Frequently, services are performed by so-called daemons. A daemon
is a program that opens a certain port, and waits for incoming
connections. If one occurs, it creates a child process which accepts
the connection, while the parent continues to listen for further
requests. This concept has the drawback that for every service offered,
a daemon has to run that listens on the port for a connection to occur,
which generally means a waste of system resources like swap space.
Thus, almost all installations run a ``super-server'' that
creates sockets for a number of services, and listens on all of them
simultaneously using the select(2) system call. When a remote
host requests one of the services, the super-server notices this and
spawns the server specified for this port.
The super-server commonly used is inetd, the Internet Daemon.
It is started at system boot time, and takes the list of services it
is to manage from a startup file named /etc/inetd.conf. In
addition to those servers invoked, there are a number of trivial
services which are performed by inetd itself called internal
services. They include chargen which simply generates a string of
characters, and daytime which returns the system's idea of the time
An entry in this file consists of a single line made up of the
service type protocol wait user server cmdline
The meaning of each field is as follows:
gives the service name. The service name has to be translated
to a port number by looking it up in the /etc/services file.
This file will be described in section 10.3 below.
specifies a socket type, either stream (for connection-
oriented protocols) or dgram (for datagram protocols). TCP-
based services should therefore always use stream, while UDP-
based services should always use dgram.
names the transport protocol used by the service. This must be a valid protocol name found in the protocols file, also
This option applies only to dgram sockets. It may be either
wait or nowait. If wait is specified, inetd will only execute
one server for the specified port at any time. Otherwise, it
will immediately continue to listen on the port after execut-
ing the server.
This is useful for ``single-threaded'' servers that read
all incoming datagrams until no more arrive, and then exit.
Most RPC servers are of this type and should therefore specify
wait. The opposite type, ``multi-threaded'' servers, allow an
unlimited number of instances to run concurrently; this is
only rarely used. These servers should specify nowait.
stream sockets should always use nowait.
This is the login id of the user the process is executed
under. This will frequently be the root user, but some ser-
vices may use different accounts. It is a very good idea to
apply the principle of least privilege here, which states that
you shouldn't run a command under a privileged account if the
program doesn't require this for proper functioning. For
example, the NNTP news server will run as news, while services
that may pose a security risk (such as tftp or finger) are
often run as nobody.
gives the full path name of the server program to be executed.
Internal services are marked by the keyword internal.
This is the command line to be passed to the server. This
includes argument 0, that is the command name. Usually, this
will be the program name of the server, unless the program
behaves differently when invoked by a different name.
This field is empty for internal services.
The finger service is commented out, so that it is not available.
This is often done for security reasons, because may be used by
attackers to obtain names of users on your system.
The tftp is shown commented out as well. tftp implements
the Primitive File Transfer Protocol that allows to transfer any
world-readable files from your system without password checking etc.
This is especially harmful with the /etc/passwd file, even more
so when you don't use shadow password.
TFTP is commonly used by diskless clients and X-terminals to download
their code from a boot server. If you need to run tftpd for this
reason, make sure to limit its scope to those directories clients will
retrieve files from by adding those directory names to tftpd's
command line. This is shown in the second tftp line in the