In Linux, processes cannot bind to privileged ports (<=1024) unless they are running as root. Here’s how to allow any process to bind to privileged ports.

Introduction link icon

In Linux, processes cannot bind to privileged ports (<=1024) unless they are running as root. I learned about this when I was trying to add SSH cloning to my Gitea instance. This can be bypassed by giving CAP_NET_BIND_SERVICE capabilities to either the systemd service, or the executable itself.

Giving CAP_NET_BIND_SERVICE capabilities link icon

Using systemd (preferred) link icon

The best way is to tell systemd to give CAP_NET_BIND_SERVICE capabilities to the service. In fact, the Gitea systemd service has two lines1 that are commented out:

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CapabilityBoundingSet=CAP_NET_BIND_SERVICE
AmbientCapabilities=CAP_NET_BIND_SERVICE

Uncommenting these two lines was all I had to do for Gitea.

Using setcap link icon

You can add CAP_NET_BIND_SERVICE to the executable directly using setcap, allowing it to bind to any port. Run the following command2:

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setcap 'cap_net_bind_service=+ep' /path/to/program

Note that this means that anyone with permission to run this program will be able to run it and bind to any privileged ports.

Other caveats3:

  1. You will need at least a 2.6.24 kernel
  2. This won’t work if your file is a script. (ie, uses a #! line to launch an interpreter). In this case, as far I as understand, you’d have to apply the capability to the interpreter executable itself, which of course is a security nightmare, since any program using that interpreter will have the capability. I wasn’t able to find any clean, easy way to work around this problem.
  3. Linux will disable LD_LIBRARY_PATH on any program that has elevated privileges like setcap or suid. So if your program uses its own …/lib/, you might have to look into another option like port forwarding.