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17.8 Reading Passphrases

When reading in a passphrase, it is desirable to avoid displaying it on the screen, to help keep it secret. The following function handles this in a convenient way.

Function: char * getpass (const char *prompt)

Preliminary: | MT-Unsafe term | AS-Unsafe heap lock corrupt | AC-Unsafe term lock corrupt | See POSIX Safety Concepts.

getpass outputs prompt, then reads a string in from the terminal without echoing it. It tries to connect to the real terminal, /dev/tty, if possible, to encourage users not to put plaintext passphrases in files; otherwise, it uses stdin and stderr. getpass also disables the INTR, QUIT, and SUSP characters on the terminal using the ISIG terminal attribute (see Local Modes). The terminal is flushed before and after getpass, so that characters of a mistyped passphrase are not accidentally visible.

In other C libraries, getpass may only return the first PASS_MAX bytes of a passphrase. The GNU C Library has no limit, so PASS_MAX is undefined.

The prototype for this function is in unistd.h. PASS_MAX would be defined in limits.h.

This precise set of operations may not suit all possible situations. In this case, it is recommended that users write their own getpass substitute. For instance, a very simple substitute is as follows:

#include <termios.h>
#include <stdio.h>

my_getpass (char **lineptr, size_t *n, FILE *stream)
  struct termios old, new;
  int nread;

  /* Turn echoing off and fail if we can’t. */
  if (tcgetattr (fileno (stream), &old) != 0)
    return -1;
  new = old;
  new.c_lflag &= ~ECHO;
  if (tcsetattr (fileno (stream), TCSAFLUSH, &new) != 0)
    return -1;

  /* Read the passphrase */
  nread = getline (lineptr, n, stream);

  /* Restore terminal. */
  (void) tcsetattr (fileno (stream), TCSAFLUSH, &old);

  return nread;

The substitute takes the same parameters as getline (see Line-Oriented Input); the user must print any prompt desired.

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