nc [-options] hostname port[s] [ports] …
nc -l -p port [-options] [hostname] [port]
netcat is a simple unix utility which reads and writes data across
network connections, using TCP or UDP protocol. It is designed to be a
reliable “back-end” tool 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 exploration tool, since it can create almost any kind of
connection you would need and has several interesting built-in capabilities.
Netcat, or “nc” as the actual program is named, should have been supplied
long ago as another one of those cryptic but standard Unix tools.
In the simplest usage, “nc host port” creates a TCP connection to the given
port on the given target host. Your standard input is then sent to the host,
and anything that comes back across the connection is sent to your standard
output. This continues indefinitely, until the network side of the
connection shuts down. Note that this behavior is different from most other
applications which shut everything down and exit after an end-of-file on the
Netcat can also function as a server, by listening for inbound connections
on arbitrary ports and then doing the same reading and writing. With minor
limitations, netcat doesn’t really care if it runs in “client” or
“server” mode — it still shovels data back and forth until there
isn’t any more left. In either mode, shutdown can be forced after a
configurable time of inactivity on the network side.
And it can do this via UDP too, so netcat is possibly the “udp telnet-like”
application you always wanted for testing your UDP-mode servers. UDP, as
the “U” implies, gives less reliable data transmission than TCP connections
and some systems may have trouble sending large amounts of data that way,
but it’s still a useful capability to have.
You may be asking “why not just use telnet to connect to arbitrary ports?”
Valid question, and here are some reasons. Telnet has the “standard input
EOF” problem, so one must introduce calculated delays in driving scripts to
allow network output to finish. This is the main reason netcat stays
running until the *network* side closes. Telnet also will not transfer
arbitrary binary data, because certain characters are interpreted as telnet
options and are thus removed from the data stream. Telnet also emits some
of its diagnostic messages to standard output, where netcat keeps such
things religiously separated from its *output* and will never modify any of
the real data in transit unless you *really* want it to. And of course
telnet is incapable of listening for inbound connections, or using UDP
instead. Netcat doesn’t have any of these limitations, is much smaller
and faster than telnet, and has many other advantages.
- -c string
- specify shell commands to exec after connect (use with caution).
The string is passed to /bin/sh -c for execution. See the -e option
if you don’t have a working /bin/sh (Note that POSIX-conformant
system must have one).
- -e filename
- specify filename to exec after connect (use with caution). See the
-c option for enhanced functionality.
- -g gateway
- source-routing hop point[s], up to 8
- -G num
- source-routing pointer: 4, 8, 12, …
- display help
- -i secs
- delay interval for lines sent, ports scanned
- listen mode, for inbound connects
- numeric-only IP addresses, no DNS
- -o file
- hex dump of traffic
- -p port
- local port number (port numbers can be individual or ranges:
- -q secs
- after EOF on stdin, wait the specified number of seconds and then quit.
- allow UDP broadcasts
- randomize local and remote ports
- -s addr
- local source address
- enable telnet negotiation
- UDP mode
- verbose [use twice to be more verbose]
- -w secs
- timeout for connects and final net reads
- zero-I/O mode [used for scanning]
- -T type
- set TOS flag (type may be one of “Minimize-Delay”, “Maximize-Throughput”,
“Maximize-Reliability”, or “Minimize-Cost”.)
Netcat is entirely my own creation, although plenty of other code was used
as examples. It is freely given away to the Internet community in the hope
that it will be useful, with no restrictions except giving credit where it
is due. No GPLs, Berkeley copyrights or any of that nonsense. The author
assumes NO responsibility for how anyone uses it. If netcat makes you rich
somehow and you’re feeling generous, mail me a check. If you are
affiliated in any way with Microsoft Network, get a life. Always ski in
control. Comments, questions, and patches to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some port names in /etc/services contain hyphens — netcat currently will
not correctly parse those unless you escape the hyphens with backslashes
(e.g. “netcat localhost ’ftp\-data’”).
Efforts have been made to have netcat “do the right thing” in all its
various modes. If you believe that it is doing the wrong thing under
whatever circumstances, please notify me and tell me how you think it
should behave. If netcat is not able to do some task you think up, minor
tweaks to the code will probably fix that. It provides a basic and
easily-modified template for writing other network applications, and I
certainly encourage people to make custom mods and send in any improvements
they make to it. Continued feedback from the Internet community is always
For several netcat recipes, please see /usr/share/doc/netcat/README.gz and
This manual page was written by Joey Hess <email@example.com> and Robert
Woodcock <firstname.lastname@example.org>, cribbing heavily from Netcat’s
Netcat was written by a guy we know as the Hobbit <email@example.com>.