Programs that provide application services via the network are called network daemons. A daemon is a program that opens a port, most commonly a well-known service port, and waits for incoming connections on it. If one occurs, the daemon creates a child process that accepts the connection, while the parent continues to listen for further requests. This mechanism works well, but has a few disadvantages; at least one instance of every possible service you wish to provide must be active in memory at all times. In addition, the software routines that do the listening and port handling must be replicated in every network daemon.
To overcome these inefficiencies, most Unix installations run a special network daemon, what you might consider a “super server.” This daemon creates sockets on behalf of a number of services and listens on all of them simultaneously. When an incoming connection is received on any of these sockets, the super server accepts the connection and spawns the server specified for this port, passing the socket across to the child to manage. The server then returns to listening.
The most common super server is called inetd, the Internet Daemon. It is started at system boot time and takes the list of services it is to manage from a startup file named /etc/inetd.conf. In addition to those servers, there are a number of trivial services performed by inetd itself called internal services. They include chargen, which simply generates a string of characters, and daytime, which returns the system's idea of the time of day.
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