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SSHKit is a toolkit for running commands in a structured way on one or more servers.

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How might it work?

The typical use-case looks something like this:

require 'sshkit'
require 'sshkit/dsl'

on %w{}, in: :sequence, wait: 5 do |host|
  within "/opt/sites/" do
    as :deploy  do
      with rails_env: :production do
        rake   "assets:precompile"
        runner "S3::Sync.notify"
        execute :node, "socket_server.js"

You can find many other examples of how to use SSHKit over in

Basic usage

The on() method is used to specify the backends on which you'd like to run the commands. You can pass one or more hosts as parameters; this runs commands via SSH. Alternatively you can pass :local to run commands locally. By default SSKit will run the commands on all hosts in parallel.

Running commands

All backends support the execute(*args), test(*args) & capture(*args) methods for executing a command. You can call any of these methods in the context of an on() block.

Note: In SSHKit, the first parameter of the execute / test / capture methods has a special significance. If the first parameter isn't a Symbol, SSHKit assumes that you want to execute the raw command and the as / within / with methods, SSHKit.config.umask and the comand map have no effect.

Typically, you would pass a Symbol for the command name and it's args as follows:

on ''
  if test("[ -f somefile.txt ]")
    execute(:cp, 'somefile.txt', 'somewhere_else.txt')
  ls_output = capture(:ls, '-l')

By default the capture methods strips whitespace. If you need to preserve whitespace you can pass the strip: false option: capture(:ls, '-l', strip: false)

Transferring files

All backends also support the upload! and download! methods for transferring files. For the remote backed, the file is tranferred with scp.

on '' do
  upload! 'some_local_file.txt', '/home/some_user/somewhere'
  download! '/home/some_user/some_remote_file.txt', 'somewhere_local'

Users, working directories, environment variables and umask

When running commands, you can tell SSHKit to set up the context for those commands using the following methods:

as(user: 'un', group: 'grp') { execute('cmd') } # Executes sudo -u un -- sh -c 'sg grp cmd'
within('/somedir') { execute('cmd') }           # Executes cd /somedir && cmd
with(env_var: 'value') { execute('cmd') }       # Executes ENV_VAR=value cmd
SSHKit.config.umask = '077'                     # All commands are executed with umask 077 && cmd

The as() / within() / with() are nestable in any order, repeatable, and stackable.

When used inside a block in this way, as() and within() will guard the block they are given with a check.

In the case of within(), an error-raising check will be made that the directory exists; for as() a simple call to sudo su -<user> whoami wrapped in a check for success, raising an error if unsuccessful.

The directory check is implemented like this:

if test ! -d <directory>; then echo "Directory doesn't exist" 2>&1; false; fi

And the user switching test implemented like this:

if ! sudo su <user> -c whoami > /dev/null; then echo "Can't switch user" 2>&1; false; fi

According to the defaults, any command that exits with a status other than 0 raises an error (this can be changed). The body of the message is whatever was written to stdout by the process. The 1>&2 redirects the standard output of echo to the standard error channel, so that it's available as the body of the raised error.

Helpers such as runner() and rake() which expand to execute(:rails, "runner", ...) and execute(:rake, ...) are convenience helpers for Ruby, and Rails based apps.


Notice on the on() call the in: :sequence option, the following will do what you might expect:

on(in: :parallel) { ... }
on(in: :sequence, wait: 5) { ... }
on(in: :groups, limit: 2, wait: 5) { ... }

The default is to run in: :parallel which has no limit. If you have 400 servers, this might be a problem and you might better look at changing that to run in groups, or sequence.

Groups were designed in this case to relieve problems (mass Git checkouts) where you rely on a contested resource that you don't want to DDOS by hitting it too hard.

Sequential runs were intended to be used for rolling restarts, amongst other similar use-cases.


The on() block is the unit of synchronisation, one on() block will wait for all servers to complete before it returns.

For example:

all_servers = %w{}
site_dir    = '/opt/sites/'

# Let's simulate a backup task, assuming that some servers take longer
# then others to complete
on all_servers do |host|
  within site_dir do
    execute :tar, '-czf', "backup-#{host.hostname}.tar.gz", 'current'
    # Will run: "/usr/bin/env tar -czf current"

# Now we can do something with those backups, safe in the knowledge that
# they will all exist (all tar commands exited with a success status, or
# that we will have raised an exception if one of them failed.
on all_servers do |host|
  within site_dir do
    backup_filename = "backup-#{host.hostname}.tar.gz"
    target_filename = "backups/#{}/#{host.hostname}.tar.gz"
    puts capture(:s3cmd, 'put', backup_filename, target_filename)

The Command Map

It's often a problem that programmatic SSH sessions don't have the same environment variables as interactive sessions.

A problem often arises when calling out to executables expected to be on the $PATH. Under conditions without dotfiles or other environmental configuration, $PATH may not be set as expected, and thus executables are not found where expected.

To try and solve this there is the with() helper which takes a hash of variables and makes them available to the environment.

with path: '/usr/local/bin/rbenv/shims:$PATH' do
  execute :ruby, '--version'

Will execute:

( PATH=/usr/local/bin/rbenv/shims:$PATH /usr/bin/env ruby --version )

By contrast, the following won't modify the command at all:

with path: '/usr/local/bin/rbenv/shims:$PATH' do
  execute 'ruby --version'

Will execute, without mapping the environmental variables, or querying the command map:

ruby --version

(This behaviour is sometimes considered confusing, but it has mostly to do with shell escaping: in the case of whitespace in your command, or newlines, we have no way of reliably composing a correct shell command from the input given.)

Often more preferable is to use the command map.

The command map is used by default when instantiating a Command object

The command map exists on the configuration object, and in principle is quite simple, it's a Hash structure with a default key factory block specified, for example:

puts SSHKit.config.command_map[:ruby]
# => /usr/bin/env ruby

To make clear the environment is being deferred to, the /usr/bin/env prefix is applied to all commands. Although this is what happens anyway when one would simply attempt to execute ruby, making it explicit hopefully leads people to explore the documentation.

One can override the hash map for individual commands:

SSHKit.config.command_map[:rake] = "/usr/local/rbenv/shims/rake"
puts SSHKit.config.command_map[:rake]
# => /usr/local/rbenv/shims/rake

Another opportunity is to add command prefixes:

SSHKit.config.command_map.prefix[:rake].push("bundle exec")
puts SSHKit.config.command_map[:rake]
# => bundle exec rake

SSHKit.config.command_map.prefix[:rake].unshift("/usr/local/rbenv/bin exec")
puts SSHKit.config.command_map[:rake]
# => /usr/local/rbenv/bin exec bundle exec rake

One can also override the command map completely, this may not be wise, but it would be possible, for example:

SSHKit.config.command_map = do |hash, command|
  hash[command] = "/usr/local/rbenv/shims/#{command}"

This would effectively make it impossible to call any commands which didn't provide an executable in that directory, but in some cases that might be desirable.

Note: All keys should be symbolised, as the Command object will symbolize it's first argument before attempting to find it in the command map.

Interactive commands

(BETA) (Added in version #.##)

By default, commands against remote servers are run in a non-login, non-interactive ssh session. This is by design, to try and isolate the environment and make sure that things work as expected, regardless of any changes that might happen on the server side. This means that, although the server may have prompted you, and be waiting for it, you cannot send data to the server by typing into your terminal window. Wherever possible, you should call commands in a way that doesn't require interaction (eg by specifying all options as command arguments).

However in some cases, you may want to programmatically drive interaction with a command and this can be achieved by specifying an :interaction_handler option when you execute, capture or test a command.

It is not necessary, or desirable to enable Netssh.config.pty to use the interaction_handler option. Only enable Netssh.config.pty if the command you are calling won't work without a pty.

An interaction_handler is an object which responds to on_data(command, stream_name, data, channel). The interaction_handler's on_data method will be called each time stdout or stderr data is available from the server. Data can be sent back to the server using the channel parameter. This allows scripting of command interaction by responding to stdout or stderr lines with any input required.

For example, an interaction handler to change the password of your linux user using the passwd command could look like this:

class PasswdInteractionHandler
  def on_data(command, stream_name, data, channel)
    puts data
    case data
      when '(current) UNIX password: '
      when 'Enter new UNIX password: ', 'Retype new UNIX password: '
      when 'passwd: password updated successfully'
        raise "Unexpected stderr #{stderr}"

# ...

execute(:passwd, interaction_handler:

Using the SSHKit::MappingInteractionHandler

Often, you want to map directly from a short output string returned by the server (either stdout or stderr) to a corresponding input string (as in the case above). For this case you can specify the interaction_handler option as a hash. This is used to create a SSHKit::MappingInteractionHandler which provides similar functionality to the linux expect library:

execute(:passwd, interaction_handler: {
  '(current) UNIX password: ' => "old_pw\n",
  /(Enter|Retype) new UNIX password: / => "new_pw\n"

Note: the key to the hash keys are matched against the server output data using the case equals === method. This means that regexes and any objects which define === can be used as hash keys.

Hash keys are matched in order, which allows for default wildcard matches:

execute(:my_command, interaction_handler: {
  "some specific line\n" => "specific input\n",
  /.*/ => "default input\n"

You can also pass a Proc object to map the output line from the server:

execute(:passwd, interaction_handler: lambda { |server_data|
  case server_data
  when '(current) UNIX password: '
  when /(Enter|Retype) new UNIX password: /

MappingInteractionHandlers are stateless, so you can assign one to a constant and reuse it:

  "Please Enter Password\n" => "some_password\n"

execute(:first_command, interaction_handler: ENTER_PASSWORD)
execute(:second_command, interaction_handler: ENTER_PASSWORD)

Exploratory logging

By default, the MappingInteractionHandler does not log, in case the server output or input contains sensitive information. However, if you pass a second log_level parameter to the constructor, the MappingInteractionHandler will log information about what output is being returned by the server, and what input is being sent in response. This can be helpful if you don't know exactly what the server is sending back (whitespace, newlines etc).

  # Start with this and run your script
  execute(:unfamiliar_command,{}, :debug))
  # DEBUG log => Unable to find interaction handler mapping for stdout:
  #              "Please type your input:\r\n" so no response was sent"

  # Update mapping:
    {"Please type your input:\r\n" => "Some input\n"}

The data parameter

The data parameter of on_data(command, stream_name, data, channel) is a string containing the latest data delivered from the backend.

When using the Netssh backend for commands where a small amount of data is returned (eg prompting for sudo passwords), on_data will normally be called once per line and data will be terminated by a newline. For commands with larger amounts of output, data is delivered as it arrives from the underlying network stack, which depends on network conditions, buffer sizes, etc. In this case, you may need to implement a more complex interaction_handler to concatenate data from multiple calls to on_data before matching the required output.

When using the Local backend, on_data is always called once per line.

The channel parameter

When using the Netssh backend, the channel parameter of on_data(command, stream_name, data, channel) is a Net::SSH Channel. When using the Local backend, it is a ruby IO object. If you need to support both sorts of backends with the same interaction handler, you need to call methods on the appropriate API depending on the channel type. One approach is to detect the presence of the API methods you need - eg channel.respond_to?(:send_data) # Net::SSH channel and channel.respond_to?(:write) # IO. See the SSHKit::MappingInteractionHandler for an example of this.

Output Handling

Example Output

By default, the output format is set to :pretty:

SSHKit.config.format = :pretty

However, if you prefer non colored text you can use the :simpletext formatter. If you want minimal output, there is also a :dot formatter which will simply output red or green dots based on the success or failure of commands. There is also a :blackhole formatter which does not output anything.

By default, formatters log to $stdout, but they can be constructed with any object which implements << for example any IO subclass, String, Logger etc:

# Output to a String:
output =
SSHKit.config.output =
# Do something with output

# Or output to a file:
SSHKit.config.output ='log/deploy.log', 'wb'))

Output Colors

By default, SSHKit will color the output using ANSI color escape sequences if the output you are using is associated with a terminal device (tty). This means that you should see colors if you are writing output to the terminal (the default), but you shouldn't see ANSI color escape sequences if you are writing to a file.

Colors are supported for the Pretty and Dot formatters, but for historical reasons the SimpleText formatter never shows colors.

If you want to force SSHKit to show colors, you can set the SSHKIT_COLOR environment variable:


Custom formatters

Want custom output formatting? Here's what you have to do:

  1. Write a new formatter class in the SSHKit::Formatter module. As an example, check out the default pretty formatter.
  2. Set the output format as described above. E.g. if your new formatter is called FooBar:
SSHKit.config.format = :foobar

Output Verbosity

By default calls to capture() and test() are not logged, they are used so frequently by backend tasks to check environmental settings that it produces a large amount of noise. They are tagged with a verbosity option on the Command instances of Logger::DEBUG. The default configuration for output verbosity is available to override with SSHKit.config.output_verbosity=, and defaults to Logger::INFO.

At present the Logger::WARN, ERROR and FATAL are not used.

Deprecation warnings

Deprecation warnings are logged directly to stderr by default. This behaviour can be changed by setting the SSHKit.config.deprecation_output option:

# Disable deprecation warnings
SSHKit.config.deprecation_output = nil

# Log deprecation warnings to a file
SSHKit.config.deprecation_output ='log/deprecation_warnings.log', 'wb')

Connection Pooling

SSHKit uses a simple connection pool (enabled by default) to reduce the cost of negotiating a new SSH connection for every on() block. Depending on usage and network conditions, this can add up to a significant time savings. In one test, a basic cap deploy ran 15-20 seconds faster thanks to the connection pooling added in recent versions of SSHKit.

To prevent connections from "going stale", an existing pooled connection will be replaced with a new connection if it hasn't been used for more than 30 seconds. This timeout can be changed as follows:

SSHKit::Backend::Netssh.pool.idle_timeout = 60 # seconds

If you suspect the connection pooling is causing problems, you can disable the pooling behaviour entirely by setting the idle_timeout to zero:

SSHKit::Backend::Netssh.pool.idle_timeout = 0 # disabled

Tunneling and other related SSH themes

In order to do special gymnasitcs with SSH, tunneling, aliasing, complex options, etc with SSHKit it is possible to use the underlying Net::SSH API however in many cases it is preferred to use the system SSH configuration file at ~/.ssh/config. This allows you to have personal configuration tied to your machine that does not have to be committed with the repository. If this is not suitable (everyone on the team needs a proxy command, or some special aliasing) a file in the same format can be placed in the project directory at ~/yourproject/.ssh/config, this will be merged with the system settings in ~/.ssh/config, and with any configuration specified in SSHKit::Backend::Netssh.config.ssh_options.

These system level files are the preferred way of setting up tunneling and proxies because the system implementations of these things are faster and better than the Ruby implementations you would get if you were to configure them through Net::SSH. In cases where it's not possible (Windows?), it should be possible to make use of the Net::SSH APIs to setup tunnels and proxy commands before deferring control to Capistrano/SSHKit..

SSHKit Related Blog Posts

SSHKit Gem Basics

SSHKit Gem Part 2

Embedded Capistrano with SSHKit