I’ve always wanted to be able to move a process from one terminal to another. For example if I’ve started a long-running foreground process (such as irssi or scp) outside of a screen and I have to log out my local terminal. I looked around and there doesn’t seem to be any way to do this.

There is a program called retty that I found later on that sort of does this, but it only closes and re-opens stdin/out et al. It doesn’t seem to do full terminal handling. Nor does it seem to detach the original terminal. It only allows you to peek into the process, control it for a bit, and then hand it back. If you shut down the original terminal you’re still screwed.

Attempt 1: pass the fd for the real pty

I thought I could ptrace() attach to the process, inject code to dup2() onto stdin/out/err, and do some ioctl()s and that would be that. No such luck as we shall see.

The easiest (and most portable way) to do it would be to dlopen() a shared library that could then be written in C. But then I would have to locate dlopen() inside the running process, if it even had dlopen(). No, this would have to be done with syscalls directly.

This was fairly easy (albeit a bit awkward). Just:

  1. attach with ptrace()
  2. backup the current code and stack pages, as well as the registers
  3. replace the content of the code and stack pages with code (“shellcode”) and data to do my thing. (the code page can be assumed to be executable, and the stack page can be assumed to be read/writable)
  4. reset EIP to the start of the code page.
  5. resume the process, having it break at the end of my injected shellcode.
  6. restore code and stack pages and registers.
  7. detach from process.

The shellcode was passed a file descriptor via a unix socket and dup2()ed it over stdin/out/err. I then tried to get it to change its controlling terminal. And here’s where the problems started.

It looks like it’s impossible to change the current controlling terminal (CTTY) to one that already has processes using that terminal as a CTTY (at least as non-root without changes to the kernel). I therefore have to detach from the terminal with my injector program. I also have to make sure that no other process is using it (e.g. bash).

But as soon as a terminal has no processes using it as a CTTY the master part of the terminal (e.g. xterm, getty, …) will destroy it on its end. I tested this by running a simple program:

/** just-detach.c
 * By Thomas Habets <[email protected]>
 * 2009-01-22
#include <stdio.h>
#include <unistd.h>
#include <errno.h>
#include <string.h>
#include <fcntl.h>
#include <termios.h>
#include <sys/types.h>
#include <sys/ioctl.h>
#include <sys/stat.h>

main(int argc, char **argv)
        int n;

        /* detach */
        n = ioctl(0, TIOCNOTTY, NULL);
        printf("ioctl(0, TIOCNOTTY, NULL) => %d %s\n",n,n?strerror(errno):"");

        printf("You will not see this message if running "
               "\"exec %s\" in an xterm.\n", argv[0]);

        /* attach */
        n = ioctl(0, TIOCSCTTY, 1);
        printf("ioctl(0, TIOCSCTTY, 1) => %d %s\n",n,n?strerror(errno):"");

        return 0;


$ ./just-detach
ioctl(0, TIOCNOTTY, NULL) => 0
You will not see this message if running "exec ./just-detach" in an xterm
ioctl(0, TIOCSCTTY, 1) => -1 Operation not permitted

So we can’t just detach the terminal and then allow it to be taken and used as a CTTY by the target process. Nor will we ever be able to put the terminal back the way it was (retty never detaches the process from the original tty, and therefore doesn’t have this problem).

Attempt 2: Create a new pty pair and be a pty-proxy

Ok. So I have to create a pty pair and handle the master part of the targets new terminal. No problem, I’ve created a pty filter before.


To set a new CTTY you need a few things just right:

  1. You must be a session leader. Can be fixed by calling setsid().
  2. NOT have a CTTY already. Just do ioctl(fd, TIOCNOTTY) to detach from your old CTTY.
  3. The TTY must not already be CTTY for any other process (unless you are root/have CAP_SYS_ADMIN under Linux). No problem there, the pty was just created for this purpose.

But to run setsid(2) you must NOT be a process group leader. And you are:

$ ps -opid,pgid,sid,comm | grep irssi
 7940  7940  7938 irssi

To not be the process group leader you have to set it to something else using setpgid(). The pid you set it to must be in the same session as you.

To run setpgid(2) you need to be in the same session as the target.

So we must:

  1. find a process in the same session as the target who is willing to make itself process group leader with setpgid(0,0)
  2. so that we can setpgid() to it with setpgid(0, pid)
  3. so that we can run setsid() to become session leader…
  4. so that we can set a new controlling terminal.

If you want to change terminal on your own stuff you can just do a shortcut with fork(), run your stuff in the child and let the parent die, but since we don’t know what crazy stuff the target may be up to we don’t want to change the pid of the process.

So we fork off a child that will be the process group leader.

if fork() == 0:
    setpgid(0, child)
    kill(child, 9)

It works. At least on single-process programs. Tested on irssi and small test programs.

Finishing touches

  • Send SIGSTOP, SIGCONT to put the process in the background of bash job control. The user should then type “disown”.
  • Other payloads:
    • Inject “Hello world” write() to stdout.
    • close() fd
    • open() and overwrite existing fd

The working program

Is here.

git clone git://github.com/ThomasHabets/injcode.git

Screenshot: foo



It didn’t take long after putting the project on freshmeat before I got an email from one of the developers of neercs. It seems they’ve done something like this too, and perfected it a bit. They don’t inject shellcode, but instead hijack an existing syscall instruction in the target program and re-use it to make the target do anything they want. This is cleaner and makes for easier porting. They use the same trick to change the CTTY that injcode does.