29.2. The inetd Super-Server

The inetd(8) daemon is sometimes referred to as a Super-Server because it manages connections for many services. Instead of starting multiple applications, only the inetd service needs to be started. When a connection is received for a service that is managed by inetd, it determines which program the connection is destined for, spawns a process for that program, and delegates the program a socket. Using inetd for services that are not heavily used can reduce system load, when compared to running each daemon individually in stand-alone mode.

Primarily, inetd is used to spawn other daemons, but several trivial protocols are handled internally, such as chargen, auth, time, echo, discard, and daytime.

This section covers the basics of configuring inetd.

29.2.1. Configuration File

Configuration of inetd is done by editing /etc/inetd.conf. Each line of this configuration file represents an application which can be started by inetd. By default, every line starts with a comment (#), meaning that inetd is not listening for any applications. To configure inetd to listen for an application's connections, remove the # at the beginning of the line for that application.

After saving your edits, configure inetd to start at system boot by editing /etc/rc.conf:

inetd_enable="YES"

To start inetd now, so that it listens for the service you configured, type:

# service inetd start

Once inetd is started, it needs to be notified whenever a modification is made to /etc/inetd.conf:

Example 29.1. Reloading the inetd Configuration File
# service inetd reload

Typically, the default entry for an application does not need to be edited beyond removing the #. In some situations, it may be appropriate to edit the default entry.

As an example, this is the default entry for ftpd(8) over IPv4:

ftp     stream  tcp     nowait  root    /usr/libexec/ftpd       ftpd -l

The seven columns in an entry are as follows:

service-name
socket-type
protocol
{wait|nowait}[/max-child[/max-connections-per-ip-per-minute[/max-child-per-ip]]]
user[:group][/login-class]
server-program
server-program-arguments

where:

service-name

The service name of the daemon to start. It must correspond to a service listed in /etc/services. This determines which port inetd listens on for incoming connections to that service. When using a custom service, it must first be added to /etc/services.

socket-type

Either stream, dgram, raw, or seqpacket. Use stream for TCP connections and dgram for UDP services.

protocol

Use one of the following protocol names:

Protocol NameExplanation
tcp or tcp4TCP IPv4
udp or udp4UDP IPv4
tcp6TCP IPv6
udp6UDP IPv6
tcp46Both TCP IPv4 and IPv6
udp46Both UDP IPv4 and IPv6
{wait|nowait}[/max-child[/max-connections-per-ip-per-minute[/max-child-per-ip]]]

In this field, wait or nowait must be specified. max-child, max-connections-per-ip-per-minute and max-child-per-ip are optional.

wait|nowait indicates whether or not the service is able to handle its own socket. dgram socket types must use wait while stream daemons, which are usually multi-threaded, should use nowait. wait usually hands off multiple sockets to a single daemon, while nowait spawns a child daemon for each new socket.

The maximum number of child daemons inetd may spawn is set by max-child. For example, to limit ten instances of the daemon, place a /10 after nowait. Specifying /0 allows an unlimited number of children.

max-connections-per-ip-per-minute limits the number of connections from any particular IP address per minute. Once the limit is reached, further connections from this IP address will be dropped until the end of the minute. For example, a value of /10 would limit any particular IP address to ten connection attempts per minute. max-child-per-ip limits the number of child processes that can be started on behalf on any single IP address at any moment. These options can limit excessive resource consumption and help to prevent Denial of Service attacks.

An example can be seen in the default settings for fingerd(8):

finger stream  tcp     nowait/3/10 nobody /usr/libexec/fingerd fingerd -k -s
user

The username the daemon will run as. Daemons typically run as root, daemon, or nobody.

server-program

The full path to the daemon. If the daemon is a service provided by inetd internally, use internal.

server-program-arguments

Used to specify any command arguments to be passed to the daemon on invocation. If the daemon is an internal service, use internal.

29.2.2. Command-Line Options

Like most server daemons, inetd has a number of options that can be used to modify its behaviour. By default, inetd is started with -wW -C 60. These options enable TCP wrappers for all services, including internal services, and prevent any IP address from requesting any service more than 60 times per minute.

To change the default options which are passed to inetd, add an entry for inetd_flags in /etc/rc.conf. If inetd is already running, restart it with service inetd restart.

The available rate limiting options are:

-c maximum

Specify the default maximum number of simultaneous invocations of each service, where the default is unlimited. May be overridden on a per-service basis by using max-child in /etc/inetd.conf.

-C rate

Specify the default maximum number of times a service can be invoked from a single IP address per minute. May be overridden on a per-service basis by using max-connections-per-ip-per-minute in /etc/inetd.conf.

-R rate

Specify the maximum number of times a service can be invoked in one minute, where the default is 256. A rate of 0 allows an unlimited number.

-s maximum

Specify the maximum number of times a service can be invoked from a single IP address at any one time, where the default is unlimited. May be overridden on a per-service basis by using max-child-per-ip in /etc/inetd.conf.

Additional options are available. Refer to inetd(8) for the full list of options.

29.2.3. Security Considerations

Many of the daemons which can be managed by inetd are not security-conscious. Some daemons, such as fingerd, can provide information that may be useful to an attacker. Only enable the services which are needed and monitor the system for excessive connection attempts. max-connections-per-ip-per-minute, max-child and max-child-per-ip can be used to limit such attacks.

By default, TCP wrappers is enabled. Consult hosts_access(5) for more information on placing TCP restrictions on various inetd invoked daemons.

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