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Karl N. Redman
Karl N. Redman

Posted on • Updated on • Originally published at

Dnsmasq + NetworkManager + Private Network Setup

This is a howto/method for minimal configuration which provides a local private network that will be available to the local host for both online and offline (internet/DHCP) connectivity. The goal is to provide a scalable and network switchable development environment for virtual machines and bare metal application systems. This method intends to provide the developer the ability to roam (via laptop, et al) and maintain a consistent network development environment. Note that this configuration will require that you become accustomed to using NetworkManager.

  • A TL;DR version of this article can be found here.

Features of this howto:

  • Reference Docker containers by name between containers.
  • Reference the host (private network) with wildcards from both the host and containers.
  • Work/develop offline or online (almost) seamlessly.
  • Reference internet hosts from docker containers (if connected -most likely DHCP).
  • Reference local host network hosts (if connected -most likely DHCP and there is a DNS running).
  • No extra configuration with /etc/hosts
  • Ability to implement (your extended configurations):
    • DNS caching.
    • DHCP on a private network local to the host.
    • shared networking via NetworkManager from a host interface.
    • various VMs on the private network with full local DNS support.

Caveats / Limitations

  • Your bare metal services will need to be configured for the private network (i.e. in order to utilize 'docker container to host' DNS resolution.
  • This procedure does not provide a method to resolve container hostnames from the host.
  • This procedure does not provide a method to resolve container hostnames from the from containers (see below for an explanation).
    • containers can, however, use Docker's internal DNS to resolve containers by container names.

Tested systems:

  • MX Linux v18.1
  • Ubuntu v18.10
  • Debian v9.8


I strongly urge that you initially test this procedure with a virtual machine. I find Virtualbox to be the easiest sandbox installation platform for desktop systems but your mileage may vary. Either way, use a spare bare metal system or a virtual machine for testing this method to see if it works for you and your environment. I am not responsible if you mess up your system, data, etc.. This information is provided as is -use at your own risk.

Also, I tend to write wordy howto's with extra information that you may not care about -as evidenced by this sentence. I'll try to keep that to a minimum here. ;)


TL;DR: Skip this part -it's a motivation statement...

Developing network-able services across the myriad virtual machine/container options (Docker, kubernetes, singularity, libvert, singularity, LXC, etc.) is challenging. An additional challenge is trying to develop these kinds of services while, as a developer, roaming between networks. For me the answer is to emulate the various network environments as closely as possible. One step toward this endeavor is to establish a basic platform whereby a single system (i.e. laptop) can roam between different network environments and maintain a consistent production-like network simulation -whether online, offline, at work, at a party, at your friends house, in a mall, on the road, or at home (etc.).

There are a lot of 'moving parts' when developing any software application. That number of moving parts increases by orders of magnitude for every system resource (i.e. basic network connectivity compounds any application -add any concept of scalability and the complexity of the application dramatically increases). My attempt here is to provide a minimalist configuration whereby the reader doesn't have to understand how everything works right now. Rather, as needs for various development environments and tools become relevant, this basic network structure (hopefully) should provide a general baseline for adding emulation capabilities for future development capabilities. In the end, this howto is really simple -yet the ability to develop in a private network with a roaming system (i.e. laptop) eludes many, many developers. The moving parts to building a proper development environment become very confusing and very frustrating to many of us. It's overwhelming and thus, we hack...

I came up with this solution so that I could develop across the many virtual machine/container options on a single machine (laptop) regardless of the environment/location and the network I'm working in. With a simple configuration of NetworkManager IP addressing + system level dnsmasq I can now create any service for any IP (on the private network) and ultimately proxypass it (with whatever proxypass tool) to my host network domain -allowing me to both provide shared services across networks and/or develop any number of combined virtual systems on an isolated system; all on a single system (laptop).

Hopefully this method is a step toward providing the basis of an environment which is helpful for isolated and corporate and cloud development alike.

Configure NetworkManager

Presumably a fresh installation of various linux flavors will configure NetworkManager at installation time. The following information assumes that you have installed linux, are able to connect to the internet via DHCP, and do not have other issues pending with your network.

Add private network ip to network manager

This section implements a static ip address for the local host to use with future networks and services. All future networks on the system will use this base network -base address as configured here. To leverage this network for virtual systems you will need to identify your vitual interfaces to use this network -or otherwise configure a bridge (beyond the scope of this article).

nmcli connection show
* example output
NAME                UUID                                  TYPE            DEVICE
Wired connection 1  xxxxxxxx-xxxx-xxxx-xxxx-xxxxxxxxxxxx  802-3-ethernet  eth0
br-0a159c4a8cf4     xxxxxxxx-xxxx-xxxx-xxxx-xxxxxxxxxxxx  bridge          br-0a159c4a8cf4
br-b1bce84765b8     xxxxxxxx-xxxx-xxxx-xxxx-xxxxxxxxxxxx  bridge          br-b1bce84765b8
docker0             xxxxxxxx-xxxx-xxxx-xxxx-xxxxxxxxxxxx  bridge          docker0
  • add a 10 network address to our Network Manager connection
nmcli con mod 'Wired connection 1' ipv4.address
nmcli con mod 'Wired connection 1' connection.autoconnect yes
  • Set the (auto) connection priority for the connection
    • This will force this connection to be attepted first followed by the offline (cloned) version configured below
nmcli connection modify 'Wired connection 1' connection.autoconnect-priority -998
  • update connection (i.e. save the changes)
nmcli con up 'Wired connection 1'
  • Note: do not add the new IP to your /etc/hosts file. A network/host name for this new address will be configured later through Dnsmasq.

Clone connection and configure

NetworkManager will hang (seemingly) indefinitely when you connect to a network that does not provide DHCP connectivity. Cloning the working connection and making some adjustments will provide the ability to work 'offline' while maintaining the private netowrk with the system dnsmasq instance and it's (if configured) DHCP capabilities.

When a network does not offer DHCP capability you will use this connection to gain access to your local private network.

Note: switching between NetworkManager connections may require that you restart dnsmasq: sudo service dnsmasq restart. This issue occurs mostly when switching from a fully DHCP authenticated internet connection to one that is not (i.e. a connection that is not DHCP/internet enabled). In the reverse I've found, rarely, a need to run sudo dhclient when switching from an isolated network to one that is DHCP enabled. Additionally, I've had to reboot in various situations when switching from DHCP networks to non and visa versa -milage may very (sorry for the ambiguity -that's the state of networking...).

  • Clone the connection
nmcli connection clone 'Wired connection 1' 'Wired connection 1 offline'
  • Change cloned connection settings in favor of isolation
nmcli connection modify 'Wired connection 1 offline'  ipv4.method manual

(Optional) Install resolvconf

  • this is a workaround for Network Manager that allows for finer grained resolver configuration
sudo apt install resolvconf

Install and configure Dnsmasq

  • Install dnsmasq
# uninstall network manager version of dnsmasq
sudo apt remove dnsmasq-base -y

# install actual dnsmasq
sudo apt install dnsmasq -y
  • enable dnsmasq service
sudo systemctl enable dnsmasq

Configure dnsmasq

Dnsmasq configuration /etc/dnsmasq.conf

bind-dynamic       # could use bind-interfaces instead

Restart Dnsmasq and inspect hosts file

  • restart dnsmasq service
sudo service dnsmasq restart

!!!! REBOOT !!!!!

This is a cringe worthy necessity. Just reboot, it's easy. Accept that the moving parts are more than you want to deal with and that it's really less time to just reboot. I, personally, hate this statement but ... this is the state of things -accept it or spend some time finding a universal way around the reboot and report back here :D

  • your /etc/resolv.conf file will look similar to this:
# Dynamic resolv.conf(5) file for glibc resolver(3) generated by resolvconf(8)
  • your /etc/hosts file will look something like this   localhost   this-laptop

# The following lines are desirable for IPv6 capable hosts
::1     localhost ip6-localhost ip6-loopback
fe00::0     ip6-localnet
ff00::0     ip6-mcastprefix
ff02::1     ip6-allnodes
ff02::2     ip6-allrouters

Test Dnsmasq

After reboot:

  • test local private network (should print as
ping -c 4 private.home
  • test google DNS (from a DHCP connected network)
ping -c 4
  • test host hostame
ping -c 4 [your hostname here]
  • test another host on the network
ping -c 4 [a local network hosthame here]

Things should be working so far...

If you don't have responses that seem correct at this point -if something seems broken -then either this method doesn't work for you on your OS or you skipped a step (or I goofed and the documentation is wrong).

If you can't ping private.home and/or by name then something is wrong. Please do ping (google name server) explicitly to see if you have network access and work backwards from there. ...

Add Docker container DNS resolution


This section demonstrates docker container dynamic host name resolution for container to container and container to host resolution. Modern Docker container names can resolve across a bridge network -which we will create. Also, because we have established a private network, containers will be able to resolve a host's hostname back to our private ip address (established earlier).

Note: resolving host to container hostnames is generally not required (or even considered a good idea) in production environments. The point of view is that virtual machines export ports to the host without regard for (or, more appropriately, in spite of) localhost. localhost in a container is not the host's localhost -i.e. the container's localhost is within it's own namespace/address-space while the host's localhost is relative to physical components of the host system. The container has it's own localhost separate from the host system.

install docker

  1. do an sudo apt update
  2. download and install the .deb file manually (because mx linux doesn't natively support /etc/apt/sources.list)
  3. test docker
sudo docker run hello-world

Install Docker Compose

# be sure to get the latest version (that is compatible with docker -most likely latest...)
sudo curl -L "$(uname -s)-$(uname -m)" -o /usr/local/bin/docker-compose
sudo chmod +x /usr/local/bin/docker-compose

Build an image for testing

This image is used for testing throughout this documentation where Docker is specified.

git clone
cd lighttpd-docker
sudo docker build -t lighttpd .

Create common docker network for containers

  • This section creates a common network that all docekr run commands and docker-compose instances may communicate with one another -including the ability to resolve docker container names from within the respective container instances.

  • Specify a . (dot) delimited network name for finicky applications that require a FQDN (fully qualified domain name).

  • Note: use - in names instead of _ when possible (if needed) to maintain compatibility with various tools.

sudo docker network create docker.devnet

Add DNS to Docker daemon

  • file /etc/docker/daemon.json
    "dns": ["", ""]
  • restart docker daemon
sudo service docker restart

Testing host to Docker container DNS resolution

  • Start test containers
# start FQDN hostname docker container 1
sudo docker run -d -p 8081:80 -p 4441:443 --rm -t --name docker-container-1-name -h docker-container-1.docker.devnet --net docker.devnet lighttpd

# start container 2
sudo docker run -d -p 8082:80 -p 4442:443 --rm -t --name docker-container-2-name -h docker-container-2 --net docker.devnet lighttpd

# start container 3
sudo docker run -d -p 8083:80 -p 4443:443 --rm -t --name docker-container-3-name -h docker-container-3 --net docker.devnet lighttpd
  • Test DNS resolution
####### normal docker behavior with user-defined network 'docker.devnet'
# ping container 3 *container name* from container 2
sudo docker exec -ti docker-container-2-name sh -c "ping -c 4 docker-container-3-name"
# ping private network host wildcard from a container
## Note: if this part isn't working then you likely are being blocked by your own firewall
sudo docker exec -ti docker-container-1-name sh -c "ping -c 4 a-wildcard.private.home"

That's it!

I hope this workes for you...

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