Portals have been added to 4.4BSD as an experimental feature and are in the publicly-available 4.4BSD-Lite distribution. Portals provide access to alternate file types or devices using names in the normal filesystem that a process just opens. For example, an open of the file "/p/tcp/ftp.uu.net/smtp" returns a socket descriptor to the calling process that is connected to the SMTP server on the specified host. By providing access through the normal filesystem, the calling process need not be aware of the special system calls necessary to create a TCP socket and establish a TCP connection. This makes TCP connections, for example, available to normal programs such as cat and awk.
This paper describes the implementation of portals in 4.4BSD as another type of filesystem and provides some examples. It also compares portals to the System V Release 4 "connld" streams module, which provides similar capabilities.