Useful Uses Of netcat

Version 1.0
Author: Falko Timme

This short article shows some useful netcat commands. netcat is known as the TCP/IP swiss army knife. From the netcat man page: 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.

I do not issue any guarantee that this will work for you!


1 Preliminary Note

I'm using two systems in this article:

  • IP address
  • IP address

netcat should already be installed on your system - you can check with

which nc

To learn more about netcat, take a look at its man page:

man nc  


2 Copying A File From One System To The Other

Let's say we want to copy the file ISPConfig-2.2.27.tar.gz from server1 to server2. To do this, run


nc -lp 1234 > ISPConfig-2.2.27.tar.gz

on server2 (1234 is some unused port - you can replace it with another value if you like). server2 will then wait for the file ISPConfig-2.2.27.tar.gz on port 1234.

On server1, run


nc -w 1 1234 < ISPConfig-2.2.27.tar.gz

to start the file transfer.


3 Cloning Hard Drives & Partitions

You can use netcat even to clone hard drives/partitions over the network. In this example, I want to clone /dev/sda from server1 to server2. Of course, the to-be-cloned partitions must be unmounted on the target system, so if you want to clone the system partition, you must boot the target system (server2) from a rescue system or Live-CD such as Knoppix. Please keep in mind that the target system's IP address might change under the live system (you can find out by running


). server2's IP address in this example is instead of

On server2, run


nc -l -p 1234 | dd of=/dev/sda 

Afterwards, on server1, run


dd if=/dev/sda | nc 1234

to start the cloning process. This can take some time, depending on the size of the hard drive or partitions.


4 Port Scanning

On server1, you can scan for open ports on server2 as follows:

nc -v -w 1 -z 1-1000

(1-1000 means: scan ports from port number 1 to port number 1000.)

You can also scan ports on the local system:

nc -v -w 1 localhost -z 1-1000


5 Serving Web Pages

You can even use netcat to act as a web server:

while true; do nc -l -p 80 -q 1 < somepage.html; done

would serve the page somepage.html until you close the terminal window.


6 Spoofing HTTP Headers

You can use netcat to request web pages:

nc 80

You can then type in headers as follows:

GET / HTTP/1.1
User-Agent: my-browser

As you see, this allows you to make up your own referrers and browser (User-Agent). After you've typed in your headers, press ENTER twice, and the requested page will appear (including the headers sent back by the remote server):

server2:~# nc 80
GET / HTTP/1.1
User-Agent: my-browser

HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Date: Fri, 28 Nov 2008 14:11:49 GMT
Server: Apache/2.2.3 (Debian) mod_ssl/2.2.3 OpenSSL/0.9.8c
Last-Modified: Wed, 26 Nov 2008 19:34:17 GMT
ETag: "228c707-21b1-b6b7e040"
Accept-Ranges: bytes
Content-Length: 8625
Content-Type: text/html



7 Chatting

You can even use netcat to chat from one system to the other on the command line.



nc -lp 1234

on server2. server2 will then wait until server1 connects on port 1234.

On server1, run


nc 1234

Now you can type in messages on either system and press ENTER, and they will appear on the other system. To close the chat, press CTRL+C on either system.


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"recommending the former (like this article does) exhibits kind of a superficial investigation of the subject"

Netcat is generally available on all systems.   Socat is not.  

Would you provide a link to your in-depth article on socat please.

By: Maximo Migliari

More recent versions of the netcat command (nc) will not allow the -p and -l options to be used at the same time, so instead of:

nc -l -p 1234 | dd of=/dev/sda

 you would type:

nc -l 1234 | dd of=/dev/sda

If you are using nc with dd to transfer an image of a partition from one machine to the other, one of the problems is that dd and netcat won't show you a progress bar of the operation.  One solution to this is to install pipe viewer by Andrew Wood.  It then allows you to pipe the netcat command to the pipe viewer, allowing you to view the progress of the entire operation and for debugging.

target machine:

nc -l 1234 | pv | dd of=/dev/sda

source machine:

dd if=/dev/sda | nc 1234

By: Anonymous

I have used netcat to expirement with IPv6.  I initially tried version 1.10 that came with my Linux distro, but had to upgrade to version 2.  I configured the interfaces on my 2 test machines as:

  ifconfig eth0 inet6 add fec0:0:0:1::10/64

   ifconfig eth0 inet6 add fec0:0:0:1::11/64

 Then I gave them hostnames in /etc/hosts:

  fec0:0:0:1::10 myhost10

  fec0:0:0:1::11 myhost11

Then I could send data thru IPv6:

  netcat -l -p 5000

  netcat -6 myhost11 5000

Later . . .   Jim

By: Anonymous

Assumed "swiss army knife" would suggest versatility, the term certainly applies much more to socat than to netcat. There's been a couple situations in the past I ran into with which netcat just couldn't cope anymore while socat could, and readily. In fact, recommending the former (like this article does) exhibits kind of a superficial investigation of the subject.

By: Marcin Pohl socat has some new modern functionality, but the idea is the same as netcat

By: Anonymous

use cryptcat (aptitude install cryptcat) if you want to encrypt netcat traffic (cryptcat takes the same arguments but uses the blowfish cipher)

By: athmane

 use netcat to scan port range 1 to 1024:

$ nc -z 1270.0.0.1 1-1024

By: anonymous

This is cool