How FortiOS differentiates sessions when NATing

The basics of NAT are fairly simple. Many private addresses get translated into a smaller number of public addresses, often just one. The trick is how the FortiGate keeps track of the return traffic because the web server, or what ever device that was out on the Internet is going to be sending traffic back not to the private address behind the FortiGate but to the IP address of the interface on the public side of the FortiGate.

The way this is done is by making each session unique. Most of the attributes that are available in the network packets cannot be changed without changing where the packet will go but because the source port has to be changed anyway in case two computer on the network used the same source port this is a useful way of making each listing of network attributes a unique combination. As a packet goes through the NAT process FortiOS assigns different source ports for each of the internally initiated sessions and keeping track of which port was used for each device in a database until the session has ended. It then becomes a matter of how the port number is selected.

In a very simple example of an environment using NAT, we will use a fictitious university with a rather large student population. So large in fact that they use a subnet of as their subnet for workstation IP addresses. All of these private IP addresses are NATed out a single IP address. To keep the number of numeric values in this example from getting to a confusing level, we’ll just us “u.u.u.1” to refer to the public IP address of the University and the IP address of the web server on the Internet will be “w.w.w.1”.

Student A (IP address sends an HTML request to a web server on the Internet with the IP address w.w.w.1. The applicable networking information in the packet breaks down as follows:


Attribute Original Packet Packet after NATing

Source IP address or src-ip




Destination IP address or dst-ip:






Source port or src-port:






Destination port or dst-port





The source IP address is now that of the public facing interface of the FortiGate and source port number is an unused TCP port number on the FortiGate chosen by the FortiGate. Of these variable the only one the that FortiGate can really change and still have the packet reach the correct destination, in both directions, is the source port number.

There are a few methods of assigning the port number. First we’ll look at the methods that are or have been used in the industry but aren’t used by Fortinet.

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