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getent allows to get the contents of several databases in their native file format even if they are not actually in /etc. For example, if you are using a LDAP or a DB to authenticate your users, you won't find their info by catting /etc/passwd, but "getent passwd" will concatenate /etc/passwd to the LDAP/DB.
There is 1 alternative - vote for the best!
Uses the file located in /etc/services
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