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port4me: Get the Same, Personal, Free ‘TCP’ Port over and over

The port4me tool:


There are many tools to identify a free TCP port, where most of them return a random port. Although it works technically, it might add a fair bit of friction if a new random port number has to be entered by the user each time they need to use a specific tool.

In contrast, port4me attempts, with high probability, to provide the user with the same port each time, even when used on different days. It achieves this by scanning the same deterministic, pseudo-random sequence of ports and return the first free port detected. Each user gets their own random port sequence, lowering the risk for any two users to request the same port. The randomness is initiated with a random seed that is a function of the user’s name (USER), and, optionally, the name of the software where we use the port.

The port4me algorithm can be implemented in most known programming languages, producing perfectly reproducible sequencing regardless of implementation language.

A quick introduction

Assuming we’re logged in as user alice, calling port4me::port4me() without arguments gives us a free port:


## [1] "alice"


## [1] 30845

As we will see later, each user on the system is likely to get their own unique port. Because of this, it can be used to specifying a port that some tool should use, e.g.

shiny::runApp(port = port4me::port4me())

As long as this port is available, alice will always get the same port across R sessions and over time. For example, if they return next week and retry, it’s likely they still get:


## [1] 30845


## [1] 30845

However, if port 30845 is already occupied, the next port in the pseudo-random sequence is considered, e.g.


## [1] 19654

To see the first five ports scanned, run:

port4me::port4me(list = 5)

## [1] 30845 19654 32310 63992 15273

User-specific, deterministic, pseudo-random port sequence

This random sequence is initiated by a random seed that can be set via the hashcode of a seed string. By default, it is based on the name of the current user (e.g. environment variable $USER). For example, when user bob uses the port4me tool, they see another set of ports being scanned:


## [1] "bob"

port4me::port4me(list = 5)

## [1] 54242  4930 42139 14723 55707

For testing and demonstration purposes, one can emulate another user by specifying argument user, e.g.


## [1] "alice"


## [1] 30845

port4me::port4me(user = "bob")

## [1] 54242

port4me::port4me(user = "carol")

## [1] 34307

Different ports for different software tools

Sometimes a user would like to use two, or more, ports at the same time, e.g. two ports for two different Shiny apps. In such case, they can specify argument tool, which results in a port sequence that is unique to both the user and the tool. For example,


## [1] 30845


## [1] 55578


## [1] 32273

This allows us to do:

shiny::runApp(appDir = "myapp", port = port4me::port4me("myapp"))


shiny::runApp(appDir = "demo", port = port4me::port4me("demo"))

Avoid using ports commonly used elsewhere

Since there is a limited set of ports available (1024-65535), there is always a risk that another process occupies any given port. The more users there are on the same machine, the higher the risk is for this to happen. If a user is unlucky, they might experience this frequently. For example, alice might find that the first port (30845) works only one out 10 times, the second port (19654) works 99 out 100 times, and the third one (32310) works rarely. If so, they might choose to exclude the ports that are most likely to be used by specifying them as a comma-separated values via option --exclude, e.g.

port4me::port4me(exclude = c(30845, 32310))

[1] 19654

An alternative to specify them via a command-line option, is to specify them via environment variable PORT4ME_EXCLUDE, e.g.

{alice}$ PORT4ME_EXCLUDE=30845,32310 R
> port4me::port4me()
[1] 19654

To set this permanently, append:

## port4me customization
## https://github.com/HenrikBengtsson/port4me

to the shell startup script, e.g. ~/.bashrc. Alternatively, it can be set specifically for R in ~/.Renviron as:

## port4me customization
## https://github.com/HenrikBengtsson/port4me

This increases the chances for the user to end up with the same port over time, which is convenient, because then they can reuse the same call, which is available in the command-line history, each time without having to change the port parameter.

The environment variable PORT4ME_EXCLUDE is intended to be used by the individual user. To specify a set of ports to be excluded regardless of user, set PORT4ME_EXCLUDE_SITE. For example, the systems administrator, can choose to exclude an additional set of ports by adding the following to file /etc/profile.d/port4me.sh:

## port4me: always exclude commonly used ports
## https://github.com/HenrikBengtsson/port4me


## MySQL

## ZeroMQ

## Redis

## Jupyter


In addition to ports excluded via above mechanisms, port4me excludes ports that are considered unsafe by the Chrome and Firefox web browsers. This behavior can be controlled by environment variable PORT4ME_EXCLUDE_UNSAFE, which defaults to {chrome},{firefox}. Token {chrome} expands to the value of PORT4ME_EXCLUDE_UNSAFE_CHROME, which defaults to the set of ports that Chrome blocks and {firefox} expands to to the value of PORT4ME_EXCLUDE_UNSAFE_FIREFOX, which defaults to the set of ports that Firefox blocks.

Analogously to excluding a set of ports, one can limit the range of ports to be scanned by specifying command-line argument include, e.g.

port4me::port4me(include = c(2000:2123, 4321, 10000:10999))

## [1] 10451

where the default corresponds to include = 1024:65535. Analogously to exclude, include can be specified via environment variables PORT4ME_INCLUDE and PORT4ME_INCLUDE_SITE.

Scan a predefined set of ports before pseudo-random ones

In addition to scanning the user-specific, pseudo-random port sequence for a free port, it is possible to also consider a predefined set of ports prior to the random ones by specifying command-line argument prepend, e.g.

port4me::port4me(prepend = c(4321, 11001), list = 5)

## [1]  4321 11001 30845 19654 32310

An alternative to specify them via a command-line option, is to specify them via environment variable PORT4ME_PREPEND, e.g.

{alice}$ PORT4ME_PREPEND=4321,11001 R
> port4me::port4me(list = 5)
[1]  4321 11001 30845 19654 32310

The environment variable PORT4ME_PREPEND is intended to be used by the individual user. To specify a set of ports to be prepended regardless of user, set PORT4ME_PREPEND_SITE.


To install the R port4me package, do:


To install the development version, do:

remotes::install_github("HenrikBengtsson/port4me", subdir = "r")

To try it out, call:


## [1] 29525


$ Rscript -e port4me::port4me jupyter-notebook

The port4me Algorithm




R package port4me is available on CRAN and can be installed in R as:


Pre-release version

To install the pre-release version that is available in Git branch develop on GitHub, use:


This will install the package from source.