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Handling TCP keep-alive

Keep-alives are useful in scenarios where either end of a TCP connection disappears without closing the session.

The following script in Python demonstrates sending a keep-alive message when there is no data activity for 60 seconds. If there is no response, 4 additional keep-alive messages are sent at intervals of 15 seconds. If none get a response, the connection is aborted.

Edit the IP address and port to whatever works on your network.

Create a test TCP listener/server using netcat (nc on OS X) on machine with IP address specified in the script

netcat -l 8001

Next, run the script


It should establish a TCP connection with the listener. Interrupt the network by enabling a firewall, or powering off a router. You’ll see the following when the connection times out

Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "", line 39, in do_work
    req = sock.recv(10)
error: [Errno 110] Connection timed out
Other Socket err, exit and try creating socket again

On OS X or Windows, you can enable keep-alive but cannot set TCP_KEEPIDLE and other parameters. You’ll get the following error message if you try to do so

Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "", line 65, in <module>
  File "", line 19, in do_work
    sock.setsockopt(socket.SOL_TCP, socket.TCP_KEEPIDLE, 60)
AttributeError: 'module' object has no attribute 'TCP_KEEPIDLE'

Wireshark highlights keep-alive messages if TCP sequence number analysis is enabled.