Using xinetd

Using xinetd

Traditionally, inetd has been the super server used on Linux systems. Since 2000, however, a shift has begun toward the use of an alternative, xinetd (pronounced "zi-net-dee"). As a first approximation , you can think of xinetd as being a combination of inetd and TCP Wrappers. This is only a rough analogy, though; there are things that xinetd can do that inetd with TCP Wrappers can't do, and things that inetd with TCP Wrappers can do that xinetd alone can't do. In the end, though, xinetd is more flexible because it can be combined with TCP Wrappers, if required, to extend its flexibility. In early 2002, Red Hat and Mandrake are the two major distributions that use xinetd by default, but you can add xinetd to other distributions if you like.

The /etc/xinetd.conf File Format

As a new super server with expanded capabilities, xinetd requires a new file format. The /etc/xinetd.conf file controls xinetd , but both Red Hat and Mandrake provide only a minimal xinetd.conf file. This file includes default settings for all servers and a line that causes xinetd to read all the files in /etc/xinetd.d and treat them as supplementary configuration files. Thus, xinetd configuration is something like SysV configuration, in that each server has its own control file named after the server, such as /etc/xinetd.d/telnet to control the Telnet server. You can configure xinetd using just its main xinetd.conf file if you prefer, but server packages for Red Hat and Mandrake often drop their startup files in /etc/xinetd.d .

Whether it's located in /etc/xinetd.conf or a file in /etc/xinetd.d , a xinetd server definition spans several lines; however, a basic definition includes the same information as an inetd.conf entry. For instance, the following xinetd definition is mostly equivalent to the inetd.conf entry presented earlier for a Telnet server:

 service telnet {         socket_type = stream         protocol    = tcp         wait        = no         user        = root         server      = /usr/sbin/in.telnetd } 

This entry provides the same information as an inetd.conf entry. The xinetd configuration file format, however, explicitly labels each entry and splits them across multiple lines. Although this example presents data in the same order as does the inetd configuration, this order isn't required. Also, the xinetd definition doesn't call TCP Wrappers, although it could (you'd list /usr/sbin/tcpd on the server line, then add a server_args line that would list /usr/sbin/in.telnetd to pass the name of the Telnet server to TCP Wrappers).

In addition to the standard inetd features, xinetd provides many configuration options to expand its capabilities. Most of these are items that appear on their own lines between the curly braces in the service definition. The most important of these options include the following:

  • Security features ” As noted earlier, xinetd provides numerous security options, many of which are roughly equivalent to those provided by TCP Wrappers. These are discussed in greater depth in the upcoming section "Setting Access Control Features."

  • Disabling a server ” You can disable an inetd server by commenting out its configuration line. You can accomplish the same goal by adding the disable = yes line to a xinetd server definition. The same effect can be achieved in the main /etc/xinetd.conf file by using the disabled = server_list option in the defaults section, where server_list is a space-delimited list of server names . Various configuration tools use one of these methods to disable servers, and in fact a disable = no line may be present for servers that are active.

  • Redirection ” If you want to pass a request to another computer, you can use the redirect = target option, where target is the hostname or IP address of the computer that should receive the request. For instance, if you include the redirect = line in the /etc/xinetd.d/telnet file of dummy , attempts to access the Telnet server on will be redirected to the internal computer on You might want to use this feature on a NAT router (see Chapter 25) to allow an internal computer to function as a server for the outside world. The iptables utility can accomplish the same goal at a somewhat lower level, but doing it in xinetd allows you to apply xinetd 's access control features.

  • Logging ” You can fine-tune xinetd 's logging of access attempts using the log_on_success and log_on_failure options, which determine what information xinetd logs on successful and unsuccessful attempts to access a server. These options take values such as PID (the server's process ID, or PID), HOST (the client's address), USERID (the user ID on the client system associated with the access attempt), EXIT (the time and exit status of the access termination), and DURATION (how long the session lasted). When setting these values, you can use a += or -= symbol, rather than = , to add or subtract the features you want to log from the default.

  • Connection load limits ” You can limit the number of connections that xinetd will handle in several ways. One is the per_source option, which specifies how many connections xinetd will accept from any given source at any one time. ( UNLIMITED sets xinetd to accept an unlimited number of connections.) The instances option specifies the maximum number of processes xinetd will spawn (this value may be larger than the per_source value). The cps option takes two space- separated values: the number of connections xinetd accepts per second and the number of seconds to pause after this limit is reached before enabling access again. You can adjust the scheduling priority of the servers that xinetd runs using the nice option, which sets a value in much the same way as the nice program. Finally, max_load takes a floating-point value that represents the system load average above which xinetd refuses further connections. Taken together, these options can reduce the chance that your system will experience difficulties because of certain types of denial of service (DoS) attacks or because of a spike in the popularity of your servers.

You can use most of these options directly in the server definition or in the defaults section in the main /etc/xinetd.conf file. If placed in the latter location, the feature applies to all servers handled through xinetd , unless overridden by a competing option in the server definition area.

If you make changes to the /etc/xinetd.conf file or its included files in /etc/xinetd.d , you must restart the xinetd server program. Because xinetd itself is usually started through a SysV startup script, you can do this by typing a command such as /etc/rc.d/init.d/xinetd restart , although the startup script may be located somewhere else on some distributions. Alter natively, you can pass xinetd the SIGUSR1 or SIGUSR2 signals via kill . The former tells xinetd to reload its configuration file and begin responding as indicated in the new file. The latter does the same, but also terminates any servers that have been inactivated by changes to the configuration file.

Setting Access Control Features

Part of the appeal of xinetd is that it combines access control features that closely resemble those of TCP Wrappers in the super server itself. This can simplify configuration. The TCP Wrappers and xinetd access control features aren't exactly identical, though, so there are situations in which one tool or the other is superior . Like other xinetd configuration options, you can set access control features either globally or for specific servers. Major access control options include the following:

  • Host-based restrictions ” The only_from and no_access options are conceptually very similar to the contents of the /etc/ hosts .allow and /etc/hosts.deny files for TCP Wrappers, but xinetd sets these features in its main configuration file or server-specific configuration file. Specifically, only_from sets a list of computers that are explicitly allowed access (with all others denied access), whereas no_access specifies computers that are to be blacklisted. If both are set for an address, the one with a more specific rule takes precedence. For both options, addresses may be specified by IP address (for instance, ), by network address using a trailing .0 (for instance, for or with an explicit netmask (as in ), a network name listed in /etc/networks , or a hostname (such as ). If a hostname is used, xinetd does a single lookup on that hostname at the time the server starts, so if the hostname-to-IP address mapping changes, a hostname may not be very effective.

  • Temporal restrictions ” You can specify a range of times during which the server is available by using the access_times option. This option requires an access time specified as hour : minute - hour : minute , such as 08:00-18:00 , which restricts access to the server to the hours of 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM. Times are specified in a 24-hour format. Note that this restricts only the initial access to the server. For instance, if the Telnet server is restricted to 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM, somebody could log in at 5:58 PM and stay on indefinitely.

  • Interface restrictions ” You can bind a server to just one network interface using the bind or interface options (they're synonyms), which take the IP address associated with an interface. For instance, if eth1 is linked to, bind = links a server only to eth1 . Any attempt to access the server from eth0 is met with silence, as if the server weren't running at all. This feature is most useful on routers and other computers linked to more than one network, but it's also of interest to those with small internal networks and dial-up links. For instance, you can bind servers like Telnet or FTP to your local Ethernet interface, and they won't be available to the Internet at large via your PPP connection.

Although this and the preceding section outline the most useful xinetd options, there are some less often used options that aren't described here. You should consult the xinetd man page for further information on additional options.

Advanced Linux Networking
Advanced Linux Networking
ISBN: 0201774232
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2002
Pages: 203

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