Windows container network drivers
In addition to leveraging the default 'nat' network created by Docker on Windows, users can define custom container networks. User-defined networks can be created using using the Docker CLI
docker network create -d <NETWORK DRIVER TYPE> <NAME> command. On Windows, the following network driver types are available:
nat – containers attached to a network created with the 'nat' driver will be connected to an internal Hyper-V switch and receive an IP address from the user-specified (
--subnet) IP prefix. Port forwarding / mapping from the container host to container endpoints is supported.
NAT networks created on Windows Server 2019 (or above) are no longer persisted after reboot.
Multiple NAT networks are supported if you have the Windows 10 Creators Update installed (or above).
transparent – containers attached to a network created with the 'transparent' driver will be directly connected to the physical network through an external Hyper-V switch. IPs from the physical network can be assigned statically (requires user-specified
--subnetoption) or dynamically using an external DHCP server.
Due to the following requirement, connecting your container hosts over a transparent network is not supported on Azure VMs.
Requires: When this mode is used in a virtualization scenario (container host is a VM) MAC address spoofing is required.
overlay - when the docker engine is running in swarm mode, containers attached to an overlay network can communicate with other containers attached to the same network across multiple container hosts. Each overlay network that is created on a Swarm cluster is created with its own IP subnet, defined by a private IP prefix. The overlay network driver uses VXLAN encapsulation. Can be used with Kubernetes when using suitable network control planes (Flannel or OVN).
Requires: Make sure your environment satisfies these required prerequisites for creating overlay networks.
Requires: Requires Windows Server 2016 with KB4015217, Windows 10 Creators Update, or a later release.
On Windows Server 2019 running Docker EE 18.03 and above, overlay networks created by Docker Swarm leverage VFP NAT rules for outbound connectivity. This means thata given container receives 1 IP address. It also means that ICMP-based tools such as
Test-NetConnectionshould be configured using their TCP/UDP options in debugging situations.
l2bridge - containers attached to a network created with the 'l2bridge' driver will be in the same IP subnet as the container host, and connected to the physical network through an external Hyper-V switch. The IP addresses must be assigned statically from the same prefix as the container host. All container endpoints on the host will have the same MAC address as the host due to Layer-2 address translation (MAC re-write) operation on ingress and egress.
Requires: Requires Windows Server 2016, Windows 10 Creators Update, or a later release.
Requires: OutboundNAT policy for external connectivity.
l2tunnel - Similar to l2bridge, however this driver should only be used in a Microsoft Cloud Stack. Packets coming from a container are sent to the virtualization host where SDN policy is applied.
Network topologies and IPAM
The table below shows how network connectivity is provided for internal (container-to-container) and external connections for each network driver.
Networking modes/Docker drivers
|Docker Windows Network Driver||Typical oses||Container-to-container (Single node)||Container-to-external (single node + multi-node)||Container-to-container (multi-node)|
|NAT (Default)||Good for Developers||
||Routed through Management vNIC (bound to WinNAT)||Not directly supported: requires exposing ports through host|
|Transparent||Good for Developers or small deployments||
||Routed through container host with direct access to (physical) network adapter||Routed through container host with direct access to (physical) network adapter|
|Overlay||Good for multi-node; required for Docker Swarm, available in Kubernetes||
||Not directly supported - requires second container endpoint attached to NAT network||Same/Cross Subnet: Network traffic is encapsulated using VXLAN and routed through Mgmt vNIC|
|L2Bridge||Used for Kubernetes and Microsoft SDN||
||Container MAC address re-written on ingress and egress||
|L2Tunnel||Azure only||Same/Cross Subnet: Hair-pinned to physical host's Hyper-V virtual switch to where policy is applied||Traffic must go through Azure virtual network gateway||Same/Cross Subnet: Hair-pinned to physical host's Hyper-V virtual switch to where policy is applied|
IP Addresses are allocated and assigned differently for each networking driver. Windows uses the Host Networking Service (HNS) to provide IPAM for the nat driver and works with Docker Swarm Mode (internal KVS) to provide IPAM for overlay. All other network drivers use an external IPAM.
|Networking Mode / Driver||IPAM|
|NAT||Dynamic IP allocation and assignment by Host Networking Service (HNS) from internal NAT subnet prefix|
|Transparent||Static or dynamic (using external DHCP server) IP allocation and assignment from IP addresses within container host's network prefix|
|Overlay||Dynamic IP allocation from Docker Engine Swarm Mode managed prefixes and assignment through HNS|
|L2Bridge||Static IP allocation and assignment from IP addresses within container host's network prefix (could also be assigned through HNS)|
|L2Tunnel||Azure only - Dynamic IP allocation and assignment from plugin|
Service Discovery is only supported for certain Windows network drivers.
|Local Service Discovery||Global Service Discovery|
|nat||YES||YES with Docker EE|
|overlay||YES||YES with Docker EE or kube-dns|
|l2bridge||NO||YES with kube-dns|
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