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The netcat command
Original author(s)*Hobbit*
Developer(s)Avian Research
Initial releaseOctober 28, 1995; 26 years ago (1995-10-28)[1]
Stable release
1.10 / 2 January 2007; 15 years ago (2007-01-02)
Operating systemUnix and Unix-like, DOS, Microsoft Windows, Windows CE
TypeNetwork utility
LicenseOriginal version: custom, permissive license
GNU Version: GPL
OpenBSD Version: BSD

netcat (often abbreviated to nc) is a computer networking utility for reading from and writing to network connections using TCP or UDP. The command is designed to be a dependable back-end that can be used directly or easily driven by other programs and scripts. At the same time, it is a feature-rich network debugging and investigation tool, since it can produce almost any kind of connection its user could need and has a number of built-in capabilities.

Its list of features includes port scanning, transferring files, and port listening: as with any server, it can be used as a backdoor.


The original netcat's features include:[2]

  • Outbound or inbound connections, TCP or UDP, to or from any ports
  • Full DNS forward/reverse checking, with appropriate warnings
  • Ability to use any local source port
  • Ability to use any locally configured network source address
  • Built-in port-scanning capabilities, with randomization
  • Built-in loose source-routing capability
  • Can read command line arguments from standard input
  • Slow-send mode, one line every N seconds
  • Hex dump of transmitted and received data
  • Optional ability to let another program service establish connections
  • Optional telnet-options responder

Rewrites like GNU's and OpenBSD's support additional features. For example, OpenBSD's nc supports TLS, and GNU netcat natively supports a tunneling mode supporting UDP and TCP (optionally allowing one to be tunneled over the other) in a single command,[3] where other versions may require piping data from one netcat instance to another.


Opening a raw connection to port 25[edit]

nc 25

Performing an HTTP request[edit]

printf "GET /index.html HTTP/1.0\r\nHost:\r\n\r\n" | nc 80

The full response (including HTTP headers) will be dumped to standard output.

Setting up a one-shot webserver on port 8080 to present the content of a file[edit]

 { printf 'HTTP/1.0 200 OK\r\nContent-Length: %d\r\n\r\n' "$(wc -c < some.file)"; cat some.file; } | nc -l 8080

The file can then be accessed via a web browser under http://servername:8080/. Netcat only serves the file once to the first client that connects and then exits; it also provides the content length for browsers that expect it. (This should work fine in a LAN, but may potentially fail with any kind of firewall between.) In some versions of netcat like netcat-traditional in Debian 8.6, you need to specify -p before the port number.

Checking whether UDP ports (-u) 80–90 are open on using zero mode I/O (-z)[edit]

nc -vzu 80-90

Note that UDP tests will always show as "open".

Test whether UDP port is open: simple UDP server and client[edit]

This test is useful, if you have shell access to the server that should be tested, but you do not know whether there is a firewall blocking a specific UDP port on the server.

On the listening host, i.e. on the server whose port needs to be checked, do the following:

nc -l -u -p 4172

On the sending host, do the following – note that servname is the hostname of the listening host:

nc -u servname 4172

If text typed on the sending host (type something and hit enter) is displayed also on the listening host, then the UDP port 4172 is open. If it is not open, you will get an error such as "Connection refused".

There is a caveat. On some machines, IPv6 may be the default IP version to use by netcat. Thus, the host specified by the hostname is contacted using IPv6, and the user might not know about this. Ports may appear closed in the test, even though they would be open when using IPv4. This can be difficult to notice and may cause the false impression that the port is blocked, while it is actually open. You can force the use of IPv4 by adding -4 to the options of the nc commands.

Pipe via UDP (-u) with a wait time (-w) of 1 second to "loggerhost" on port 514[edit]

echo '<0>message' | nc -w 1 -u loggerhost 514

Port scanning[edit]

An uncommon use of netcat is port scanning. Netcat is not considered the best tool for this job, but it can be sufficient (a more advanced tool is nmap)

nc -v -n -z -w 1 1-1000

The -n parameter here prevents DNS lookup, -z makes nc not receive any data from the server, and -w 1 makes the connection timeout after 1 second of inactivity.


Another useful behaviour is using netcat as a proxy. Both ports and hosts can be redirected. Look at this example:

nc -l 12345 | nc 80

Port 12345 represents the request.

This starts a nc server on port 12345 and all the connections get redirected to If a web browser makes a request to nc, the request will be sent to google but the response will not be sent to the web browser. That is because pipes are unidirectional. This can be worked around with a named pipe to redirect the input and output.

$ mkfifo backpipe
$ nc -l 12345 0<backpipe | nc 80 1>backpipe

The -c option may also be used with the ncat implementation:[4]

$ ncat -l 12345 -c 'nc 80'

Using a named pipe is a more reliable method because using -c option provides only a one-shot proxy.

Another useful feature is to proxy SSL connections. This way, the traffic can not be viewed in wire sniffing applications such as wireshark. This can be accomplished on UNIXes by utilizing mkfifo, netcat, and openssl.

 mkfifo tmp
 mkfifo tmp2
 nc -l 8080 -k > tmp < tmp2 &
 while true; do
  openssl s_client -connect -quiet < tmp > tmp2

Making any process a server[edit]

netcat can be used to make any process a network server. It can listen on a port and pipe the input it receives to that process.

The -e option spawns the executable with its input and output redirected via network socket.

For example, it is possible to expose a bourne shell process to remote computers.

To do so, on a computer A with IP address, run this command:

$ nc -l -p 1234 -e /bin/sh

Then, from any other computer on the same network, one could run this nc command:

$ nc 1234
ls -la
total 4288
drwxr-xr-x 15 dummy users 4096 2009-02-17 07:47 .
drwxr-xr-x  4 dummy users 4096 2009-01-18 21:22 ..
-rw-------  1 dummy users 8192 2009-02-16 19:30 .bash_history
-rw-r--r--  1 dummy users  220 2009-01-18 21:04 .bash_logout

In this way, the -e option can be used to create a rudimentary backdoor. Some administrators perceive this as a risk and thus do not allow netcat on a computer. The version of netcat developed by OpenBSD that is often installed by default on distributions such as Debian and Ubuntu lacks this option due to this potential as a security risk.


Ncat is a similar tool to netcat provided by Nmap suite.[5] "While Ncat isn't built on any code from the “traditional” Netcat (or any other implementation), Ncat is most definitely based on Netcat in spirit and functionality."[6]

Ncat features includes: ability to chain Ncats together, redirect both TCP and UDP ports to other sites, SSL support, and proxy connections via SOCKS4 or HTTP (CONNECT method) proxies (with optional proxy authentication as well).[7]

  • Connect to on TCP port 8080. : ncat 8080
  • Listen for connections on TCP port 8080. : ncat -l 8080
  • Redirect TCP port 8080 on the local machine to host on port 80. : $ ncat --sh-exec "ncat 80" -l 8080 --keep-open
  • Bind to TCP port 8081 and attach /bin/bash for the world to access freely. : $ ncat --exec "/bin/bash" -l 8081 --keep-open
  • Bind a shell to TCP port 8081, limit access to hosts on a local network, and limit the maximum number of simultaneous connections to 3:
    $ ncat --exec "/bin/bash" --max-conns 3 --allow -l 8081 --keep-open
  • Connect to smtphost:25 through a SOCKS4 server on port 1080: ncat --proxy socks4host --proxy-type socks4 --proxy-auth user smtphost 25
  • Create an HTTP proxy server on localhost port 8888. : ncat -l --proxy-type http localhost 8888
  • Send a file over TCP port 9899 from host2 (client) to host1 (server).
    user@HOST1$ ncat -l 9899 > outputfile
    user@HOST2$ ncat HOST1 9899 < inputfile
  • Transfer in the other direction, turning Ncat into a “one file” server.
    user@HOST1$ ncat -l 9899 < inputfile
    user@HOST2$ ncat HOST1 9899 > outputfile

Encrypted file transfer[edit]

Suppose you have an SSH tunnel, and you want to copy a file to the remote machine. You could just scp it directly, but that opens up another connection. The goal is to re-use the existing connection. You can use ncat to do this:

When you SSH in, add in -L 31000: (this is port forwarding, sending everything from port 31000 on the remote machine to the same port on the local machine)

  • On the remote: ncat -lvnp 31000 > file
  • On the local: ncat -v -w 2 31000 < file

No extra overhead. TCP takes care of error correction. SSH has already encrypted the pipe.

Ports and reimplementations[edit]

The original version of netcat was a Unix program. The last version (1.10) was released in March 1996.[2]

There are several implementations on POSIX systems, including rewrites from scratch like GNU netcat[8] or OpenBSD netcat,[9] the latter of which supports IPv6 and TLS. The OpenBSD version has been ported to the FreeBSD base,[10] Windows/Cygwin,[11] and Linux.[12] Mac OS X comes with netcat installed as of OSX 10.13 or users can use MacPorts to install a variant.[13]

A DOS version of netcat called NTOOL is included in the FreeDOS Package group Networking.[14] It is based on the WatTCP stack and licensed under the European Union Public Licence Version 1.1.[15]

Known ports for embedded systems includes versions for Windows CE (named "Netcat 4 wince"[16]) or for the iPhone.[17]

BusyBox includes by default a lightweight version of netcat.

Solaris 11 includes netcat implementation based on OpenBSD netcat.

Socat[18] is a more complex variant of netcat. It is larger and more flexible and has more options that must be configured for a given task. On February 1, 2016, Santiago Zanella-Beguelin and Microsoft Vulnerability Research issued a security advisory regarding a composite Diffie-Hellman parameter which had been hard-coded into the OpenSSL implementation of socat.[19] The implausibility that a composite might have been unintentionally introduced where a prime number is required has led to the suspicion of sabotage to introduce a backdoor software vulnerability.[20] This socat bug affected version and 2.0.0-b8 it was corrected in following releases from and 2.0.0-b9.[19]

Cryptcat[21] is a version of netcat with integrated transport encryption capabilities.

In the middle of 2005, Nmap announced another netcat incarnation called Ncat.[5] It features new possibilities such as "Connection Brokering", TCP/UDP Redirection, SOCKS4 client and server support, ability to "Chain" Ncat processes, HTTP CONNECT proxying (and proxy chaining), SSL connect/listen support and IP address/connection filtering. Like Nmap, Ncat is cross-platform.

On some systems, modified versions or similar netcat utilities go by the command name(s) nc, ncat, pnetcat, socat, sock, socket, sbd.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hobbit (1995-10-28). "New tool available: Netcat". Bugtraq mailing list. Retrieved 2019-06-05.
  2. ^ a b "Netcat 1.10". 2008-02-14. Retrieved 2019-06-05.
  3. ^ Giovanni Giacobbi (2006-11-01). "The GNU Netcat project". Retrieved 2020-03-22.
  4. ^ "Ncat Users' Guide: Command Execution". Nmap. Retrieved 2019-06-05.
  5. ^ a b "Ncat - Netcat for the 21st Century". Nmap. 2009-07-08. Retrieved 2019-06-05.
  6. ^ "ncat(1) - Ncat Reference Guide". 2016-12-18. Retrieved 2019-06-05.
  7. ^ "Ncat - Netcat for the 21st Century".
  8. ^ Giovanni Giacobbi (2006-11-01). "The GNU Netcat project". Retrieved 2019-06-05.
  9. ^ "OpenBSD CVSWeb: /src/usr.bin/nc/". OpenBSD. Retrieved 2019-06-05.
  10. ^ delphij (2005-02-06). "Contents of /release/5.4.0/usr.bin/nc/Makefile". FreeBSD. Retrieved 2019-06-05.
  11. ^ Thomas Linden (2011-03-02). "Netcat OpenBSD Cygwin Port". Retrieved 2019-06-05.
  12. ^ Debian netcat-openbsd
  13. ^ "MacPorts Portfiles: netcat". MacPorts. Retrieved 2019-06-05.
  14. ^ " FreeDOS Group -- Networking". ibiblio. 2019-03-03. Retrieved 2019-06-05.
  15. ^ Jürgen Hoffmann (2018-11-03). "various tools". Retrieved 2019-06-05.
  16. ^ Andreas Bischoff (2010-06-07). "Netcat 4 wince". Retrieved 2019-06-05.
  17. ^ "Revision 835: /trunk/data/netcat". 2008-08-18. Retrieved 2019-06-05.
  18. ^ "socat - Multipurpose relay". 2019-04-06. Retrieved 2019-06-05.
  19. ^ a b "Socat security advisory 7". 2016-02-01. Retrieved 2019-06-05.
  20. ^ Chirgwin, Richard (2016-02-03). "Socat slams backdoor, sparks thrilling whodunit". The Register. Retrieved 2019-06-05.
  21. ^ "CryptCat Project". 2005-10-18. Retrieved 2019-06-05.

External links[edit]