int ioctl(fd, RNDrequest, param);
The random number generator gathers environmental noise from device drivers and other sources into an entropy pool. The generator also keeps an estimate of the number of bits of noise in the entropy pool. From this entropy pool, random numbers are created.
Linux 3.17 and later provides the simpler and safer getrandom(2) interface which requires no special files; see the getrandom(2) manual page for details.
When read, the /dev/urandom device returns random bytes using a pseudorandom number generator seeded from the entropy pool. Reads from this device do not block (i.e., the CPU is not yielded), but can incur an appreciable delay when requesting large amounts of data.
When read during early boot time, /dev/urandom may return data prior to the entropy pool being initialized. If this is of concern in your application, use getrandom(2) or /dev/random instead.
The /dev/random device is a legacy interface which dates back to a time where the cryptographic primitives used in the implementation of /dev/urandom were not widely trusted. It will return random bytes only within the estimated number of bits of fresh noise in the entropy pool, blocking if necessary. /dev/random is suitable for applications that need high quality randomness, and can afford indeterminate delays.
When the entropy pool is empty, reads from /dev/random will block until additional environmental noise is gathered. If open(2) is called for /dev/random with the O_NONBLOCK flag, a subsequent read(2) will not block if the requested number of bytes is not available. Instead, the available bytes are returned. If no byte is available, read(2) will return -1 and errno will be set to EAGAIN.
The O_NONBLOCK flag has no effect when opening /dev/urandom. When calling read(2) for the device /dev/urandom, reads of up to 256 bytes will return as many bytes as are requested and will not be interrupted by a signal handler. Reads with a buffer over this limit may return less than the requested number of bytes or fail with the error EINTR, if interrupted by a signal handler.
Since Linux 3.16, a read(2) from /dev/urandom will return at most 32 MB. A read(2) from /dev/random will return at most 512 bytes (340 bytes on Linux kernels before version 2.6.12).
Writing to /dev/random or /dev/urandom will update the entropy pool with the data written, but this will not result in a higher entropy count. This means that it will impact the contents read from both files, but it will not make reads from /dev/random faster.
If a seed file is saved across reboots as recommended below (all major Linux distributions have done this since 2000 at least), the output is cryptographically secure against attackers without local root access as soon as it is reloaded in the boot sequence, and perfectly adequate for network encryption session keys. Since reads from /dev/random may block, users will usually want to open it in nonblocking mode (or perform a read with timeout), and provide some sort of user notification if the desired entropy is not immediately available.
mknod -m 666 /dev/random c 1 8 mknod -m 666 /dev/urandom c 1 9 chown root:root /dev/random /dev/urandom
When a Linux system starts up without much operator interaction, the entropy pool may be in a fairly predictable state. This reduces the actual amount of noise in the entropy pool below the estimate. In order to counteract this effect, it helps to carry entropy pool information across shut-downs and start-ups. To do this, add the lines to an appropriate script which is run during the Linux system start-up sequence:
echo "Initializing random number generator..."
# Carry a random seed from start-up to start-up
# Load and then save the whole entropy pool
if [ -f $random_seed ]; then
cat $random_seed >/dev/urandom else
touch $random_seed fi chmod 600 $random_seed poolfile=/proc/sys/kernel/random/poolsize [ -r $poolfile ] && bits=$(cat $poolfile) || bits=4096 bytes=$(expr $bits / 8) dd if=/dev/urandom of=$random_seed count=1 bs=$bytes
Also, add the following lines in an appropriate script which is run during the Linux system shutdown:
# Carry a random seed from shut-down to start-up # Save the whole entropy pool echo "Saving random seed..." random_seed=/var/run/random-seed touch $random_seed chmod 600 $random_seed poolfile=/proc/sys/kernel/random/poolsize [ -r $poolfile ] && bits=$(cat $poolfile) || bits=4096 bytes=$(expr $bits / 8) dd if=/dev/urandom of=$random_seed count=1 bs=$bytes
In the above examples, we assume Linux 2.6.0 or later, where /proc/sys/kernel/random/poolsize returns the size of the entropy pool in bits (see below).
RFC 1750, "Randomness Recommendations for Security"