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What the Heck is a NAT VPS, Anyway?

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For some time, it was the norm to get an IPv4 when you rented a VM.  One VM = 1 IPv4 and life was simple.

Then humans kept breeding and getting more affluent and spreading their technologies all over the place and IPv4s became scarce.  IPv6 had been invented, but was slow on the uptake.  Meanwhile, IPv4 prices were climbing, which made offering small, cheap VPSes infeasible.  To meet this challenge, a technology was borrowed: Network Address Translation, or NAT.

NAT is the technology that nearly everyone uses.  Let’s say I come over to your house to watch RRR because another friend told us it was “all the movie dials turned to 11”.  I pull out my phone and connect to your wifi and am given IP 192.168.1.10 or something.  If I then go to What Is My IP Address, I would not see 192.168.1.10, but rather a public IP that was assigned to your router by your ISP.

That is NAT.  Your router is translating network addresses.  If five of us are at your house using your wifi and we all go to https://www.LowEndTalk.com, that’s five connections to port 443.  Your router keeps track of each connection so that our traffic is correctly routed.  To the outside world, we all appear as whatever public IP was given the router, but the router is partitioning our traffic on the inside.

Turns out you can do the same thing on a VPS.  Let’s imagine I have a dedicated server with one IPv4.  If I was giving everyone one IPv4, I would not get far, but if I say to people “you can have ports 50000-50099, and you over there can have ports 50100 to 50199, etc.” then I can carve that dedicated server up into many VMs (the actual number of ports given to end users varies by provider).

While at one time there were plenty of IPv4-only NAT VPSes, in 2022, most if not all NAT VPSes are really IPv6 VPSes with some IPv4 ports NATted in.

Why Would I Want This?

They’re cheap.  That’s the main reason.  But there are other attractions.

Not everyone needs the classic “DNS A record points to my domain and you connect on port 443” setup.  If you’re using your VPS for a VPN, for example, then you don’t care about port 443.

You might also have your own web apps where you’re the only user, or a small group of sophisticated users, so typing in a port number after the URL is not a big deal.

Some people use NAT VPSes for pingers/pollers/monitors.  Buying an array of systems to monitor whatever you’re monitoring can be expensive – much less so when you’re not paying the IPv4 tax.

Of course, you can host websites on a NAT VPS.  Take CloudFlare or similar and put in front of your web site, connecting CF’s IPv4 to your VPS’s IPv6 and visitors are none the wiser.  This can be a very cheap solution.

In the distant future when IPv6 is the norm, NAT VPSes will be a historical footnote like so many technologies of yore.  In the meantime, if you want the rock bottom cheapest, NAT VPS is worth checking out.

 

 

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