libptytty is an offspring of rxvt-unicode that handles pty/tty/utmp/wtmp/lastlog handling in mostly OS-independent ways, so it's less of a hassle for you :)
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    libptytty - OS independent and secure pty/tty and utmp/wtmp/lastlog

       cc ... -lptytty

       #include <libptytty.h>

       // C++
       ptytty *pty = ptytty::create ();

       if (!pty->get ())
         // error allocating pty

       if (we want utmp)
         pty->login (process_pid, 0, "");
       else if (we want utmp AND wtmp/lastlog)
         pty->login (process_pid, 1, "");

       // we are done with it
       delete pty;

       // C
       PTYTTY pty = ptytty_create ();

       if (!ptytty_get (pty))
         // error allocating pty

       if (we want utmp)
         ptytty_login (pty, process_pid, 0, "");
       else if (we want utmp AND wtmp/lastlog)
         ptytty_login (pty, process_pid, 1, "");

       // we are done with it
       ptytty_delete (pty);

    See also the eg/ directory, which currently contains the c-sample.c file
    that spawns a login shell from C using libptytty.

    Libptytty is a small library that offers pseudo-tty management in an
    OS-independent way. It was created out of frustration over the many
    differences of pty/tty handling in different operating systems for the
    use inside "rxvt-unicode".

    In addition to offering mere pty/tty management, it also offers session
    database support (utmp and optional wtmp/lastlog updates for login

    It also supports fork'ing after startup and dropping privileges in the
    calling process, so in case the calling process gets compromised by the
    user starting the program there is less to gain, as only the helper
    process runs with privileges (e.g. setuid/setgid), which reduces the
    area of attack immensely.

    Libptytty is written in C++, but it also offers a C-only API.

    *It is of paramount importance that you at least read the following

    If you write a typical terminal-like program that just wants one or more
    ptys, you should call the "ptytty::init ()" method (C: "ptytty_init ()"
    function) as the very first thing in your program:

       int main (int argc, char *argv[])
          // do nothing here
          ptytty::init ();
          // in C: ptytty_init ();

          // initialise, parse arguments, etc.

    This checks whether the program runs setuid or setgid. If yes then it
    will fork a helper process and drop privileges.

    Some programs need finer control over if and when this helper process is
    started, and if and how to drop privileges. For those programs, the
    methods "ptytty::use_helper" and "ptytty::drop_privileges" (and possibly
    "ptytty::sanitise_stdfd") are more useful.

    ptytty::init ()
        The default way to initialise libptytty. Must be called immediately
        as the first thing in the "main" function, or earlier e.g. during
        static construction time. The earlier, the better.

        This method calls "sanitise_stdfd" and then checks whether the
        program runs with setuid/setgid permissions and, if yes, spawns a
        helper process for pty/tty management. It then drops the privileges
        completely, so the actual program runs without setuid/setgid

        On failure, this method terminates the process.

    ptytty::use_helper ()
        Tries to start a helper process that retains privileges even when
        the calling process does not. This is usually called from
        "ptytty::init" when it detects that the program is running setuid or
        setgid, but can be called manually if it is inconvenient to drop
        privileges at startup, or when you are not running setuid/setgid but
        want to drop privileges (e.g. when running as a root-started

        This method will try not to start more than one helper process. The
        same helper process can usually be used both from the process
        starting it and all its fork'ed (not exec'ed) children.

        On failure, this method terminates the process.

    ptytty::drop_privileges ()
        Drops privileges completely, i.e. sets real, effective and saved
        user id to the real user id. Useful to make sure that the process
        doesn't run with special privileges.

        On failure, this method terminates the process.

    ptytty::sanitise_stdfd ()
        Checks whether file descriptors 0, 1 and 2 (stdin, stdout and
        stderr) are valid (open) and, if not, connects them to /dev/tty or
        /dev/null if possible. This is necessary because libptytty might
        want to output error messages to those descriptors, which at the
        time of outputting the error message, might be connected to
        something unsuitable opened by the unsuspecting program itself (this
        can be a security issue).

        On failure, this method terminates the process.

    bool success = ptytty::send_fd (int socket, int fd)
        Utility method to send a file descriptor over a unix domain socket.
        Returns true if successful, false otherwise. This method is only
        exposed for your convenience and is not required for normal

    int fd = ptytty::recv_fd (int socket)
        Utility method to receive a file descriptor over a unix domain
        socket. Returns the fd if successful and -1 otherwise. This method
        is only exposed for your convenience and is not required for normal

    ptytty *pty = ptytty::create ()
        Creates new ptytty object. Creation does not yet do anything besides
        allocating the structure.

        A static method is used because the actual ptytty implementation can
        differ at runtime, so you need a dynamic object creation facility.

    int pty_fd = pty->pty
    int tty_fd = pty->tty
        These members contain the pty and tty file descriptors,
        respectively. They initially contain -1 until a successful call to

    bool success = pty->get ()
        Tries to find, allocate and initialise a new pty/tty pair. Returns
        "true" when successful.

        If the helper process is running and there is a protocol error, this
        method terminates the process.

    pty->login (int cmd_pid, bool login_shell, const char *hostname)
        Creates an entry in the systems session database(s) (utmp, wtmp,
        lastlog). "cmd_pid" must be the pid of the process representing the
        session (such as the login shell), "login_shell" defines whether the
        session is associated with a login, which influences whether wtmp
        and lastlog entries are created, and "hostname" should identify the
        "hostname" the user logs in from, which often is the value of the
        "DISPLAY" variable or tty line in case of local logins.

        Calling this method is optional. A session starts at the time of the
        login call and extends until the ptytty object is destroyed.

    pty->close_tty ()
        Closes the tty. Useful after forking in the parent/pty process.

    bool success = pty->make_controlling_tty ()
        Tries to make the pty/tty pair the controlling terminal of the
        current process. Useful after forking in the child/tty process.

    pty->set_utf8_mode (bool on)
        On systems supporting special UTF-8 line disciplines (e.g. Linux),
        this tries to enable this discipline for the given pty. Can be
        called at any time to change the mode.

    ptytty_init ()
        See "ptytty::init ()".

    PTYTTY ptytty_create ()
        Creates a new opaque PTYTTY object and returns it. Do not try to
        access it in any way except by testing it for truthness (e.g. "if
        (pty) ...."). See "ptytty::create ()".

    int ptytty_pty (PTYTTY ptytty)
        Return the pty file descriptor. See "pty->pty".

    int ptytty_tty (PTYTTY ptytty)
        Return the tty file descriptor. See "pty->tty".

    void ptytty_delete (PTYTTY ptytty)
        Destroys the PTYTTY object, freeing the pty/tty pair and cleaning up
        the utmp/wtmp/lastlog databases, if initialised/used. Same as
        "delete pty" in C++.

    int ptytty_get (PTYTTY ptytty)
        See "pty->get", returns 0 in case of an error, non-zero otherwise.

    void ptytty_login (PTYTTY ptytty, int cmd_pid, bool login_shell, const
    char *hostname)
        See "pty->login".

    void ptytty_close_tty (PTYTTY ptytty)
        See "pty->close_tty".

    int ptytty_make_controlling_tty (PTYTTY ptytty)
        See "pty->make_controlling_tty".

    void ptytty_set_utf8_mode (PTYTTY ptytty, int on)
        See "pty->set_utf8_mode".

    void ptytty_drop_privileges ()
        See "ptytty::drop_privileges".

    void ptytty_use_helper ()
        See "ptytty::use_helper".

    You kiddin'?

    Emanuele Giaquinta <>, Marc Alexander Lehmann