Server application hangs on SS_read, even when client disconnects

Michael Wojcik Michael.Wojcik at
Fri Nov 13 17:50:18 UTC 2020

> From: Brice André <brice at>
> Sent: Friday, 13 November, 2020 09:13

> "Does the server parent process close its copy of the conversation socket?"
> I checked in my code, but it seems that no. Is it needed?

You'll want to do it, for a few reasons:

- You'll be leaking descriptors in the server, and eventually it will hit its limit.
- If the child process dies without cleanly closing its end of the conversation,
the parent will still have an open descriptor for the socket, so the network stack
won't terminate the TCP connection.
- A related problem: If the child just closes its socket without calling shutdown,
no FIN will be sent to the client system (because the parent still has its copy of
the socket open). The client system will have the connection in one of the termination
states (FIN_WAIT, maybe? I don't have my references handy) until it times out.
- A bug in the parent process might cause it to operate on the connected socket,
causing unexpected traffic on the connection.
- All such sockets will be inherited by future child processes, and one of them might
erroneously perform some operation on one of them. Obviously there could also be a
security issue with this, depending on what your application does.

Basically, when a descriptor is "handed off" to a child process by forking, you
generally want to close it in the parent, unless it's used for parent-child
communication. (There are some cases where the parent wants to keep it open for
some reason, but they're rare.)

On a similar note, if you exec a different program in the child process (I wasn't
sure from your description), it's a good idea for the parent to set the FD_CLOEXEC
option (with fcntl) on its listening socket and any other descriptors that shouldn't
be passed along to child processes. You could close these manually in the child
process between the fork and exec, but FD_CLOEXEC is often easier to maintain.

For some applications, you might just dup2 the socket over descriptor 0 or
descriptor 3, depending on whether the child needs access to stdio, and then close
everything higher.

Closing descriptors not needed by the child process is a good idea even if you
don't exec, since it can prevent various problems and vulnerabilities that result
from certain classes of bugs. It's a defensive measure.

The best source for this sort of recommendation, in my opinion, remains W. Richard
Stevens' /Advanced Programming in the UNIX Environment/. The book is old, and Linux
isn't UNIX, but I don't know of any better explanation of how and why to do things
in a UNIX-like OS.

And my favorite source of TCP/IP information is Stevens' /TCP/IP Illustrated/.

> May it explain my problem?

In this case, I don't offhand see how it does, but I may be overlooking something.

> I suppose that, if for some reason, the communication with the client is lost
> (crash of client, loss of network, etc.) and keepalive is not enabled, this may
> fully explain my problem ?

It would give you those symptoms, yes.

> If yes, do you have an idea of why keepalive is not enabled?

The Host Requirements RFC mandates that it be disabled by default. I think the
primary reasoning for that was to avoid re-establishing virtual circuits (e.g.
dial-up connections) for long-running connections that had long idle periods.

Linux may well have a kernel tunable or similar to enable TCP keepalive by
default, but it seems to be switched off on your system. You'd have to consult
the documentation for your distribution, I think.

By default (again per the Host Requirements RFC), it takes quite a long time for
TCP keepalive to detect a broken connection. It doesn't start probing until the
connection has been idle for 2 hours, and then you have to wait for the TCP
retransmit timer times the retransmit count to be exhausted - typically over 10
minutes. Again, some OSes let you change these defaults, and some let you change
them on an individual connection.

Michael Wojcik

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