TCP Connection States and Netstat Output

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This article describes TCP connection states and how to read Netstat (NETSTAT.EXE) output.

Before data transfer takes place in TCP, a connection must be established. TCP employs a three-way handshake (the details of this can be found in RFC793, Chapter 3: "Functional Specification").

More Information

TCP Connection States

Following is a brief explanation of this handshake. In this context the "client" is the peer requesting a connection and the "server" is the peer accepting a connection. Note that this notation does not reflect Client/Server relationships as an architectural principal.

  1. Connection Establishment

    • The client sends a SYN message which contains the server's port and the client's Initial Sequence Number (ISN) to the server (active open).
    • The server sends back its own SYN and ACK (which consists of the client's ISN + 1).
    • The Client sends an ACK (which consists of the server's ISN + 1).
  2. Connection Tear-down (modified three way handshake).

    • The client sends a FIN (active close). This is a now a half-closed connection. The client no longer sends data, but is still able to receive data from the server. Upon receiving this FIN, the server enters a passive close state.
    • The server sends an ACK (which is the clients FIN sequence + 1)
    • The server sends its own FIN.
    • The client sends an ACK (which is server's FIN sequence + 1). Upon receiving this ACK, the server closes the connection.
A half-closed connection can be used to terminate sending data while sill receiving data. Socket applications can call shutdown with the second argument set to 1 to enter this state.

Netstat Output

The above TCP connection states can be monitored in a network trace under the TCP flags. It is also possible to determine the status of the connection by running the Netstat utility and looking at the State column. Netstat is shipped with Windows NT, Windows 95, and TCP/IP-32 for Windows for Workgroups.

State explanations as shown in Netstat:
State Explanation
------------ --------------------------------------------------------

SYN_SEND Indicates active open.

SYN_RECEIVED Server just received SYN from the client.

ESTABLISHED Client received server's SYN and session is established.

LISTEN Server is ready to accept connection.

NOTE: See documentation for listen() socket call. TCP sockets in listening state are not shown - this is a limitation of NETSTAT. For additional information, please see the following article in the Microsoft Knowledge Base:

134404 NETSTAT.EXE Does Not Show TCP Listen Sockets
FIN_WAIT_1 Indicates active close.

TIMED_WAIT Client enters this state after active close.

CLOSE_WAIT Indicates passive close. Server just received first FIN from a client.

FIN_WAIT_2 Client just received acknowledgment of its first FIN from the server.

LAST_ACK Server is in this state when it sends its own FIN.

CLOSED Server received ACK from client and connection is closed.
As an example, consider the following scenario:

A socket application has been terminated, but Netstat reports the socket in a CLOSE_WAIT state. This could indicate that the client properly closed the connection (FIN has been sent), but the server still has its socket open. This could be the result of one instance (among all threads or processes) of the socket not being closed.

NOTE: It is normal to have a socket in the TIME_WAIT state for a long period of time. The time is specified in RFC793 as twice the Maximum Segment Lifetime (MSL). MSL is specified to be 2 minutes. So, a socket could be in a TIME_WAIT state for as long as 4 minutes. Some systems implement different values (less than 2 minutes) for the MSL.

Additional references:
  • "Internetworking with TCP/IP, Volume 1" by Douglas Comer
  • "TCP/IP Illustrated, Volume 1" by Richard Stevens.
  • "Computer Networks" by Andrew Tanenbaum

Article ID: 137984 - Last Review: Dec 5, 2003 - Revision: 1