Exposing Rootless Podman Containers to the Internet with Wireguard

I run a small game server for myself and a handful of friends. Previously I had done this entirely through a VPS, but the RAM requirements had gotten a bit high for our tastes. The obvious solution was to leverage a spare machine I had at home instead. The server was containerized with Podman, so migrating the data and configuration would literally take minutes. This presented a new challenge, however: how do I expose it to the Internet?

Why not just port forward? Link to heading

Easy mode for exposing services behind a home router’s NAT is of course simple port forwarding. A couple of router config changes and I would have been off to the races. There would have been a few issues with this method, though.

First off, my ISP may not have taken kindly to hosting a game server using my connection. While I’ve never had a service provider expressly forbid hosting services, I have had issues in the past with my public IP mysteriously changing much more frequently than usual. Second, I’m generally not keen on opening ports on my LAN to the public Internet.

In order to avoid directly exposing ports on my public IP, I decided to use a cheap VPS as the public endpoint, then tunnel the service traffic to my bare metal server at home via Wireguard. This way, I would get all the benefits of using a VPS to begin with, at a much lower cost.

VPS Setup Link to heading

First I needed to set up a tiny VPS instance. Linode is my vendor of choice here; I like their no-nonsense “click a button, here’s a Linux box, do your thing” philosophy.1 My go-to distro for small, single-purpose appliance machines like this is Alpine, but for readers following along most anything should do since all we need is Wireguard and a firewall.

Wireguard Link to heading

Setting up a Wireguard server is a pretty well covered topic these days, so I’ll keep this description brief. On my Alpine box, I installed the userspace Wireguard tools.

# apk install wireguard-tools

The Wireguard interface needed a public/private key pair:

# wg genkey | tee /etc/wireguard/privatekey | wg pubkey > /etc/wireguard/publickey

I added the private key and listening port to /etc/wireguard/wg0.conf (the peer will be set up later):

PrivateKey = <private key>
ListenPort = 51821

And defined the ifupdown-ng interface in /etc/network/interfaces.d/wg0:

auto wg0
iface wg0 inet static
	requires eth0
	use wireguard

And, poof! When Alpine sets up networking, the wg0 interface gets created. Next, I needed to configure traffic routing.

Firewall Link to heading

Being on Alpine, I decided to use their own awall. Naturally for those following along, anything that supports port forwarding will work here, even just adding some iptables rules to a wg-quick configuration. First, I installed Alpine Wall:

# apk install awall

Then I verified that IPv4 Forwarding was enabled:

# sysctl net.ipv4.ip_forward
net.ipv4.ip_forward = 1

Alpine Wall is configured via JSON files. For a more detailed rundown, I recommend the user’s guide and the Alpine Wiki.

In /etc/awall/base.json I defined the main zones, policies, and enabled SNAT (half of our port forwarding) for outgoing packets on the WAN interface.

	"description": "Base zones and policies",

	"zone": {
		"inet": { "iface": "eth0" },
		"vpn":  { "iface": "wg0"  }

	"policy": [
		{ "in": "vpn", "action": "accept" },
		{ "out": "vpn", "action": "accept" },
		{ "out": "inet", "action": "accept" },
		{ "in": "_fw", "action": "accept" },
		{ "in": "inet", "action": "drop" }

	"snat": [ { "out": "inet" } ],

The policies define a fairly simple firewall that allows local/VPN traffic and drops any unsolicited packets from the Internet.

Next I defined a couple of optional policies to allow SSH2 and Wireguard traffic in /etc/awall/optional/ssh.json and /etc/awall/optional/wireguard.json.

    "description": "Allow SSH from internet",

    "filter": [
            "in": "inet",
            "out": "_fw",
            "service": "ssh",
            "action": "accept",
            "conn-limit": { "count": 3, "interval": 20 }
    "description": "Allow wireguard from internet",

    "filter": [
            "in": "inet",
            "service": { "proto": "udp", "port": 51821 },
            "action": "accept"

Then I defined an optional component in /etc/awall/optional/game.json to open up the necessary ports and forward any traffic on them to the Wireguard interface.

    "description": "Forward game traffic to Wireguard peer",

    "service": {
        "game": [
            { "proto": "udp", "port": 12345 },
            { "proto": "tcp", "port": 12346 },

    "filter": [
            "in": "inet",
            "out": "vpn",
            "service": "game",
            "action": "accept"

    "dnat": [
            "in": "inet",
            "service": "game",
            "to-addr": ""

    "snat": [
            "out": "vpn",
            "service": "game",
            "from-addr": ""

Let’s break this down, since it’s a bit more complex:

  • service: Defines the ports and protocols used by our game. For this example we’re using 12345/udp and 12346/tcp.
  • filter: Accept packets from the Internet matching the defined service.
  • dnat: Forward matching packets to the Wireguard client’s IP.
  • snat: Rewrite forwarded packets to appear as though they are coming from the server’s Wireguard IP.3

With all of the game-related policies defined, I enabled them and started up the firewall.

# awall enable ssh
# awall enable wireguard
# awall enable game
# awall activate

On Alpine, enabling the iptables and ipset services ensures the firewall is correctly restored on reboot.

# rc-update add iptables
# rc-update add ipset

Local Machine Setup Link to heading

Aside from migrating the game server data, I needed to do a couple of things on my server at home: configure a Wireguard interface to connect to the VPS, open up the necessary ports on that interface, and set up the Podman container to direct all outgoing traffic back through the Wireguard interface. I run Fedora Server on this device, but as with Alpine earlier my process should be fairly simple to adapt for different distributions.

Wireguard Link to heading

As with the VPS, I’ll be fairly brief with the local Wireguard configuration. I also once again avoided wg-quick in favor of the native network configuration tools on the system, in this case NetworkManager on Fedora.

After creating a second key pair for the local server, I created a base Wireguard configuration at /etc/wireguard/wg0.conf:

Address =
PrivateKey = <local server private key>

PublicKey = <VPS public key>
AllowedIPs =
Endpoint = <VPS IP>:51821
PersistentKeepalive = 25

Next, I fed this configuration into NetworkManager to create a connection.

# nmcli connection import type wireguard file /etc/wireguard/wg0.conf

Finally, I added a [Peer] section to the Wireguard configuration on the VPS.

PublicKey = <local server public key>
AllowedIPs =

And with that, the two machines were connected!

Firewall Link to heading

The firewall configuration was thankfully much simpler on the local server. Fedora uses firewalld by default, which allows ports to be opened with a simple command (assuming the wg0 interface is attached to the public zone).

# firewall-cmd --zone=public --permanent --add-port=12345/udp
# firewall-cmd --zone=public --permanent --add-port=12346/tcp

And that’s it! At least as far as incoming traffic is concerned…

Podman Link to heading

Finally, the moment of truth! Rootless Podman containers currently provide networking using slirp4netns by default. This provides an --outbound-addr=[IPv4 | INTERFACE] option that allows forcing outbound packets to use a particular source IP or interface.

Podman exposes this via the --network option in the CLI and network_mode in Compose. I fired up a quick test container to try this:

$ podman run --rm -it --network="slirp4netns:outbound_addr=wg0" docker.io/alpine

And a curl gave me… nothing.

Wireguard, Revisited Link to heading

So what went wrong? Turns out there were a couple of issues. First, the server’s Wireguard configuration specified AllowedIPs = for the VPS peer. This means that the Wireguard interface will simply refuse to do anything with packets I sent through it that weren’t aimed at Second, the routing table generated by NetworkManager lacked a default route for the interface.

And so, I set off to fix these issues by manually editing the NetworkManager connection. System-level connections are stored at /etc/NetworkManager/system-connections/.

There are three sections of interest in wg0.nmconnection: [wireguard], [wireguard-peer], and [ipv4].

private-key=<local server private key>

[wireguard-peer.<VPS public key>]
endpoint=<VPS public IP>:51821


Right away I changed the peer’s allowed IPs to to allow any traffic. Unfortunately this automatically sets up the routing table for a “traditional” VPN use case, where all traffic is sent over the VPN.4 Thankfully, NetworkManager provides the ip4-auto-default-route option to disable this under the [wireguard] section.

Next, I needed to modify the routing tables to correctly send traffic from the Wireguard IP through wg0, while allowing everything else to go out through the main network interface as normal. A couple of extra options in the [ipv4] section accomplished this:

  • route-table=201: Forces all routes from this interface onto a different table. This prevents traffic from going over the Wireguard interface by default.
  • routing-rule1=priority 0 to table 201: A rule that sends any traffic aimed directly at VPS to the newly created table.
  • routing-rule2=priority 0 from table 201: A rule that sends any traffic with the local server’s Wireguard IP as the source address to the new table.

With these changes, a Podman container attached to the Wireguard interface was able to talk to the Internet with no problems! Finally, I was able to spin up the game server. Here’s a sample CLI invokation:

$ podman run --name game \
  --network="slirp4netns:outbound_addr=wg0" \
  -p 12345:12345/udp -p 12346:12346/tcp \

And a Compose version:

version: "3.9"

        image: <repo>/<image>
        network_mode: "slirp4netns:outbound_addr=wg0"
            - "12345:12345/udp"
            - "12346:12346/tcp"

Additional Reading Link to heading

  • awall is a pretty swell iptables wrapper, and fits quite nicely with Alpine itself.

  • NetworkManager’s documentation for connection profiles was immensely valuable for figuring this out without resorting to janky scripts to jam in my own routing.

  1. I’m not being paid to say this, nice as that would be. I just genuinely think Linode is a good service. ↩︎

  2. An SSH policy is not strictly required, but for most setups is helpful to avoid locking yourself out of your system. ↩︎

  3. This has the consequence of rendering any IP-based whitelisting/blacklisting on the Wireguard client useless, but avoids needing to set AllowedIPs = in the server’s Wireguard configuration. Foreshadowing… ↩︎

  4. Notably, this behavior is not specific to NetworkManager. It actually mirrors similar functionality in wg-quick↩︎