Port Testing (and Scanning) with Bash

Posts on my site have been rather... slow, to be generous. To try to change that, I'm going to begin posting neat tips and tricks that I discover as I go about my daily activities. Normally I just mention these to whoever happens to be on IM at the time, but I figure I can post here instead to share the information with a much wider audience and breathe some life back into my site. So, it's a win-win for everyone. :-)

I should note that many of these tips will likely be rather technical, and probably heavily Linux-focused, since that's my primary computing environment. Today's tip definitely holds true on both counts.

One of the neat features supported by Bash is socket programming. Using this, you can connect to any TCP or UDP port and any remote system. Of course, this is of rather limited usefulness as Bash won't actually do anything once connected unless specific protocol instructions are sent as well. As a relatively simple example of how this works:

exec 3<>/dev/tcp/www.google.com/80
echo -e "GET / HTTP/1.1\n\n">&3
cat <&3

(Note: Example taken from Dave Smith's Blog.)

This will establish a connection to www.google.com on port 80 (the standard HTTP port), send an HTTP GET command requesting the home page, and then display the response on your terminal. The &3 stuff is necessary to create a new file descriptor used to pass the input and output back and forth. The end result is that Google's home page (or the raw HTML for it, at least), will be downloaded and displayed on your terminal.

That's pretty slick, but like I said above, it's of rather limited usefulness. Not many people would be interested in browsing the web in this manner. However, we can use these same concepts for various other tasks and troubleshooting, including port scanning.

To get started, try running this command:

[ echo >/dev/tcp/www.google.com/80 ] && echo "open"

This will attempt to send and empty string to www.google.com on port 80, and if it receives a successful response it will display "open". Conversely, if you attempt to connect to a server/port that is not open, Bash will respond with a connection refused error.

Let's expand this a bit into a more flexible and robust function:

# Test remote host:port availability (TCP-only as UDP does not reply)
    # $1 = hostname
    # $2 = port
function port() {
    (echo >/dev/tcp/$1/$2) &>/dev/null
    if [ $? -eq 0 ]; then
        echo "$1:$2 is open"
        echo "$1:$2 is closed"

Now, we can run port www.google.com 80 and get back "www.google.com:80 is open". Conversely, try something like port localhost 80. Unless you're running a webserver on your local computer, you should get back "localhost:80 is closed". This can provide a quick and dirty troubleshooting technique to test whether a server is listening on a given port, and ensure you can reach that port (eg., traffic is not being dropped by a firewall, etc.).

To take this another step further, we can use this function as a basic port scanner as well. For example:

for i in $(seq 1 1023); do port localhost $i; done | grep open

This will check all of the well-known ports on your local computer and report any that are open. I should not that this will be slower and more inefficient than "real" port scanners such as Nmap. However, for one-off testing situations where Nmap isn't available (or can't be installed), using bash directly can really be quite handy.

Additional information on Bash socket programming can be found in the Advanced Bash-Scripting Guide.

I hope you find this tip useful. Future tips will likely be shorter and more to the point, but I figured some additional explanation would be useful for this one. Feel free to post and questions or feedback in the comments.