ClamAV Broken Pipe

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A while ago we upgraded ClamAV at $JOB from an fpm package of dubious-quality to an upstream Ubuntu package. In doing so we found that one of our applications, which submits data to clamd over a socket, had stopped working and was logging Broken pipe errors.

The following text is a paraphrase of a commit message to one of our internal repositories. It seems that this problem still isn’t well represented by Google-sauce, so hopefully this will be useful to others.


After some fiddling a colleague found that we could reproduce this on the command line by streaming content in from a file:

dcarley@preview-asset-master:~$ echo foo > foo
dcarley@preview-asset-master:~$ clamdscan --stream foo
ERROR: Can't send to clamd: Broken pipe
/home/dcarley/foo: no reply from clamd

In the midst of testing some theories I restarted the service and suddenly it started working again. I hypothesised that it might be a race condition created by the upgrade process. However I wasn’t able to reproduce problem by performing the same upgrade on a Vagrant VM.

Like many a desperate sysadmin I reached for strace to inspect the clamd process while re-running the clamdscan command, which revealed:

dcarley@preview-asset-master:~$ sudo strace -vfp $(pgrep clamd)
[pid  5279] open("/tmp/user/0/clamav-e41b103da0dd009d881b8f4777da7902", O_RDWR|O_CREAT|O_EXCL|O_TRUNC, 0700) = -1 EACCES (Permission denied)

I rewound a little and read up on what ClamAV was actually doing. When clamd receives a stream instead of being passed an open file handle, which is the default behaviour, it buffers the contents to a temporary file and then reads it back as it’s own leisure. However the /tmp/user/0 directory that it’s trying to write to is owned by root:root and the clamd process running as clamav:clamav doesn’t have permission.

It turns out that those /tmp/user/${UID} directories are created and two environment variables are set ($TMP and $TMPDIR) by PAM’s pam_tmpdir for new sessions. If TMPDIR is set then clamd will use that as it’s temporary directory. Because we run Puppet from cron as root, that pam_tmpdir module gets invoked each time and sets the environment variables, which are passed over to clamd when Puppet calls /etc/init.d/clamav-daemon start.


The reason I wasn’t able to reproduce the same behaviour in a local VM is that Vagrant’s provisioner for Puppet wraps the command with sudo, which doesn’t initiate a new “session” and the default setting of env_reset prevents the environment variables being passed on from the calling session.

dcarley@preview-asset-master:~$ id -u
dcarley@preview-asset-master:~$ env | grep TMP
dcarley@preview-asset-master:~$ sudo env | grep TMP

In a similar vein, the reason that restarting the service fixed it was because I used service clamav-daemon restart. Even when not using sudo this wraps the init script with exec env -i which scrubs all environment variables from the calling shell.

This is one reason it’s preferable to use service foo start instead of /etc/init.d/foo start. However the Puppet service type on Debian/Ubuntu, which inherits from a simpler init provider, doesn’t do this.

The fix

The simplest and most robust workaround for us was to hardset the temporary directory in clamd.conf(5). Setting this ensures that $TMPDIR never takes precedence:

TemporaryDirectory /tmp


It’s worth noting that we also experienced similar symptoms during the package upgrade due to AppArmor. Our old dubious-package didn’t contain any AppArmor profiles, but the Ubuntu package does out-of-the-box. These are mostly sensible defaults and you certainly shouldn’t disable them.

The distro defaults for clamd are stored in /etc/apparmor.d/usr.sbin.clamd. You can append to these using /etc/apparmor.d/local/usr.sbin.clamd. For example:

# Site-specific additions and overrides for usr.sbin.clamd.
# For more details, please see /etc/apparmor.d/local/README.

# Permit reads from local data in /srv
/srv/** r,