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The article Linux Firewall Tutorial: IPTables Tables, Chains, Rules Fundamentals define the RETURN target value as follow:

RETURN – Firewall will stop executing the next set of rules in the current chain for this packet. The control will be returned to the calling chain.


I was discussing with a colleague on the effect of a such a target's value has the first rule of the first chain.

As there is no calling chain, what would happen to the packet? Would it be rejected or accepted?

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

You mean e.g.

iptables -F INPUT
iptables -I INPUT 1 -j RETURN

From man iptables:

If [...] a rule in a built-in chain with target RETURN is matched, the target specified by the chain policy determines the fate of the packet.

The chain policy is set with iptables -P, and can be found at the beginning of the output of iptables -L -n -v, eg:

Chain INPUT (policy DROP 32 packets, 6666 bytes)

which shows a policy of DROP on the INPUT chain.

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What is the target specified by the chain policy here? – Édouard Lopez Jul 25 '14 at 8:53
Will the RETURN be equivalent to a DROP or a ACCEPT? – Édouard Lopez Jul 25 '14 at 8:53
Neither. As it says above, the RETURN will do nothing at all, and the chain policy will take over. To find or set the chain policy, see my edit above. – MadHatter Jul 25 '14 at 12:56
This is the first answer I found that actually explains RETURN in a simple yet accurate manner. +1 – aggregate1166877 Sep 5 '14 at 9:39
Why, thank you, aggregate! It's nice to know one's efforts are appreciated, and better yet, useful. – MadHatter Sep 5 '14 at 10:08

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