Call for opinions: default naming policy for USB network interfaces: MAC/path/kernel?

Martin Pitt martin.pitt at
Wed Apr 6 10:56:44 UTC 2016

Hello all,

last summer we discussed changing the way network interface names are
named [1]. For the most part I think this worked out well, but I've
heard some complaints here and there about USB devices, we had some
ad-hoc discussions, but they weren't concluded. So let's review this
before we release this in an LTS. I'm particularly interested in
getting some opinions from the desktop and snappy folks, hence the
cross-posting (this doesn't practically affect the server and cloud
worlds). But please let's keep the discussion on ubuntu-devel at .

Internal (PCI etc.) ethernet and wifi devices now have either
BIOS-assigned names based on indexes (eno1) or slots (ens2) or PCI
path based names like "enp0s1" or "wlp0s1", i. e. they are named by
location, and roughly match the intution of "first/second" or
"left/right" card (which works for both physical and virtual
interfaces, which wasn't the case for the previous MAC-based system
and thus we didn't do any persistent naming for virtual environments).

However, as there were some complaints [2][3] about location-based
names not being appropriate for USB devices, we currently use the MAC
address for those. I. e. they are named like "enx123456AABBCC".

After having seen this in practice for a while, I wonder whether that
was actually the right decision. There's the stylistic issue of these
names being very long, but if you configure ifupdown or your firewall
etc. with those, you only need to copy&paste it exactly once. The more
important question is whether treating them as "device identity" as
oppposed to "where do I connect it" is actually the right default.

These are the options with pros (+) and cons (-):

 * MAC based (status quo): Emphasize the identity of the device that
   you connect
   + Works well on PCs/laptops where you want to connect your phone or
     USB 3G stick on an arbitrary USB slot.

   - With boards like the RasPi you usually think in terms of
     location: The left port is for the external USB ethernet card,
     the right port for something else.

   - You can't just take a pre-configured image and install it on a
     bunch of RasPis, as the configuration depends on the particular
     USB ethernet dongle that you plug in, so the names will be
     different on every deployed device, you can't keep a r/o
     image, and you need to adjust the configuration everywhere.

 * Location based (upstream default): Emphasize the location of the
   device that you connect; this has opposite pros and cons:
   + Works well on embedded boards where you more likely think in
     terms of location and USB port numbers than "did I use this or
     that USB ethernet adapter"

   + Is much more suitable for pre-configuring an image and deploying
     it to lots of devices.

   - Breaks on laptops/desktops with lots of USB ports when you tend
     to plug in your phone/USB dongle in different ports every time.
     Although there it probably doesn't matter as NetworkManager
     does not care about device names and connections are set up
     dynamically -- it's relatively unlikely that you use ifupdown or
     custom name-based firewall rules for hotpluggable USB network

 * Keep the kernel name (like eth0) for USB devices
   - Does not provide any stable names if you have multiple USB
     devices at the same time (however, this doesn't appear to be a
     common case)

   * I. e. this requires you to manually configure names IF you need
     to refer to the names in config files (ifupdown, firewall) AND
     you need multiple USB network devices simultaneously.

   + If you only ever use at most one USB device (the common case),
     the name "eth0" is reasonably predictable, and pre-configured
     systems (like Raspis) with hardcoded "eth0" have a reasonably
     high chance of working out of the box.

   - There are no firm guarantees about the kernel actually naming the
     device "eth0" in all cases.

None of those are optimal of course (this is an absurdly difficult and
bikeshed-prone topic, thanks to Linux's "unique" way of treating
network interfaces completely differently than all other devices), so
I'm not sure how to do the decision in a qualified way. But let's
please collect some opinions and see if there's some clear favorite.

My gut feeling is to switch to location-based or kernel names by
default. It shouldn't matter much on desktops as one usually uses
dynamic configuration there (NetworkManager), and it will be a better
default for small/embedded/snappy devices. If we don't want to change
the default at this point, the alternative is that pre-configured
images for Raspi and the like can ship a custom *.link file which
changes the policy to kernel/path for USB devices.

Thank you in advance,


P.S. Upgrade note: If we change the default schema, then this will of
course only apply to new installs of Xenial, as we can't know whether
the user already set up anything that relies on the current names. So
systems upgraded from wily or current xenial will retain the MAC based
names, unless you manually remove the .link file in /etc (I'll explain
this in NEWS).


Martin Pitt                        |
Ubuntu Developer (  | Debian Developer  (
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