Linux ignores kernel parameters defined in sysctl.conf file

Recently I keep playing with KVM and testing things out, and today I started noticing strange networking issues with the communication between the VM guest domains after migration to a brand new Debian Wheezy B2 hypervisor.

The networking setup is quite simple - the VM guests are attached to a network bridge on the host. Everyone who ever worked with KVM knows already that you need to put a few kernel parameters to your /etc/sysctl.conf file related to brigding. These kernel parameters are the ones listed below:

net.bridge.bridge-nf-call-ip6tables=0
net.bridge.bridge-nf-call-iptables=0
net.bridge.bridge-nf-call-arptables=0

So I've added these to /etc/sysctl.conf when I first setup the hypervisor and in order to make these changes active I did:

$ sudo sysctl -p
net.bridge.bridge-nf-call-ip6tables = 0
net.bridge.bridge-nf-call-iptables = 0
net.bridge.bridge-nf-call-arptables = 0

But.. today I've decided to reboot the system and that's when I started seening strange networking issues.

I run CFEngine on each VM guest in my private network, and the problem I had was that clients were no longer able to authenticate to the CFEngine server by using their ppkeys.

After looking aroud for a while the problem was found to be that clients were initiating the connection by using the bridge's IP address, which clearly shouldn't be the case.

So what caused this strange network behaviour?

The root cause after some investigation was that our sysctl.conf(5) kernel parameters related to bridging were not set after the reboot.

For setting up the sysctl.conf(5) kernel parameters under Linux the /etc/init.d/procps init.d script is being used, but clearly our kernel parameters were not set.

So what really caused this?

The real problem here is that /etc/init.d/procps script is being executed too early in the boot process and our bridge kernel parameters that we usually set in /etc/sysctl.conf are not yet available, as the bridge module is not loaded yet.

One solution to this problem as others have also pointed out is to use /etc/rc.local and do a sysctl -p to set any kernel parameters, but I don't really like this approach.

A more elegant way for fixing this issue would be to explicitely load the bridge module during boot from /etc/modules, thus making our bridge related kernel parameters available early in the boot process.

To do that, execute this command:

echo "bridge" >> /etc/modules
Written on November 15, 2012