Anmol Sarma

Network Redirections in Bash

May 4, 2019 tech linux

A few months ago, while reading the man page for recvmmsg(), I came across this snippet:

$ while true; do echo $RANDOM > /dev/udp/;
     sleep 0.25; done

And as advertised, it sends a UDP datagram containing a random number to port 1234 every 250 ms. I didn’t recall ever seeing a /dev/udp and so was a bit surprised that it worked. And as it happens, ls was not able to access the file that I had just written to:

ls: cannot access '/dev/udp/': No such file or directory

Puzzled and intrigued, I echoed Foo Bar Baz to /dev/udp/ and reached for strace:

12423 connect(4, {sa_family=AF_INET, sin_port=htons(1337), sin_addr=inet_addr("")}, 16) = 0
12423 fcntl(1, F_GETFD)                 = 0
12423 fcntl(1, F_DUPFD, 10)             = 10
12423 fcntl(1, F_GETFD)                 = 0
12423 fcntl(10, F_SETFD, FD_CLOEXEC)    = 0
12423 dup2(4, 1)                        = 1
12423 close(4)                          = 0
12423 fstat(1, {st_mode=S_IFSOCK|0777, st_size=0, ...}) = 0
12423 write(1, "Foo Bar Baz\n", 12)     = 12

Seemingly, a normal UDP socket was being created and written to using the regular sycall interface. That refuted my initial suspicion that some kind of a special file backed by the kernel was involved. But who was actually creating the socket?

A peek at Bash’s code answered that question:


/* A list of pattern/value pairs for filenames that the redirection
   code handles specially. */
static STRING_INT_ALIST _redir_special_filenames[] = {
#if !defined (HAVE_DEV_FD)
  { "/dev/fd/[0-9]*", RF_DEVFD },
#if !defined (HAVE_DEV_STDIN)
  { "/dev/stderr", RF_DEVSTDERR },
  { "/dev/stdin", RF_DEVSTDIN },
  { "/dev/stdout", RF_DEVSTDOUT },
  { "/dev/tcp/*/*", RF_DEVTCP },
  { "/dev/udp/*/*", RF_DEVUDP },
  { (char *)NULL, -1 }

So, redirection involving /dev/udp/ is handled specially by Bash1 and it uses BSD Sockets API to create a socket:


 * Open a TCP or UDP connection to HOST on port SERV.  Uses the
 * traditional BSD mechanisms.  Returns the connected socket or -1 on error.
static int
_netopen4(host, serv, typ)
     char *host, *serv;
     int typ;
  struct in_addr ina;
  struct sockaddr_in sin;
  unsigned short p;
  int s, e;

  if (_getaddr(host, &ina) == 0)
      internal_error (_("%s: host unknown"), host);
      errno = EINVAL;
      return -1;

  if (_getserv(serv, typ, &p) == 0)
      internal_error(_("%s: invalid service"), serv);
      errno = EINVAL;
      return -1;

  memset ((char *)&sin, 0, sizeof(sin));
  sin.sin_family = AF_INET;
  sin.sin_port = p;
  sin.sin_addr = ina;

  s = socket(AF_INET, (typ == 't') ? SOCK_STREAM : SOCK_DGRAM, 0);
  if (s < 0)
      sys_error ("socket");
      return (-1);

  if (connect (s, (struct sockaddr *)&sin, sizeof (sin)) < 0)
      e = errno;
      errno = e;
      return (-1);


Which means we can actually make HTTP requests using Bash:

exec 3<> /dev/tcp/
printf "GET / HTTP/1.1\r\nHost:\r\nConnection: close\r\n\r\n" >&3
tail -n1 <&3

No curl needed! /jk

Apart from Bash, in the versions and configurations packaged in Ubuntu 18.04, only ksh supports network redirections – ash, csh, dash, fish, and zsh do not.

I don’t think I will actually have any use for network redirections but this was a fun little rabbit hole to dive into.

NOTE: Code snippets from Bash are licensed under GPLv3, the snippet from the man page is licensed differently

  1. At least on Linux, the other special patterns handled by bash like /dev/fd and /dev/stdint actually are special files backed by the kernel. The Bash manual notes that it may emulate them internally on platforms that do not support them. [return]
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