2.6.2. TCP Wrappers Configuration Files

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To determine if a client is allowed to connect to a service, TCP Wrappers reference the following two files, which are commonly referred to as hosts access files:
  • /etc/hosts.allow
  • /etc/hosts.deny
When a TCP-wrapped service receives a client request, it performs the following steps:
  1. It references /etc/hosts.allow — The TCP-wrapped service sequentially parses the /etc/hosts.allow file and applies the first rule specified for that service. If it finds a matching rule, it allows the connection. If not, it moves on to the next step.
  2. It references /etc/hosts.deny — The TCP-wrapped service sequentially parses the /etc/hosts.deny file. If it finds a matching rule, it denies the connection. If not, it grants access to the service.
The following are important points to consider when using TCP Wrappers to protect network services:
  • Because access rules in hosts.allow are applied first, they take precedence over rules specified in hosts.deny. Therefore, if access to a service is allowed in hosts.allow, a rule denying access to that same service in hosts.deny is ignored.
  • The rules in each file are read from the top down and the first matching rule for a given service is the only one applied. The order of the rules is extremely important.
  • If no rules for the service are found in either file, or if neither file exists, access to the service is granted.
  • TCP-wrapped services do not cache the rules from the hosts access files, so any changes to hosts.allow or hosts.deny take effect immediately, without restarting network services.


If the last line of a hosts access file is not a newline character (created by pressing the Enter key), the last rule in the file fails and an error is logged to either /var/log/messages or /var/log/secure. This is also the case for a rule that spans multiple lines without using the backslash character. The following example illustrates the relevant portion of a log message for a rule failure due to either of these circumstances:
warning: /etc/hosts.allow, line 20: missing newline or line too long Formatting Access Rules

The format for both /etc/hosts.allow and /etc/hosts.deny is identical. Each rule must be on its own line. Blank lines or lines that start with a hash (#) are ignored.
Each rule uses the following basic format to control access to network services:
<daemon list> : <client list> [: <option> : <option> : …]
  • <daemon list> — A comma-separated list of process names (not service names) or the ALL wildcard. The daemon list also accepts operators (refer to Section, “Operators”) to allow greater flexibility.
  • <client list> — A comma-separated list of hostnames, host IP addresses, special patterns, or wildcards which identify the hosts affected by the rule. The client list also accepts operators listed in Section, “Operators” to allow greater flexibility.
  • <option> — An optional action or colon-separated list of actions performed when the rule is triggered. Option fields support expansions, launch shell commands, allow or deny access, and alter logging behavior.
The following is a basic sample hosts access rule:
vsftpd :
This rule instructs TCP Wrappers to watch for connections to the FTP daemon (vsftpd) from any host in the domain. If this rule appears in hosts.allow, the connection is accepted. If this rule appears in hosts.deny, the connection is rejected.
The next sample hosts access rule is more complex and uses two option fields:
sshd :  \
	: spawn /bin/echo `/bin/date` access denied>>/var/log/sshd.log \
	: deny
Note that each option field is preceded by the backslash (\). Use of the backslash prevents failure of the rule due to length.
This sample rule states that if a connection to the SSH daemon (sshd) is attempted from a host in the domain, execute the echo command to append the attempt to a special log file, and deny the connection. Because the optional deny directive is used, this line denies access even if it appears in the hosts.allow file. Refer to Section, “Option Fields” for a more detailed look at available options. Wildcards
Wildcards allow TCP Wrappers to more easily match groups of daemons or hosts. They are used most frequently in the client list field of access rules.
The following wildcards are available:
  • ALL — Matches everything. It can be used for both the daemon list and the client list.
  • LOCAL — Matches any host that does not contain a period (.), such as localhost.
  • KNOWN — Matches any host where the hostname and host address are known or where the user is known.
  • UNKNOWN — Matches any host where the hostname or host address are unknown or where the user is unknown.
  • PARANOID — A reverse DNS lookup is done on the source IP address to obtain the host name. Then a DNS lookup is performed to resolve the IP address. If the two IP addresses do not match the connection is dropped and the logs are updated


The KNOWN, UNKNOWN, and PARANOID wildcards should be used with care, because they rely on a functioning DNS server for correct operation. Any disruption to name resolution may prevent legitimate users from gaining access to a service. Patterns
Patterns can be used in the client field of access rules to more precisely specify groups of client hosts.
The following is a list of common patterns for entries in the client field:
  • Hostname beginning with a period (.) — Placing a period at the beginning of a hostname matches all hosts sharing the listed components of the name. The following example applies to any host within the domain:
    ALL :
  • IP address ending with a period (.) — Placing a period at the end of an IP address matches all hosts sharing the initial numeric groups of an IP address. The following example applies to any host within the 192.168.x.x network:
    ALL : 192.168.
  • IP address/netmask pair — Netmask expressions can also be used as a pattern to control access to a particular group of IP addresses. The following example applies to any host with an address range of through
    ALL :


    When working in the IPv4 address space, the address/prefix length (prefixlen) pair declarations (CIDR notation) are not supported. Only IPv6 rules can use this format.
  • [IPv6 address]/prefixlen pair — [net]/prefixlen pairs can also be used as a pattern to control access to a particular group of IPv6 addresses. The following example would apply to any host with an address range of 3ffe:505:2:1:: through 3ffe:505:2:1:ffff:ffff:ffff:ffff:
    ALL : [3ffe:505:2:1::]/64
  • The asterisk (*) — Asterisks can be used to match entire groups of hostnames or IP addresses, as long as they are not mixed in a client list containing other types of patterns. The following example would apply to any host within the domain:
    ALL : *
  • The slash (/) — If a client list begins with a slash, it is treated as a file name. This is useful if rules specifying large numbers of hosts are necessary. The following example refers TCP Wrappers to the /etc/telnet.hosts file for all Telnet connections:
    in.telnetd : /etc/telnet.hosts
Other, less used patterns are also accepted by TCP Wrappers. Refer to the hosts_access man 5 page for more information.


Be very careful when using hostnames and domain names. Attackers can use a variety of tricks to circumvent accurate name resolution. In addition, disruption to DNS service prevents even authorized users from using network services. It is, therefore, best to use IP addresses whenever possible. Portmap and TCP Wrappers
Portmap's implementation of TCP Wrappers does not support host look-ups, which means portmap can not use hostnames to identify hosts. Consequently, access control rules for portmap in hosts.allow or hosts.deny must use IP addresses, or the keyword ALL, for specifying hosts.
Changes to portmap access control rules may not take effect immediately. You may need to restart the portmap service.
Widely used services, such as NIS and NFS, depend on portmap to operate, so be aware of these limitations. Operators
At present, access control rules accept one operator, EXCEPT. It can be used in both the daemon list and the client list of a rule.
The EXCEPT operator allows specific exceptions to broader matches within the same rule.
In the following example from a hosts.allow file, all hosts are allowed to connect to all services except
In another example from a hosts.allow file, clients from the 192.168.0.x network can use all services except for FTP:
ALL EXCEPT vsftpd : 192.168.0.


Organizationally, it is often easier to avoid using EXCEPT operators. This allows other administrators to quickly scan the appropriate files to see what hosts are allowed or denied access to services, without having to sort through EXCEPT operators.
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