What is Port Forwarding vs. Port Triggering – What are the Differences?
What is the difference between port forwarding and port triggering? This is the first question that gets into an administrator’s mind when seeking to share data remotely or a gamer when looking for the best method for their gaming console. To transfer data between devices or gaming consoles online, you need to connect these devices to a network through a router.
While connecting your devices through a router, you should do so securely to avoid hacker attacks and other malicious attempts online. To accomplish this, your router will use one of two configuration types: port forwarding or port triggering. These techniques help in detecting the right ports for sharing data. We will look at port triggering vs port forwarding in this article and their differences to improve your network connections.
What is Port Forwarding?
Port forwarding or port mapping is a technique that redirects internet traffic from a Wide Area Network (WAN) port to a port in your Local Area Network (LAN). The port forwarding configuration is possible if your router is NAT enabled. A NAT allows the devices in each network to have a unique IP address. For instance, let’s say you have set up a web server on your computer which is situated behind a router. Now let’s say a friend is trying to connect to it. Without port forwarding, if he tries to access the server, he won’t be able to get to it. But if you tell your router that the traffic for the web server’s port is going to your computer, then the router will direct the traffic to that computer and your friend will be able to see your website. Port forwarding is useful if you want to access a device behind a router from another network. However, since this configuration opens incoming ports, it puts your network at risk.
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Different Types of Port Forwarding
Port forwarding can take different forms, including local, remote, and dynamic port forwarding.
- Local port forwarding: It is the most common, and it works by connecting a user from the local computer to another server. It bypasses firewalls that block some web pages. It also allows you to receive email and connect your laptop to a website through the Secure Shell SSH tunnel.
- Remote port forwarding: It enables applications on the SSH server side to access services on the SSH’s client-side. To use this type of port forwarding, you should know the port numbers of the destination server and two other port numbers of the client’s hosts. The port numbers you choose are dependent on the application you will use. With remote port forwarding, users can access applications on remote servers.
- Dynamic port forwarding: It allows users to traverse a NAT or firewall through firewall pinholes. It allows TCP communication through a series of ports. This way, they can connect securely to trusted servers. Users use the SSH and SOCKS proxy for secure data transmission when using this port forwarding, enabling them to connect securely to the internet and protect sensitive data. DFP also allows users to bypass firewalls that restrict them from accessing data from some websites.
How Port Forwarding Works
During online data transmission, the data is broken down into packets for easy transportation. Each of these packets contains information detailing their final destination. The packets transit between devices through routers. Thus, routers aid in sending data by looking at the packets’ information and using this information to reroute the packet to its destination. With port forwarding, this flow changes as this application intercept the packets while in transit. Port forwarding takes over the role of a router and rewrites the packets while in transit. This rewrite sends the packets to a different destination from the one initially listed.
How to Port Forward
To set up a port forward entry, you need a static internal IP address as defined by your router (but it wouldn’t hurt to have a static public IP address as well). By default, most devices use the IPv4 protocol, which is dynamic. A dynamic address keeps changing, affecting port forwarding. Thus, for a successful port forwarding, you will need a static IP address, which assures a specific IP address instead of a new one every time you power on your device. It is possible to configure a static IP address within your router or from your PC. This process will vary depending on your router model. To port forward,
- Find the DHCP pool, DHCP reservation, and client list for all the devices connected to your router.
- Next, select the IP address that you want and click the Add or Reserve tab to send the packets.
- Log in to your router with the router’s credentials (Username and Password) to view your router’s firmware settings.
- Navigate to the Port Forwarding section, also called Port Triggering, depending on your router.
- In the Port Forwarding section, enter the port numbers or range that you want to forward. These port numbers will vary depending on the service you wish to support. If you are forwarding a range of ports, you will enter the lowest value in the Start and the highest in the End section.
- On the other hand, if you are forwarding one port, enter the number in the Internal and External boxes.
- Next, select the protocol, either TCP or UDP, in the protocol dropdown and enter the static IP address.
- Enable the port forwarding rule by setting it to On or Enable, making sure it’s directed to the static IP address you defined earlier on.
Why Do You Need Port Forwarding, and is it Safe?
Port forwarding changes how your network interacts with incoming requests. Most networks feature a firewall that blocks incoming ports to keep the network safe. This configuration enables you to access the LAN remotely by providing access through the firewall, such that you can interact with services within the network. Without port forwarding, accessing such services would be impossible for end users. The router serves as a bridge in port forwarding, listens to incoming traffic, and then forwards it to its destination.
As far as safety is concerned, port forwarding is unsafe as it keeps the ports open for longer, making them vulnerable to external threats. However, if appropriately managed, port forwarding is not necessarily unsafe. When deciding to port forwards, you should consider the risks of leaving the network open and remain proactive by ensuring the connected application is up to date and patched. This way, you will reduce the vulnerabilities and risks of exploitation by hackers.
While proactivity reduces the risk of malicious attempts when port forwarding, it is not security-proof, implying that hackers can still access your network. Therefore to be safe, you should only port forward if the benefits outweigh the security risk.
Benefits of Port Forwarding
Port forwarding offers many benefits and uses, and you can utilize it in the following ways:
- Gaming: Online video gaming is the most common reason users enable port forwarding. Routers block internet traffic from most gaming servers because they find them unsafe. This limits a gamer’s interactions with other players online and his ability to host certain games. To avoid this, gamers embrace port forwarding, enabling them to set up and access their private servers.
- Server hosting: Setting up server links to unfamiliar ports, which makes routers block others from accessing it. With port forwarding, you can teach your router that your server is safe, and it should allow other users to access it.
- Improved connection and speed: While securing data online using a VPN, your connection tends to be slower. Thus, to improve the speed, you can port forward and allow direct traffic to your device. This is especially useful if you are gaming, streaming, or running complex applications. Other uses of port forwarding include protection of online privacy, virtual access to your PC, and file backup.
What Is Port Triggering?
Port triggering is a subset of port forwarding which is useful when you want to port forward specific ports to send out data to multiple local computers. As the name suggests, port triggering is a dynamic configuration because you will open the ports when you need and close them when no longer in use. This activity is dependent on the rules set during the initial configuration. Port triggering is also useful if you want to open incoming ports that are different from the outgoing. Network administrators also use port triggering to configure ports to a local computer.
How Port Triggering Works
When port triggering, you need a router to monitor traffic within the network and you will specify a trigger port that will send outbound data. The router will then log the IP address of the computers which sends traffic to the trigger port. It will also open incoming ports then forward traffic to that location. For instance, if you are port triggering, you can set a rule stating “when data flows from port 25, it will forward it to port 40.” When your router sees data flowing from port 25, it will execute the triggering rule by forwarding 25 to 40 and effect port triggering. Upon sending this data, it will close all the ports until it detects traffic on port 25. Upon detection, it will open the specific ports and continue the cycle. Therefore, a successful port triggering is dependent on the user choosing a triggering port and specifying the incoming ports they want to use. This makes it a safe configuration as ports that are not in use will close, minimizing hacker attempts.
Also to note in port triggering is the concept of a timer. The timer will track the duration which the ports are open, after which it closes automatically. This means that you will need a new connection if you receive new data after the timer resets. Given this limitation, a server looking for information from your computer will not connect until the port is open, thus being a disadvantage of port triggering.
How To Set Up Port Triggering
- To set up a port triggering, you will first log in to your router using the router’s credentials (Username and Password)
- Navigate to the setup page from your internet browser. You will find port triggering options near or within the port forwarding settings on this page, depending on your router model and vendor.
- You will also need an incoming and outgoing port number or port range.
- Enter the port number, then select Add Service.
- Next, enter the details of the outgoing packets by picking a unique name and selecting any from the dropdown list.
- Select the IP addresses and service types of the devices you want to trigger. You should also enter the details of the inbound packets by selecting the connection type and fill the Start and End port fields appropriately.
- Click Apply to effect these changes.
Difference Between Port Triggering and Port Forwarding?
Generally, both port forwarding and triggering are useful ways of routing packet data within a LAN through the router. However, while they have many similarities, they are two different techniques, given their closed and open ports.
When port forwarding, your router will remain open continuously to allow an easy reception of packets. On the other hand, port triggering will open a port for a specified duration, making this a dynamic extension of port forwarding.
Port forwarding and triggering are also different in terms of their safety. Open ports are vulnerable to attacks. This makes port triggering safer than port forwarding, as ports open for a shorter duration. In port forwarding, the ports remain open continuously for a long time making your network vulnerable to hacker attacks.
For successful port forwarding, you will need the Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) protocol. This protocol connects devices through a network or direct peer-to-peer connections. UPnP is among the technologies that underpin port forwarding and triggering hence important. It can also accommodate Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Firewire, and Ethernet connections. While using the UPnP protocol for port forwarding or port triggering, you should be aware of its security issues. This includes the vulnerabilities within its codes which hackers use to exploit users. The hackers insert their code and interfere with your network. Also, with UPnP, your devices are visible on the internet, which puts them at risk of access by unauthorized persons. Thus, while using UPnP, you need to be careful to detect these attempts.
How Do Port Forwarding, Port Triggering, and Virtual Private Networking (VPN) Compare?
Both VPNs and port forwarding affect a network operation. At the same time, both redirect internet traffic as per your preference and enable you to access the internet remotely. Through a VPN, you can connect to a LAN as you would in a local network. VPNs also allow end users to connect to remote services hence useful for many companies.
Port forwarding modifies your internet connection by allowing incoming data to and from your device by opening ports on your router. While this is useful, it is a narrower adjustment than in VPNs. A VPN reworks your network operation on several levels. First, to access a VPN, you will need a password, and to transport data, VPNs use a complex process called tunnelling. When transmitting this information, it will wrap it in layers of additional data such that potential hackers will find it challenging to identify and read. This process is also called encapsulation. A VPN will also encrypt the data by translating it into a unique code while on transit. These features of VPN make it superior to port forwarding in terms of security features. Finally, with a VPN, you will not leave your ports open, denying hackers the opportunity to access and exploit your system. Also, it is easier to set up a VPN than port triggering and port forwarding. Also with a VPN, most providers eliminate the no-logs policies so that there are no records of your activities, providing added security. VPN providers also include kill switches, a security feature that cuts off internet connection when the VPN stops. This feature prevents exposure of your IP address and other sensitive information, further securing your connections online.
Finally, with port forwarding and triggering, you need to create rules, which is an extra task. When using a VPN, you will access all the ports and internal resources. Thus, these features reduce port forwarding to a simple network setup, while a VPN comprises a comprehensive configuration with advanced security features. While VPN is a better option in security, its security features require encryption, slowing access to services, unlike in port triggering and port forwarding. Also, the sign-in process is longer when using a VPN as you will need to log in to the VPN first then to the internal resource every time.
How is Port Triggering and Port Forwarding Useful in Data Transfers?
If you want to be effective as an administrator in data transfers, you need to master port forwarding and triggering techniques. These techniques enable you to send data to specific ports for remote users to access the services in your network, so they’re a widely used service by most businesses, despite the risk it carries. Port triggering provides a safer option by closing your ports when not in use. Therefore, despite the risks of port forwarding, you should consider it a viable option with good management as its benefits outweigh the risks.
Port Forwarding vs. Port Triggering Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How do DMZ and Port Forwarding Compare?
DMZ is a network area accessible to the public. Despite being public, this area includes a firewall and security features such as load balancing and Distributed Denial of Service DDoS, which protect it. Also, there is a second firewall between the DMZ and the network used for office activities for added security. On the other hand, port forwarding features a NAT that maps the private network IP address to a unique public IP address. Thus, the DMZ is a network topology, while port forwarding is an address management strategy.
Is it Necessary to Port Forward?
The incompatibility between a private network and the internet is in itself a stronger defense against hacker attempts. Port forwarding weakens this defense by opening the ports and exposing the private network. While this holds, it is still a necessity for businesses that need to allow incoming connections for successful operations, so the answer is: yes, you may not have much of a choice in some contexts.
Why is My Port Closed After Port Forwarding?
A closed port after port forwarding could imply that it bears instructions within its code to stop once it receives a transmission. It could also mean that one of your network management tools has done a port sweep, closing all unnecessary ports. In this case, the unnecessary ports will include all the non-essential services expecting to receive data on the network.
Should I Restart My Router after Port Forwarding?
Restarting your router is unnecessary as the changes will automatically come to effect if you follow the port forwarding rules to the latter and save the changes. Also, removing the port forwarding instructions will take effect once you save the changes.
How Do I Check if Port Triggering or Port Forwarding is Enabled?
Checking whether port triggering is enabled in your device is simple with the following steps:
- Turn on your Windows telnet client by going to the Control Panel, then to Programs and Features, then to Turn Windows features on or off, and then selecting Telnet Client.
- Find the Windows Search bar on your PC and type cmd. This action will open the Command Prompt Window.
- Enter your router’s IP address and Telnet with the port number and press the Enter button. For example, if port 351 is open on your router with IP 192.168.1.3, type telnet 192.168.1.3 351
- A black window will appear if port forwarding or port triggering is successful, and you’ll get a failure notice if it fails.
Is Port Triggering Risky?
While port triggering is safer than port forwarding, it is not entirely secure given the limited time the ports are left open. When your ports are open, a hacker can learn your IP address and port details. With these details, they might still access your network, just like in port forwarding.
Is Port Forwarding Safe?
In short, completely. There are zero risks associated with Port Forwarding. When you compare Port Forwarding vs Port Triggering, both of them are completely safe and won’t put you in harm’s way. Almost all the rumors and supposed dangers of Port Forwarding belong to the age of modems. Most modern operating systems have resilient firewalls that eliminate even the remotest possibility of cyber-attacks.
Adil Advani is committed to sharing his valuable insights into everything security, privacy, and gaming. When not working, he loves experimenting with different things, traveling with friends, and playing online games.