Linux Networking Config

Linux Networking Config is a complex beast these days. In fairness networking is complicated, and there has to be a way to configure a multitude of of technologies: ethernet, wifi, ppp, vpn, mobile, bridge, bonding, vlan, tunnels. Originally networking was configured during boot up in shell scripts as part of sysvinit. However over the 20+ years the many newer ways have popped up, this is a short comparison of the options.


ifupdown derivatives

The main config for this is in /etc/network/interfaces and it also includes files in /etc/network/interfaces.d/, it’s also called ENI. For Debian this is the original network setup after direct editing of boot up scripts. It’s still the Debian installer default, the default for official Debian Cloud images and a dependency of cloud-init. You can archive more or less any static network configuration you want, there is some dynamic configurations being sort of doable. It’s got quite a lot of hooks that do allow interesting integrations. However integration with other things like desktop tools do not exist, eg joining a random wifi network. It’s also easy to get it into an inconsistent state if manual changes to the network are performed. It is common on servers but not for example on a laptop. Also many implementations exist, the default Debian one is ifupdown. I have no idea how well or not the other implementations work or not.


ifupdown (busybox)

ifupdown (netscript-2.4)



network-scripts (redhat)

As I understand network-scripts were the first way networks were configured in Red Hat based distros after the directly editing rc scripts The config files were sourced and then boot scripts would then implement everything needed to configure the network. These are stored under /etc/sysconfig/network-scripts. Almost all configurations were possible, however hooks to do “exotic” other things are harder. However these network-script have not been the only option on Red Hat based distros for sometime because Network-Manager was introduced in either RHEL 5 or 6 as a replacement. Generally people recommended disabling it because people don’t like changed. However Network-manager has become the main way networking is configured. The way this worked was by implementing a sort of config compatibly layer that used the same config file format, so you could run with both enabled and network would start some interfaces and network-manager would start other interfaces. However now network-manager just works and with RHEL 8 it is quite hard not to use it, and I understand RHEL9 is just network manager.

been around since at least Red Hat Linux 6.0 (~circa 2000)


This is quite a bizarre project and it is hard to see actual references to it. Also it’s obviously hard to google as the name clash with the windows ipconfig tool. In essence it’s a small tool that can do a simple dhcp requests and use the response to configure an interface or just set a static ip on an interface. It’s usually called from the initrd and configured from the linux command line via the IP parameter. It’s can also un-configure the interface after it’s needed but before the chroot into the main system. So for example this might be needed for ssh server in initrd, nfs root, or iscsi root. Also how it’s called depends on the initrd used, usually initramfs or dracut.


NetworkManager is an answer to some of the issues with the existing setup, mostly what seems to be around laptop type setups, where the network config changes all the time and needs gui type tools to do this. It’s a daemon that handles this and implements changes. It’s fair to say that initially people did seem to like it for servers, as people don’t like changes. It’s also works differently depending if you are on Debian or Red Hat based distributions, with the former using /etc/NetworkManager/system-connections/ and the latter using /etc/sysconfig/network-scripts. Initially it was not capable of implementing all the config that ifupdown is capable of, however as it’s matured it’s now able to implement almost all setups. It’s also got hooks /etc/NetworkManager/dispatcher.d and implements a ifupdown compatibility hook. For better of worse it also reimplements things, eg it implements a dhcp client rather that relying on calling say dhclient and hoping it does it’s job.


systemd-networkd grew out of systemd, presumably with the intention of avoiding the mess of existing tools. I think the idea for simple setups, eg just a static IP or DHCP ip. It then just works, without calling out to other tools and handling that mess, eg ifupdown calls dhclient, which has it’s only config that might or might not do what is expected. However for anything complicated NetworkManager is probably a better fit.


Cloud-init is a suite of tools that run on boot that can grab information from the hosting provider and do things with this information, eg inject ssh keys to a virtual machine. It can also configure the network too. In Debian it depends on ifupdown to do some of it’s work. It’s got three methods to configure the network:

  • ENI - /etc/network/interfaces

  • Networking Config Version 1 - DSL

  • Networking Config Version 2 - subset of netplan version 2

  • been around since wheezy



At some point Canonical decided that the way network config was configured needed a rethink, and what seems to be along the lines of as best. It’s a way to abstract the config and netplan to generate different config backends, currently either systemd-networkd or Network Manager. It uses it’s own new DSL config of which there are two versions. I can understand why this was done, but can’t help but feel it adds a useless layer of config that should not be needed. It’s also got two config file formats: version 1 and version 2.


It’s also fair to say that DNS settings are also part of networking config and bring another more interesting integration issues around /etc/resolv.conf. This is by far not exhaustive, but the three ways I use are below:


You know what DNS servers to use, so just set them in /etc/resolv.conf, this probably means you are using ifupdown.


This is a little bit like manual, but you can set the dns servers in ENI and the resolvconf tools updates /etc/resolv.conf


systemd-resolver is a local stub resolver, it provides a resolv.conf file it updates that /etc/resolv.conf is a symbolic link to. The idea being, all DNS queries go to localhost and then systemd-resolver can then understand what do do with the queries, so for instance with split vpn tunnels, two different dns servers can be used at the same time for the different connections, which is not possible with /etc/resolv.conf. The other advantage with this option is that NetworkManager and networkd integrate nicely with systemd-resolver, so any provided DNS servers get added.





allow-hotplug ens3
iface ens3 inet auto
iface ens3 inet6 auto



allow-hotplug ens3
iface ens3 inet static
iface ens3 inet6 static
	address fc00::1/64











For Debian use defaults for installation, after install remove ENI entries, as needed convert and use NetworkManager, enable systemd-resolver and remove ifupdown unless cloud-init is needed, in which case use ifupdown.

Computer enthusiast and sysadmin