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      netcat

      Learning to Use netcat to its Full Potential


      Updated by Linode

      Contributed by

      Mihalis Tsoukalos

      Netcat is a simple but handy UNIX utility that reads and writes data across network connections, using either TCP or UDP. The purpose of this guide is to help you learn the netcat command line utility and use it productively.

      Before You Begin

      Some of the commands in this guide will require the use of two terminal windows running netcat, one acting as a server and the other as the client. These can be separate machines, or you can connect to the same localhost.

      Note

      This guide is written for a non-root user. Depending on your configuration, some commands might require the help of sudo in order to get property executed. If you are not familiar with the sudo command, see the Users and Groups guide.

      Port numbers 0-1024 are restricted and can only be used with root privileges, which means that you should use the sudo command for creating TCP/IP servers that use port numbers 0-1024.
      This rule does not apply to TCP/IP clients that use port numbers 0-1024.

      Introduction

      As netcat is not installed by default, you will most likely need to install netcat on
      your Linux machine using your favourite package manager.

      Note

      The netcat binary usually has an alias named nc, which is what will be used
      in this guide because it is shorter. Usually both commands point to the same binary file.

      If you execute apt-cache search netcat on a Debian machine, you will see the following output:

      apt-cache search netcat
      
        
      netcat - TCP/IP swiss army knife -- transitional package
      netcat-traditional - TCP/IP swiss army knife
      netcat-openbsd - TCP/IP swiss army knife
      
      

      Notice that netcat is a dummy package and its purpose is to ease upgrades. The
      differences between the other two packages are not big, but you will need to visit
      their package descriptions and their man pages in order to get a detailed description
      of their capabilities.

      The OpenBSD version of netcat supports IPv6, proxies and UNIX sockets, which are not
      supported by the netcat-traditional variant. On the other hand, netcat-traditional includes
      support for the -e option that allows you to execute a program from a remote shell, which is
      not offered by netcat-openbsd. However, if you do not need any of these features, you will
      not notice any real difference between these two versions of netcat.

      This guide will be using the netcat binary that comes with the netcat-traditional package.
      This version of netcat was written by a person known as Hobbit.

      Command Line Options

      netcat commands have the netcat [options] host port generic form. The nc binary
      supports the following command line options:

      Option Usage
      -u The -u option tells nc to work in UDP mode. If -u is not present, nc will be using TCP.
      -l The -l option tells nc to listen for incoming connections, which makes it a server process.
      -h The -h option displays a help screen.
      -e filename The -e option tells nc to execute the a file named with the filename parameter after a client connection.
      -c string The -c option tells nc to pass the contents of string to /bin/sh -c for execution after a client connection.
      -i seconds The -i option defines the delay interval used by nc when sending lines or scanning ports.
      -q seconds The -q option tells nc to wait the specified number of seconds before quitting after getting an EOF in standard input. If the value is negative, nc will wait forever.
      -v The -v option tells nc to produce verbose output.
      -vv The -vv option tells nc to produce even more verbose output than the -v option.
      -z The -z option tells nc to use zero-I/O mode, which is used when performing port scanning.
      -r The -r option tells nc to use random local and remote ports, which might be good for testing.
      -o file The -o option tells nc to save the hex dump of network traffic to file, which might be handy for debugging.
      -n The -n option tells nc to use IP addresses (numeric) only.
      -p port The -p option tells nc which port number to use.
      -b The -b option tells nc to allow UDP broadcasts.
      -C The -C option tells nc to send CRLF as line-ending.
      -T type The -T option allows nc to set the type of the TOS (Type Of Service) flag.
      -g gateway The -g option allows you to specify the route that the packets will take through the network. You can learn more about Source Routing here.
      -G number The value of the -G option allows you to specify the value of the source routing pointer. You can learn more about the Source Routing pointer here.
      -s address The -s option allows you to specify the local source address that will be used in the nc command.
      -t The -t option is used for enabling telnet negotiation.

      The remainder of this guide will demonstrate the most important of these commands. That being said, netcat is a versatile tool, and there’s a large opportunity for experimenting on your own.

      Using netcat as a Client

      The most common use of netcat is to act as a client for a server process. This is mostly
      used for troubleshooting network servers and network connections because you can see the raw data
      of the interaction. So, providing nc with just a hostname or IP address and a port number
      will make netcat act as the telnet utility:

      nc localhost 22
      
        
      SSH-2.0-OpenSSH_7.9p1 Debian-10
      
      

      In the given example, nc tries to connect to TCP port number 22 of the localhost – notice
      that TCP port number 22 is used by SSH, which is what triggers the provided output.

      Also notice that as the -u option is not used, nc will use the TCP protocol by default.

      Using netcat as a Server

      nc will accept connections at a given port and act as a server when you execute
      it with the -l option:

      nc -l -p 1234
      

      In another terminal window, connect a client to the server with nc:

      nc 127.0.01 1234
      

      You can now send messages between the two machines with nc.

        
      This is a client!
      Hello from the server!
      
      

      The previous command tells netcat to listen on TCP port number 1234 for incoming
      connections – you can also see that netcat automatically reads data from the client
      and that you can send your response to the TCP client just by typing it.

      Once again, as the -u option is not used, nc will use the TCP protocol.

      Getting Verbose Output

      There are times where you cannot connect to the remote machine or the answer you get is
      not the expected one. In such cases, it is good to use either -v or -vv in order to
      get more information from the nc connection.

      nc -v localhost 1234
      
        
      localhost [127.0.0.1] 1234 (?) : Connection refused
      
      

      The output you get shows that the reason you cannot connect to localhost
      using TCP port number 1234 is that your connection was refused by the server.
      Executing nc localhost 1234 will return no output, which offers no help.

      Using -vv instead of -v will generate the following kind of output:

      nc -vv localhost 1234
      
        
      localhost [127.0.0.1] 1234 (?) : Connection refused
       sent 0, rcvd 0
      
      

      If the TCP connection was successful, you would have gotten the following kind of
      output on the client side:

      nc -vv localhost 1234
      
        
      localhost [127.0.0.1] 1234 (?) open
      
      

      Both -v and -vv are very valuable when things do not work as expected.

      Using the UDP Protocol

      In order to use the UDP protocol instead of the TCP protocol, you should include
      the -u option in your nc commands. Therefore, the following command will
      use the UDP protocol:

      nc –vv –u 8.8.8.8 53
      
        
      dns.google [8.8.8.8] 53 (domain) open
      
      

      As we are trying to connect to a (public) DNS server, we will have to use port number 53.

      Examples

      In this section you will find a number of use cases and examples for nc.

      Using netcat for Port Scanning

      Netcat can be used for port scanning as a naive version of nmap with the -z option. The command that follows scans the localhost, which has an IP address of 127.0.0.1, using a range of port numbers from 1 to 30 (1-30):

      netcat -z -vv -n 127.0.0.1 1-30
      
        
      (UNKNOWN) [127.0.0.1] 30 (?) : Connection refused
      (UNKNOWN) [127.0.0.1] 29 (?) : Connection refused
      (UNKNOWN) [127.0.0.1] 28 (?) : Connection refused
      (UNKNOWN) [127.0.0.1] 27 (?) : Connection refused
      (UNKNOWN) [127.0.0.1] 26 (?) : Connection refused
      (UNKNOWN) [127.0.0.1] 25 (smtp) open
      (UNKNOWN) [127.0.0.1] 24 (?) : Connection refused
      (UNKNOWN) [127.0.0.1] 23 (telnet) : Connection refused
      (UNKNOWN) [127.0.0.1] 22 (ssh) open
      (UNKNOWN) [127.0.0.1] 21 (ftp) : Connection refused
      (UNKNOWN) [127.0.0.1] 20 (ftp-data) : Connection refused
      (UNKNOWN) [127.0.0.1] 19 (chargen) : Connection refused
      (UNKNOWN) [127.0.0.1] 18 (msp) : Connection refused
      (UNKNOWN) [127.0.0.1] 17 (qotd) : Connection refused
      (UNKNOWN) [127.0.0.1] 16 (?) : Connection refused
      (UNKNOWN) [127.0.0.1] 15 (netstat) : Connection refused
      (UNKNOWN) [127.0.0.1] 14 (?) : Connection refused
      (UNKNOWN) [127.0.0.1] 13 (daytime) : Connection refused
      (UNKNOWN) [127.0.0.1] 12 (?) : Connection refused
      (UNKNOWN) [127.0.0.1] 11 (systat) : Connection refused
      (UNKNOWN) [127.0.0.1] 10 (?) : Connection refused
      (UNKNOWN) [127.0.0.1] 9 (discard) : Connection refused
      (UNKNOWN) [127.0.0.1] 8 (?) : Connection refused
      (UNKNOWN) [127.0.0.1] 7 (echo) : Connection refused
      (UNKNOWN) [127.0.0.1] 6 (?) : Connection refused
      (UNKNOWN) [127.0.0.1] 5 (?) : Connection refused
      (UNKNOWN) [127.0.0.1] 4 (?) : Connection refused
      (UNKNOWN) [127.0.0.1] 3 (?) : Connection refused
      (UNKNOWN) [127.0.0.1] 2 (?) : Connection refused
      (UNKNOWN) [127.0.0.1] 1 (tcpmux) : Connection refused
       sent 0, rcvd 0
      
      

      Notice that as we are using the -n option, the server should be specified by its
      IP address. Additionally, if you omit the -vv option, you will get a much shorter
      output, which is verified by the following output:

      nc -z -v -n 127.0.0.1 1-30
      
        
      (UNKNOWN) [127.0.0.1] 25 (smtp) open
      (UNKNOWN) [127.0.0.1] 22 (ssh) open
      
      

      Therefore, the use of -v makes nc to display open TCP ports only.

      If you do not use -v or -vv, the previous command will return no output:

      nc -z -n 127.0.0.1 1-30
      
        
      
      

      Using netcat for Transferring Files

      One of the features of netcat is that it is capable of transferring files:

      cat access.log | nc -vv -l -p 4567
      
        
      listening on [any] 4567 ...
      connect to [127.0.0.1] from localhost [127.0.0.1] 53952
      
      

      When a client connects to TCP port number 4567, nc will send the contents of the
      access.log file to it. The correct way to execute a nc client in order to get that
      file is the following. Open a new terminal window and enter this command:

      nc -vv localhost 4567 > fileToGet
      
        
      localhost [127.0.0.1] 4567 (?) open
      ^C sent 0, rcvd 362148
      
      

      You will need to press Control+C for the TCP connection to close.

      Using netcat for Making any Process a Server

      Netcat allows you to make any process a server process with the help of the –e parameter:

      nc -vv -l -p 12345 -e /bin/bash
      
        
      listening on [any] 12345 ...
      connect to [127.0.0.1] from localhost [127.0.0.1] 46930
      bash: line 2: asd: command not found
      
      

      Here you tell nc to accept incoming TCP connections on TCP port number 12345. When
      a connection is accepted, nc will execute /bin/bash, which means that it will give
      you shell access on the machine. After a client successfully connects, every input line
      will be executed as a shell command using /bin/bash. If the command cannot be found,
      the client will get no output and an error message will be generated on the server side.
      Otherwise, the output of the command will be sent to the client. To test this functionality, in another terminal window create a nc client and type in the following command:

      nc localhost 12345
      

      Caution

      This capability of netcat can introduce security threats on your Linux machine
      when used improperly. It is advised that you exercise caution if using this feature.

      Executing a Command After Connecting

      If you want to execute a given command each time a client connects to a server that is
      implemented using nc, then you should use the -c option followed by that command.
      The example that follows executes ls -l and sends the output to the client:

      nc -vv -c "ls -l" -l 127.0.0.1 -p 1234
      
        
      listening on [any] 1234 ...
      connect to [127.0.0.1] from localhost [127.0.0.1] 33788
      
      

      Try executing nc 127.0.0.1 1234 on another terminal on your local machine to get the
      output of ls -l.

      Caution

      This capability of netcat can introduce security threats on your Linux machine
      when used improperly. It is advised that you exercise caution if using this feature.

      Using netcat as a Simple Web Server

      Let us say that you want to serve a simple HTML page, which in this case will be called
      index.html, from your Linux machine but you have no real web server available. You can
      use netcat to serve that simple HTML page on clients from your local machine as follows:

      nc -vv -l 127.0.0.1 -p 4567 < index.html
      

      Using wget to get that page will generate the following output in the nc part:

        
      listening on [any] 4567 ...
      connect to [127.0.0.1] from localhost [127.0.0.1] 53980
      GET / HTTP/1.1
      User-Agent: Wget/1.18 (linux-gnu)
      Accept: */*
      Accept-Encoding: identity
      Host: localhost:4567
      Connection: Keep-Alive
      
      

      Additionally, when using wget, we will receive the following output, which reflects the contents
      of the index.html page:

      wget -qO- http://localhost:4567/
      
        
      <title>Page Under Construction</title>
      <META HTTP-EQUIV="Content-Type" CONTENT="text/html; charset=UTF-8">
      <style type="text/css">
      body {
        background-color:#000;
      }
      .img {
        margin:180px 50px 75px 450px;
      }
      </style>
      </head>
      <body>
          <H1>Under Construction</H1>
      </body>
      </html>
      
      

      Using netcat for Getting Data from Web Servers

      The HTTP service is just a TCP service; therefore nc can be used for getting data from
      a web server or for testing web servers. The following command will connect to the
      www.linode.com machine using port number 80, which corresponds to the HTTP protocol:

      nc www.linode.com 80
      

      You should type the first line (GET / HTTP/1.1) and press the enter key two times
      in order to get a response from the web server.

        
      GET / HTTP/1.1
      
      HTTP/1.1 400 Bad Request
      Server: nginx
      Date: Wed, 10 Jul 2019 20:02:47 GMT
      Content-Type: text/html
      Content-Length: 166
      Connection: close
      
      <html>
      <head><title>400 Bad Request</title></head>
      <body bgcolor="white">
      <center><h1>400 Bad Request</h1></center>
      <hr><center>nginx</center>
      </body>
      </html>
      
      

      A better way to execute this command is the following:

      echo -en "GET / HTTP/1.0nnn" | netcat www.linode.com 80
      
        
      HTTP/1.1 301 Moved Permanently
      Server: nginx
      Date: Wed, 10 Jul 2019 20:04:10 GMT
      Content-Type: text/html
      Content-Length: 178
      Connection: close
      Location: https:///
      
      <html>
      <head><title>301 Moved Permanently</title></head>
      <body bgcolor="white">
      <center><h1>301 Moved Permanently</h1></center>
      <hr><center>nginx</center>
      </body>
      </html>
      
      

      This used to be a very popular way of testing web servers when every web server
      was using the HTTP protocol. Nowadays, the use of HTTPS makes difficult to test
      a web server using tools such as netcat and telnet because the web traffic is
      encrypted.

      Using netcat for Creating a Chat Server

      Creating a basic chat server with nc for two machines to communicate with each other is completed in two commands. One of the machines will function as the server and the other machine will be the client. On the server you will need to execute the following:

      nc -vv -l 127.0.0.1 -p 1234
      
        
      listening on [any] 1234 ...
      connect to [127.0.0.1] from localhost [127.0.0.1] 60608
      Hello!
      
      

      And on the client:

      nc -vv 127.0.0.1 1234
      
        
      Hello!
      
      

      If both people that want to talk are on the same Linux machine, then using 127.0.0.1 is
      safer and quicker. Otherwise, you should use the IP address of the server in both commands.

      Transferring Entire Directories Using netcat

      This section will explain how to transfer entire directories using netcat. Imagine that you wish to transfer the var directory that resides under
      your home directory. You can do that as follows:

      tar -cvf - ~/var | nc -vv -l 127.0.0.1 -p 1234
      
        
      listening on [any] 1234 ...
      tar: Removing leading `/' from member names
      /home/username/var/
      /home/username/var/slide.tar.ORG
      
      

      This creates a TCP server that listens on TCP port number 1234
      on the host with the 127.0.0.1 IP address. Generally speaking, using 127.0.0.1
      as the server IP address is more secure than using one of the real IP addresses of
      your Linux machine provided that both the server and the client are on the same
      Linux machine.

      After that you will need to execute the following command on the client side:

      cd /tmp
      nc 127.0.0.1 1234 | tar -xvf -
      
        
      home/username/var/
      home/username/var/slide.tar.ORG
      home/username/var/after.tshark
      home/username/var/test.pcap
      home/username/var/sys09725827.php
      home/username/var/test.php
      home/username/var/u5EJqp.php
      home/username/var/http.pcap
      home/username/var/sketch.zip
      
      

      When the client connects, the nc server will also print the following output:

        
      listening on [any] 1234 ...
      tar: Removing leading `/' from member names
      /home/username/var/
      /home/username/var/slide.tar.ORG
      connect to [127.0.0.1] from localhost [127.0.0.1] 60632
      /home/username/var/after.tshark
      /home/username/var/test.pcap
      /home/username/var/sys09725827.php
      /home/username/var/test.php
      /home/username/var/u5EJqp.php
      /home/username/var/http.pcap
      /home/username/var/sketch.zip
       sent 3645440, rcvd 0
      
      

      You will need to press Control+C for the TCP connection to close.

      Testing the Network Speed Using netcat

      This section will explain how to test the connection speed between
      two machines using nc. You will need two hosts. On the server machine use the following command:

      time nc -vv -n -l -p 2222 >/dev/null
      
        
      listening on [any] 2222 ...
      connect to [127.0.0.1] from (UNKNOWN) [127.0.0.1] 42286
       sent 0, rcvd 2090934272
      
      real	0m21.438s
      user	0m0.230s
      sys	0m1.190s
      
      

      On the client machine, you should execute the following command and press Control+C
      after the desired amount of time to end the connection:

      time yes | nc.traditional -vv -n 127.0.0.1 2222 >/dev/null
      
        
      (UNKNOWN) [127.0.0.1] 2222 (?) open
      ^C sent 2090926080, rcvd 0
      
      
      real	0m5.482s
      user	0m0.456s
      sys	0m3.109s
      
      

      Now that you know it took 5.482s to transfer 2090926080 bytes, you can calculate the network speed. As the nc server starts first, you should use the numbers found in the nc client.

      More Information

      You may wish to consult the following resources for additional information on this topic. While these are provided in the hope that they will be useful, please note that we cannot vouch for the accuracy or timeliness of externally hosted materials.

      Find answers, ask questions, and help others.

      This guide is published under a CC BY-ND 4.0 license.



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