Editing Remote Server Content. Like a Boss.

So you have a Unix-based host sitting there. It’s got some files on it. You wanna edit those files. Let’s pretend you’re not editing config files though, because you should be using Git/Puppet/Chef for that. Instead, I’m assuming you’re wanting to maybe make a few adhoc changes somewhere in the filesystem. I’m also assuming it’s no longer 1994 and you don’t use FTP for productivity/development out of principle.

Enter sshfs. Briefly, SSHFS is a FUSE driver that allows you to mount a remote filesystem locally, using SSH as the transport. The benefits of this should be immediately obvious:

  • Instantly secure.
  • Ubiquitous support - only requires OpenSSH server on the remote end.
  • Easy to setup - in most cases there won’t be an iota of configuration required if you’ve already got your pubkey on the remote.

Installing sshfs is straightward enough on Ubuntu:

(sudo) apt-get install sshfs

Mounting a remote location is also easy as pie:

mkdir -p /local/mount/point
sshfs remoteuser@remote.host:/remote/location /local/mount/point
ls /local/mount/point

# zomgawd the remote filesystem location lists on your local mount point how does that even oh my god what

Bonus points

So the above is all well and good for most use cases, but there’s a caveat. What if you want to edit files as a specific user on the remote host, but you either don’t have direct ssh access to that user, or it doesn’t have a shell (the latter would be more likely if you were editing system config files, but we already established you’re not doing that)? Turns out this is something that sshfs can handle, too!

What you can do is override some sshfs settings and escalate your privileges to the other user when connecting to the remote end. That way, whenever you make changes locally, the changes are applied using the correct user on the remote end. This avoids permission issues, and also means new files will be created with the correct user!

In order for this to work, you’ll need to have sudo permissions with a user on the remote host. Specifically, you’ll need:

  • privileges that DON’T require a TTY, or a password.
  • the path to the sftp-server binary on your remote host.

Determining the sftp-server path is up to you, as a hint though, you’ll probably find it in the following locations…



CentOS 5:



locate sftp-server

Then you’ll need to make sure your sudoers file has something like the following:

# Ensure user "remoteuser" does not require a TTY to run sudo.
Defaults:remoteuser !requiretty

# Ensure user "remoteuser" can execute sftp-server without a password.
remoteuser ALL=(ALL) NOPASSWD: /your/path/to/sftp-server

You can ensure the disabling of requiretty works by running the following in your workstation:

ssh remoteuser@remote.host "sudo -v"

If you don’t get any errors, then you can assume all is peachy.

With that out of the way, you can now execute this on your workstation:

shfs remoteuser@remote.host:/some/path /local/mount -o sftp_server="/usr/bin/sudo -u otheruser /path/to/sftp-server"

Voila! Now when you make changes to /local/mount on your workstation, the changes will be made using the otheruser on the remote host.

Go forth and securely edit remote filesystems with wild abandon!