Managing the host networking remotely, should add no additional disruptiveness to the data path compared to the use of direct local tools (NM, iproute2, etc).

As an extreme example, updating an interface property which under normal condition would not have disrupted the traffic passing through it, should not require a full interface teardown/setup.

In this regard, the API access to the host networking should be optimize to utilize the underly implementation providers to reduce to minimum the data path disruption on state changes.

Implementation Providers

NetworkManager is currently the de-facto network manager on most Linux distributions and one of the core services on RHEL. It is the primary service through which host networking is configured now days.

Due to the large scope of the networking domain, scenarios and configuration details may be missing in NM, have low interest to integrate them into it or be proprietary. For such edge cases a level of extensibility is prefered, allowing access to modify or query entities using other tools.

Solution Stack reusability

The solution components that are to answer RHEL networking management access needs, should preferably be reusable and independent, allowing them to be used in(from) other projects and replaced if required.


Support the ability to deploy the stack components containerized.


Solution Overview

The proposed solution is attempting to address the requirements stated earlier in this document.

The solution has 3 main layers:

NetworkManager backend access requires a thin layer that exposes it programmatically. This component is referred to as “NM Lib”.

The nmstate is used as a tool to apply what was described in the data model schema and its commands/verbs functionality requirements to the backend (NetworkManager). In many ways, it is similar to the NetworkManager Ansible module but is expected to be deployed on the host and used by other clients (not only ansible).

The communication protocol specification is deferred, for now it is mentioned in Appendix D.


Solution Stack Diagram

Solution Stack Diagram

NetworkManager (Service & Lib)

NetworkManager is the service that controls most of the Linux host networking options.

It can be accessed through several interfaces: nmcli, d-bus, libnm. In order to allow access in a programmatic manner to NM, a thin NM SDK is required that wraps the interface with the chosen language.

One implementation option can include: A Python NM SDK, wrapping access to NM service through nmlib.

Network Tooling Extensions

Networking options which are not controllable by NetworkManager (even proprietary ones) are to be handled through the tooling extensions.

Examples of its usages:


Interpreting the data model scheme and applying it using NetworkManager interface (NM SDK) or other backends is under the nmstate responsibility. It also needs to cover the reverse path, from the backend to the relevant data model scheme (retrieving the host state from NM and presenting it using the data model).

Optionally, the component should support notification forwarding from the backend to the frontend: Enabling a manager or controller to receive notifications when a link state changes, when an IP is updated from DHCP, when a device is unplug/plug, etc. The manager/controller may request a fresh host state or take a more intelligent action as a response.

Existing similar components which could be potentially used for this purpose are the Ansible NetworkManager module and portions of RHV host agent (vdsm-network).


Ansible represents in this context a client of RHEL, through which one can configure its networking configuration.

Atomicity is embedded into nmstate, therefore, no special treatment is required in that area as well.

Other Management and Control clients

When monitoring capabilities are required or Ansible is not the best fit for a solution, other management and controlling clients will need to access the RHEL node directly.

Such clients, similar to Ansible, should support the host network schema and the communication protocol. The clients may also provide cluster level transaction.


Containerizing the components for deployment is recommended.

Most networking actions require privilege access to the system. In practice, only NetworkManager and the other backends require such access, all the rest should be fine with unprivileged access. It is therefore suggested to use a linker between the two domains (NM on the host root namespace and all the other components in a container). NMLIB or D-BUS directly can act as such a linker.

Containerizing the solution will introduce it as a service on a Linux node, fitting well with OpenShift and K8S model.

Configuration Examples

In this section, several configuration examples are given using Ansible, showing how these are represented using the data model, and finally translated to NetworkManager configuration.

See Appendix C


Phasing recommendations:

  1. PoC: Implement a minimalistic nmstate, use the proposed schema and commands to run it all from Ansible with the unified network modules.

User Story: Setup an IPv4 address on a bond with two ports, supporting the concept of transaction.

  1. Introduce basic configuration capabilities for bonds, bridges, vlans and utilize them through Ansible.
  2. Complement missing RHEL networking properties, focusing on properties that are needed by existing projects that use RHEL networking (RHV host agent, Cockpit). During this phase, RHV can be used, replacing its own host agent networking module.

Appendix A (Schema proposal)

The schema presented in this section is an informal version, skipping the data types. It attempts to describe the general idea.

    +--rw interfaces
        +--rw interface*
           +--rw name
           +--rw description
           +--rw type (including vlan, bond, team, linux-bridge, ovs)
           +--rw state
           +--ro admin-status
           +--ro link-status (up|down)
           +--ro link-speed (base link speed for virtual interfaces)
              +--rw auto-negotiation (yes|no)
              +--rw duplex (ro with auto-negotiation)
              +--rw speed (ro with auto-negotiation)
              +--rw flow-control (ro with auto-negotiation)
           +--rw mac-address
           +--vlan: (for vlan type)
              +--rw id
              +--rw base-iface
           +--rw mtu
           +--rw link-aggregation (appears when type is bond or team)
              +--rw mode
              +--rw ports
                 +--rw iface-ref
              +--rw/ro options (per mode)
           +--rw bridge (appears when type is linux-bridge or OVS)
              +--rw port*
                 +--rw id/name/description
                 +--rw vlan-tags (optional, relevant for OVS)
                 +--rw iface-ref
              +--rw stp
              +--rw/ro options (specific per type)
              +--ro statistics
                 +--ro ports
                    +--ro mac-addresses
                    +--ro ...
           +--ro if-index
           +--ro phys-address
           +--ro higher-layer-if
           +--ro lower-layer-if
           +--ro statistics
              +--ro in-octets
              +--ro in-unicast-pkts
              +--ro in-broadcast-pkts
              +--ro in-multicast-pkts
              +--ro in-discards
              +--ro in-errors
              +--ro out-octets
              +--ro out-unicast-pkts
              +--ro out-broadcast-pkts
              +--ro out-multicast-pkts
              +--ro out-discards
              +--ro out-errors
       +--rw ipv4
       |  +--rw enabled
       |  +--rw forwarding
       |  +--rw dhcp
       |  +--rw address*
       |  |  +--rw ip
       |  |  +--rw (subnet) (only one of the below)
       |  |  |  +--rw prefix-length
       |  |  |  +--rw netmask
       |  |  +--ro origin
       |  +--rw neighbor*
       |     +--rw ip
       |     +--rw link-layer-address
       |     +--ro origin
       +--rw ipv6
          +--rw enabled
          +--rw forwarding
          +--rw dhcp
          +--rw autoconf
          +--rw address*
          |  +--rw ip
          |  +--rw prefix-length
          |  +--ro origin
          |  +--ro status
          +--rw neighbor*
          |  +--rw ip
          |  +--rw link-layer-address
          |  +--ro origin
          |  +--ro is-router
          |  +--ro state
          +--rw dup-addr-detect-transmits
    +--rw routing

Appendix B (Operations proposal)

This section describes the steps one needs to take to configure and examine the host network configuration. It is presented in a programmatic manner.

Verifying a proposed configuration (without apply):

Modify the active configuration (non persistently) without confirmation:

Modify the active configuration (non persistently):

Modify the active configuration (persistently):

Prepare a configuration in several iterations and apply changes (to running):

(* Optional, not for immediate implementation.)

Appendix C (Desired state example)

Ethernet interfaces with.without IP addresses

The example includes 3 ethernet interfaces, two with static IPv4 and IPv6 and the 3rd with no IP and with the state set to down.

- name: eth0
  type: ethernet
  state: up
    - ip:
      prefix-length: 24
    enabled: true
    - ip: 2001:db8::1:1
      prefix-length: 64
    enabled: true
- name: eth1
  type: ethernet
  state: up
    - ip:
      prefix-length: 24
    enabled: true
    - ip: 2001:db8::2:1
      prefix-length: 64
    enabled: true
- name: eth2
  type: ethernet
  state: down
    enabled: false


The example defines a bond with two ports and an IPv4 static address.

The bond mode is specified to be balance-rr and the miimon options is specified.

- name: bond99
  type: bond
  state: up
    - ip:
      prefix-length: 24
    enabled: true
    mode: balance-rr
      miimon: '140'
    - eth3
    - eth2


The example defines an openvswitch bridge and attaches to it the eth3 interface (as a port).

The bridge has spanning tree (stp) enabled.

- name: ovs-br0
  type: ovs-bridge
  state: up
      fail-mode: ''
      mcast-snooping-enable: false
      rstp: false
      stp: true
    - name: eth3
    enabled: false


NETCONF/YANG is proposed for the communication protocol due to its wide use and standardization in the TELCO industry. The standardization, the functionalities it requires and the ability to integrate well with existing solutions (mainly clients that already use NETCONF/YANG to manage network devices) makes it a good fit.

Solution Stack Diagram

Solution Stack Diagram


The Network Configuration Protocol (NETCONF) provides mechanisms to install, manipulate, view and delete the configuration (and operational state) of network devices. Its has been standardized by IETF and defined in RFC6241.

The protocol answers several core requirements:

Note: RESTCONF is another protocol that is thinner than its bigger NETCONF brother. It lacks the transaction options, focusing on individual actions (Like most REST based API/s expect).


YANG is a data modeling language for the definition of data sent over the NETCONF network configuration protocol.

It is backed by IETF standardization for both the language and several configuration/state schemes.

IETF relevant RFC/s (reference: https://tools.ietf.org/wg/netmod)

Appendix E (OS-NET-CONFIG, Device Types)

The following list shows all of interface device types supported by os-net-config. The details for all device types, including additional parameters, can be seen in the schema here:



* Supported by NetworkManager init-scripts in RHEL 7.5

For some of these interface types, os-net-config will configure both an ifcfg file and other specific configuration files. For instance, for SR-IOV configuration we configure an ifcfg file, a file named /var/lib/os-net-config/sriov_pf.yaml, and a systemd service which starts the SR-IOV virtual interfaces attached to the physical interface. For other interface types, such as Contrail Vrouter, we configure only an ifcfg file, but the ifup script is provided by the 3rd-party RPM currently.

Contrail ifcfg file: