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hpr3734 :: Inetd: the internet super-server

I talk about inetd and give an example of how to write a service for it

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Hosted by binrc on 2022-11-24 is flagged as Explicit and is released under a CC-BY-SA license.
BSD, inetd. 2.

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Duration: 00:16:48


Inetd, the internet super-server

Inetd is slowly becoming one of my favorite daemons. It makes writing programs that talk over the network super easy. Inetd handles all of the hard socket stuff and allows admins to write simple UNIX-ey programs. Inetd is useful because it allows us to write services that only run when they are requested in order to reduce total system load.

How inetd works

Inetd can be conceptualized as a sort of "wrapper daemon". Inetd is always running despite the fact that many of it's sub-services are not always running.

Inetd listens on a specific port. When it gets a request, it handles all of the hard socket parts. This request is then passed to one of our inetd services

We will use a simple server that echoes the request back to the user as an example. We will call this inetd service echod

Inetd passes requests to echod as text. echod will read from stdin and write to stdout. Everything written to stdout is passed to the client. echod will then exit.

echo server example

I use OpenBSD on my webserver. Sadly, systemd sockets have replaced inetd on many linux systems. systemd sockets are entirely painful to use. I can't verify that these examples will work on non-OpenBSD systems but the openbsd-inetd package is available on a wide variety of debianoiads.

Let's write out out echod service and the configuration files required to get it working.

Edit /etc/inetd.conf

# port  socket type protocol    wait/nowait user    server program      server arguments(optional)
9999    stream      tcp         nowait      daemon  /opt/echod/

And our echod service file, located at /opt/echod/

while read l; do
        echo $l;

exit 0;

Be sure to chmod +x and rcctl enable inetd && rcctl start inetd or it won't run.


Sometimes you can use curl to test a service but I will use netcat instead because it doesn't assume http.

$ echo "foobar" | nc -N localhost 9999

You can also use telnet to test the service:

$ telnet localhost 9999
Connected to localhost.
Escape character is '^]'.
echo back
echo back
telnet> Connection closed.

Finger server example

Many months ago, I wrote a finger server to learn more about how inetd works (and to write a finger daemon that doesn't allow for enumerating non-regular users). You can download the source code for my finger server from my gitlab.

This finger server only allows information from users who have a home directory in /home/ to be displayed. It also has hard-coded filenames it looks for. Example output looks something like:

$ finger binrc@localhost

Working on an HPR episode

No .pgpkey


Gopher server example

Currently, I am working on a gopher server that runs through inetd to learn more about how gopher works (and to write a gopher server that doesn't allow for path traversal). I have yet to add autoindex support but I thought it would be good to include anyway because it really demonstrates how simple it can be to write an inetd service. You can download the source code for my gopher server from my gitlab.

This gopher server reads input from standard in and prints the requested file to standard out. Writing an inetd service can be as easy as writing an application specific version of cat(1).

Giving the service SSL

You can pair inetd with relayd to make any inetd service use ssl. In this example, I am symlinking my existing httpd certs obtained with

# ln -s /etc/ssl/ /etc/ssl/\:9998.crt
# ln -s /etc/ssl/private/ /etc/ssl/private/\:9998.key

A sample relayd configuration looks like:

log connection

tcp protocol "echod" {
        tls keypair ""

relay "echod" {
        listen on port 9998 tls
        protocol "echod"
        forward to port 9999

After enabling and starting relayd, it will now be listening on port 9998. When it receives traffic on 9998, it will perform all of the fancy cryptography stuff and pass the request to localhost:9999. Since relayd is listening on 9999 and passing requests on 9999 to the echo server, we are now running an echo server with ssl.


Do I run inetd in production? No, not really. I have in the past but I haven't needed it seeing as finger, echo, and gopher are dead protocols. Even if inetd is largely useless in the modern era, it's still fun to play with.


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Comment #1 posted on 2022-11-24 10:03:16 by sinza

Great show!

I always like your shows, but I was wanting to work with the NetBSD inetd (which seems to be similar to its OpenBSD cousin) for a personal project of mine. This show came at the right time, and I learned a lot. :-)
Comment #2 posted on 2022-11-27 16:57:41 by Zen_floater2

loved this

love OpenBSD try fuguita sometimeP

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