Bind: Address Already in Use

Or How to Avoid this Error when Closing TCP Connections

Normal Closure

In order for a network connection to close, both ends have to send FIN (final) packets, which indicate they will not send any additional data, and both ends must ACK (acknowledge) each other's FIN packets. The FIN packets are initiated by the application performing a close(), a shutdown(), or an exit(). The ACKs are handled by the kernel after the close() has completed. Because of this, it is possible for the process to complete before the kernel has released the associated network resource, and this port cannot be bound to another process until the kernel has decided that it is done.

TCP State Diagram
Figure 1

Figure 1 shows all of the possible states that can occur during a normal closure, depending on the order in which things happen. Note that if you initiate closure, there is a TIME_WAIT state that is absent from the other side. This TIME_WAIT is necessary in case the ACK you sent wasn't received, or in case spurious packets show up for other reasons. I'm really not sure why this state isn't necessary on the other side, when the remote end initiates closure, but this is definitely the case. TIME_WAIT is the state that typically ties up the port for several minutes after the process has completed. The length of the associated timeout varies on different operating systems, and may be dynamic on some operating systems, however typical values are in the range of one to four minutes.

If both ends send a FIN before either end receives it, both ends will have to go through TIME_WAIT.

Normal Closure of Listen Sockets

A socket which is listening for connections can be closed immediately if there are no connections pending, and the state proceeds directly to CLOSED. If connections are pending however, FIN_WAIT_1 is entered, and a TIME_WAIT is inevitable.

Note that it is impossible to completely guarantee a clean closure here. While you can check the connections using a select() call before closure, a tiny but real possibility exists that a connection could arrive after the select() but before the close().

Abnormal Closure

If the remote application dies unexpectedly while the connection is established, the local end will have to initiate closure. In this case TIME_WAIT is unavoidable. If the remote end disappears due to a network failure, or the remote machine reboots (both are rare), the local port will be tied up until each state times out. Worse, some older operating systems do not implement a timeout for FIN_WAIT_2, and it is possible to get stuck there forever, in which case restarting your server could require a reboot.

If the local application dies while a connection is active, the port will be tied up in TIME_WAIT. This is also true if the application dies while a connection is pending.

Strategies for Avoidance

SO_REUSEADDR

You can use setsockopt() to set the SO_REUSEADDR socket option, which explicitly allows a process to bind to a port which remains in TIME_WAIT (it still only allows a single process to be bound to that port). This is the both the simplest and the most effective option for reducing the "address already in use" error.

Oddly, using SO_REUSEADDR can actually lead to more difficult "address already in use" errors. SO_REUSADDR permits you to use a port that is stuck in TIME_WAIT, but you still can not use that port to establish a connection to the last place it connected to. What? Suppose I pick local port 1010, and connect to foobar.com port 300, and then close locally, leaving that port in TIME_WAIT. I can reuse local port 1010 right away to connect to anywhere except for foobar.com port 300.

A situation where this might be a problem is if my program is trying to find a reserved local port (< 1024) to connect to some service which likes reserved ports. If I used SO_REUSADDR, then each time I run the program on my machine, I'll keep getting the same local reserved port, even if it is stuck in TIME_WAIT, and I risk getting a "connect: Address already in use" error if I go back to any place I've been to in the last few minutes. The solution here is to avoid SO_REUSEADDR.

Some folks don't like SO_REUSEADDR because it has a security stigma attached to it. On some operating systems it allows the same port to be used with a different address on the same machine by different processes at the same time. This is a problem because most servers bind to the port, but they don't bind to a specific address, instead they use INADDR_ANY (this is why things show up in netstat output as *.8080). So if the server is bound to *.8080, another malicious user on the local machine can bind to local-machine.8080, which will intercept all of your connections since it is more specific. This is only a problem on multi-user machines that don't have restricted logins, it is NOT a vulnerability from outside the machine. And it is easily avoided by binding your server to the machine's address.

Additionally, others don't like that a busy server may have hundreds or thousands of these TIME_WAIT sockets stacking up and using kernel resources. For these reasons, there's another option for avoiding this problem.

Client Closes First

Looking at the diagram above, it is clear that TIME_WAIT can be avoided if the remote end initiates the closure. So the server can avoid problems by letting the client close first. The application protocol must be designed so that the client knows when to close. The server can safely close in response to an EOF from the client, however it will also need to set a timeout when it is expecting an EOF in case the client has left the network ungracefully. In many cases simply waiting a few seconds before the server closes will be adequate.

It probably makes more sense to call this method "Remote Closes First", because otherwise it depends on what you are calling the client and the server. If you are developing some system where a cluster of client programs sit on one machine and contact a variety of different servers, then you would want to foist the responsibility for closure onto the servers, to protect the resources on the client.

For example, I wrote a script that uses rsh to contact all of the machines on our network, and it does it in parallel, keeping some number of connections open at all times. rsh source ports are arbitrary available ports less than 1024. I initially used "rsh -n", which it turns out causes the local end to close first. After a few tests, every single free port less than 1024 was stuck in TIME_WAIT and I couldn't proceed. Removing the "-n" option causes the remote (server) end to close first (understanding why is left as an exercise for the reader), and should've eliminated the TIME_WAIT problem. However, without the -n, rsh can hang waiting for input. And, if you close input at the local end, this can again result in the port going into TIME_WAIT. I ended up avoiding the system-installed rsh program, and developing my own implementation in perl. My current implementation, multi-rsh, is available for download

Reduce Timeout

If (for whatever reason) neither of these options works for you, it may also be possible to shorten the timeout associated with TIME_WAIT. Whether this is possible and how it should be accomplished depends on the operating system you are using. Also, making this timeout too short could have negative side-effects, particularly in lossy or congested networks.
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