nmap-service-probes File Format

As with remote OS detection (-O), Nmap uses a flat file to store the version detection probes and match strings. While the version of nmap-services distributed with Nmap is sufficient for most users, understanding the file format allows advanced Nmap hackers to add their own services to the detection engine. Like many Unix files, nmap-service-probes is line-oriented. Lines starting with a hash (#) are treated as comments and ignored by the parser. Blank lines are ignored as well. Other lines must contain one of the directives described below. Some readers prefer to peek at the examples in the section called “Putting It All Together” before tackling the following dissection.

Exclude Directive

Syntax: Exclude <port specification>


Exclude 53,T:9100,U:30000-40000

This directive excludes the specified ports from the version scan. It can only be used once and should be near the top of the file, above any Probe directives. The Exclude directive uses the same format as the Nmap -p switch, so ranges and comma separated lists of ports are supported. In the nmap-service-probes included with Nmap the only ports excluded are TCP port 9100 through 9107. These are common ports for printers to listen on and they often print any data sent to them. So a version detection scan can cause them to print many pages full of probes that Nmap sends, such as SunRPC requests, help statements, and X11 probes.

This behavior is often undesirable, especially when a scan is meant to be stealthy. However, Nmap's default behavior of avoiding scanning this port can make it easier for a sneaky user to hide a service: simply run it on an excluded port such as 9100 and it is less likely to be identified by name. The port scan will still show it as open. Users can override the Exclude directive with the --allports option. This causes version detection to interrogate all open ports.

Probe Directive

Syntax: Probe <protocol> <probename> <probestring> [no-payload]


Probe TCP GetRequest q|GET / HTTP/1.0\r\n\r\n|
Probe UDP DNSStatusRequest q|\0\0\x10\0\0\0\0\0\0\0\0\0|
Probe TCP NULL q||
Probe UDP Sqlping q|\x02| no-payload

The Probe directive tells Nmap what string to send to recognize various services. All of the directives discussed later operate on the most recent Probe statement. The arguments are as follows:

Syntax: match <service> <pattern> [<versioninfo>]


match ftp m/^220.*Welcome to .*Pure-?FTPd (\d\S+\s*)/ p/Pure-FTPd/ v/$1/ cpe:/a:pureftpd:pure-ftpd:$1/
match ssh m/^SSH-([\d.]+)-OpenSSH[_-]([\w.]+)\r?\n/i p/OpenSSH/ v/$2/ i/protocol $1/ cpe:/a:openbsd:openssh:$2/
match mysql m|^\x10\0\0\x01\xff\x13\x04Bad handshake$| p/MySQL/ cpe:/a:mysql:mysql/
match uucp m|^login: login: login: $| p/NetBSD uucpd/ o/NetBSD/ cpe:/o:netbsd:netbsd/a
match printer m|^([\w-_.]+): lpd: Illegal service request\n$| p/lpd/ h/$1/
match afs m|^[\d\D]{28}\s*(OpenAFS)([\d\.]{3}[^\s\0]*)\0| p/$1/ v/$2/

The match directive tells Nmap how to recognize services based on responses to the string sent by the previous Probe directive. A single Probe line may be followed by dozens or hundreds of match statements. If the given pattern matches, an optional version specifier builds the application name, version number, and additional info for Nmap to report. The arguments to this directive follow:


This is simply the service name that the pattern matches. Examples would be ssh, smtp, http, or snmp. As a special case, you can prefix the service name with ssl/, as in ssl/vmware-auth. In that case, the service would be stored as vmware-auth tunneled by SSL. This is useful for services which can be fully recognized without the overhead of making an SSL connection.


This pattern is used to determine whether the response received matches the service given in the previous parameter. The format is like Perl, with the syntax being m/[regex]/[opts]. The m tells Nmap that a match string is beginning. The forward slash (/) is a delimiter, which can be substituted by almost any printable character as long as the second slash is also replaced to match. The regex is a Perl-style regular expression. This is made possible by the excellent Perl Compatible Regular Expressions (PCRE) library (http://www.pcre.org). The only options currently supported are 'i', which makes a match case-insensitive and 's' which includes newlines in the '.' specifier. As you might expect, these two options have the same semantics as in Perl. Subexpressions to be captured (such as version numbers) are surrounded by parentheses as shown in most of the examples above.


The <versioninfo> section actually contains several optional fields. Each field begins with an identifying letter (such as h for hostname). Next comes a delimiter character which the signature writer chooses. The preferred delimiter is slash (‘/’) unless that is used in the field itself. Next comes the field value, followed by the delimiter character. The following table describes the six fields:

Table 7.1. versioninfo field formats and values
Field formatValue description
p/vendorproductname/Includes the vendor and often service name and is of the form Sun Solaris rexecd, ISC BIND named, or Apache httpd.
v/version/The application version number, which may include non-numeric characters and even multiple words.
i/info/Miscellaneous further information which was immediately available and might be useful. Examples include whether an X server is open to unauthenticated connections, or the protocol number of SSH servers.
h/hostname/The hostname (if any) offered up by a service. This is common for protocols such as SMTP and POP3 and is useful because these hostnames may be for internal networks or otherwise differ from the straightforward reverse DNS responses.
o/operatingsystem/The operating system the service is running on. This may legitimately be different than the OS reported by Nmap IP stack based OS detection. For example, the target IP might be a Linux box which uses network address translation to forward requests to an Microsoft IIS server in the DMZ. In this case, stack OS detection should report the OS as Linux, while service detection reports port 80 as being Windows.
d/devicetype/The type of device the service is running on, a string like print server or webcam. Some services disclose this information, and it can be inferred in many more cases. For example, the HP-ChaiServer web server only runs on printers. For a full list of device types, see the section called “Device Types”.
cpe:/cpename/[a]A CPE name for some aspect of the service. This may be used multiple times; it's conceivable to be able to identify not only the service (cpe:/a names) but also the operating system (cpe:/o names) and hardware platform (cpe:/h names) as well. The trailing slash is not part of CPE syntax but is included to match the format of other fields. See the section called “Common Platform Enumeration (CPE)” for more information about CPE.

Any of the fields can be omitted. In fact, all of the fields can be omitted if no further information on the service is available. Any of the version fields can include numbered strings such as $1 or $2, which are replaced (in a Perl-like fashion) with the corresponding parenthesized substring in the <pattern>. Within cpe:// templates, such substitutions are transformed as follows: certain characters such as the colon are escaped; spaces are converted to underscores, and all characters are made lower case.

In rare cases, a helper function can be applied to the replacement text before insertion. The following table describes the three helper functions available:

Syntax: softmatch <service> <pattern>


softmatch ftp m/^220 [-.\w ]+ftp.*\r\n$/i
softmatch smtp m|^220 [-.\w ]+SMTP.*\r\n|
softmatch pop3 m|^\+OK [-\[\]\(\)!,/+:<>@.\w ]+\r\n$|

The softmatch directive is similar in format to the match directive discussed above. The main difference is that scanning continues after a softmatch, but it is limited to probes that are known to match the given service. This allows for a normal (hard) match to be found later, which may provide useful version information. See the section called “Technique Described” for more details on how this works. Arguments are not defined here because they are the same as for match above, except that there is never a <versioninfo> argument. Also as with match, many softmatch statements can exist within a single Probe section.

ports and sslports Directives

Syntax: ports <portlist>


ports 21,43,110,113,199,505,540,1248,5432,30444
ports 111,4045,32750-32810,38978

This line tells Nmap what ports the services identified by this probe are commonly found on. It should only be used once within each Probe section. The syntax is a slightly simplified version of that taken by the Nmap -p option. See the examples above. More details on how this works are in the section called “Technique Described”.

Syntax: sslports <portlist>


sslports 443

This is the same as 'ports' directive described above, except that these ports are often used to wrap a service in SSL. For example, the HTTP probe declares sslports 443 and SMTP-detecting probes have an sslports 465 line because those are the standard ports for HTTPS and SMTPS respectively. The <portlist> format is the same as with ports. This optional directive cannot appear more than once per Probe.

totalwaitms Directive

Syntax: totalwaitms <milliseconds>


totalwaitms 6000

This rarely necessary directive specifies the amount of time Nmap should wait before giving up on the most recently defined Probe against a particular service. The Nmap default is usually fine.

tcpwrappedms Directive

Syntax: tcpwrappedms <milliseconds>


tcpwrappedms 3000

This directive is only used for the Null probe. If a service closes the TCP connection before this timer runs out, then the service is labeled tcpwrapped. Otherwise, matching continues as usual.

rarity Directive

Syntax: rarity <value between 1 and 9>


rarity 6

The rarity directive roughly corresponds to how infrequently this probe can be expected to return useful results. The higher the number, the more rare the probe is considered and the less likely it is to be tried against a service. More details can be found in the section called “Probe Selection and Rarity”.

fallback Directive

Syntax: fallback <Comma separated list of probes>


fallback GetRequest,GenericLines

This optional directive specifies which probes should be used as fallbacks for if there are no matches in the current Probe section. For more information on fallbacks see the section called “Cheats and Fallbacks”. For TCP probes without a fallback directive, Nmap first tries match lines in the probe itself and then does an implicit fallback to the NULL probe. If the fallback directive is present, Nmap first tries match lines from the probe itself, then those from the probes specified in the fallback directive (from left to right). Finally, Nmap will try the NULL probe. For UDP the behavior is identical except that the NULL probe is never tried.

Putting It All Together

Here are some examples from nmap-service-probes which put this all together (to save space many lines have been skipped). After reading this far into the section, the following should be understood.

# The Exclude directive takes a comma separated list of ports.
# The format is exactly the same as the -p switch.
Exclude T:9100-9107

# This is the NULL probe that just compares any banners given to us
##############################NEXT PROBE##############################
Probe TCP NULL q||
# Wait for at least 5 seconds for data.  Otherwise an Nmap default is used.
totalwaitms 5000
# Windows 2003
match ftp m/^220[ -]Microsoft FTP Service\r\n/ p/Microsoft ftpd/
match ftp m/^220 ProFTPD (\d\S+) Server/ p/ProFTPD/ v/$1/
softmatch ftp m/^220 [-.\w ]+ftp.*\r\n$/i
match ident m|^flock\(\) on closed filehandle .*midentd| p/midentd/ i/broken/
match imap m|^\* OK Welcome to Binc IMAP v(\d[-.\w]+)| p/Binc IMAPd/ v$1/
softmatch imap m/^\* OK [-.\w ]+imap[-.\w ]+\r\n$/i
match lucent-fwadm m|^0001;2$| p/Lucent Secure Management Server/
match meetingmaker m/^\xc1,$/ p/Meeting Maker calendaring/
# lopster on Linux 1.1
match napster m|^1$| p/Lopster Napster P2P client/

Probe UDP Help q|help\r\n\r\n|
rarity 3
ports 7,13,37
match echo m|^help\r\n\r\n$|