An ephemeral port is a short-lived transport protocol port for Internet Protocol (IP) communications allocated automatically from a predefined range by the IP software. It is used by the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), User Datagram Protocol (UDP), or the Stream Control Transmission Protocol (SCTP) as the port assignment for the client end of a client–server communication to a well known port on a server.
On servers, ephemeral ports may also be used as the port assignment on the server end of a communication. This is done to continue communications with a client that initially connected to one of the server's well-known service listening ports. File Transfer Protocol (FTP) and Remote Procedure Call (RPC) applications are two protocols that can behave in this manner. Note that the term "server" here includes workstations running services that receive connections initiatied from other clients (such as Remote Desktop Protocol or RDP).
The allocations are temporary and only valid for the duration of the communication session. After completion of the communication session, the ports become available for reuse, after an OS specific completion timeout is reached.[note 1] Since the ports are used on a per request basis they are also called dynamic ports.
Many Linux kernels use the port range 32768 to 61000.[note 2] FreeBSD has used the IANA port range since release 4.6. Previous versions, including the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD), use ports 1024 to 5000 as ephemeral ports.
Microsoft Windows operating systems through XP use the range 1025–5000 as ephemeral ports by default.Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Server 2008 use the IANA range by default. Windows Server 2003 uses the range 1025–5000 by default, until Microsoft security update MS08-037 from 2008 is installed, after which it uses the IANA range by default. Windows Server 2008 with Exchange Server 2007 installed has a default port range of 1025–60000. In addition to the default range, all versions of Windows since Windows 2000 have the option of specifying a custom range anywhere within 1025–65535.
Linux allows you to view and change the ephemeral port range by simply using the file /proc/sys/net/ipv4/ip_local_port_range. For example, this shows the default configuration on a kernel 2.2 system:
$ cat /proc/sys/net/ipv4/ip_local_port_range 1024 4999