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Perfect Team: autossh and GNU Screen //at 01:06 //by abe

from the shell-functions-for-road-warriors dept.

SSH is definitely one of my most often used tools, not only for system administration at work but also on the road with my netbook, an EeePC 701 running Debian Sid.

On the road, it often happens that I have a flaky WLAN or UMTS connection, so I often have to kill (via <Enter>~.) and reconnect my SSH session due to a changed IP address or so.

First step against problems arising from using SSH over unreliable network connections is of course GNU Screen. Second step is use SSH keys and ssh-agent to not needing to type the password on every reconnect.

But it’s still very annoying to kill the SSH connection and call ssh again manually. For luck there is autossh, a wrapper around SSH which regularily checks via two tunnels connect to each other on the remote side if the connection is still alive, and if not, it kills the ssh and starts a new one with the same parameters (i.e. tunnels, port forwardings, commands to call, etc.).

It’s quite obvious that this is perfect to be combined with screen’s -R and -d options (Reattach if a detached screen is around, else start a new screen; detach a currently attached screen), so I found myself very often typing (or fetching it from the commandline history :-):

autossh -t sym.noone.org 'screen -Rd'

-t is necessary to allocate a terminal device on the remote machine which is not done by default if you directly call a command via ssh.

In comparision to OpenSSH, autossh needs the single quotes, because otherwise it would parse -Rd as options to parse to ssh and bail out. That’s not a real problem, but when you’re used to just type ssh -t sym.noone.org screen -Rd without any quotes, you’ll run into this then and when.

Update, 25-May-2010, 14:55: As Carsten Hey points out, autossh also supports the -- option to declare that all following options and parameters must be passed to ssh itself. (End of Update)

Typing that often and mistyping it then and when cries for an shell alias or an shell function. So I came up with the following shell function:

asc() {
    autossh -x -a -t "$@" 'screen -RdU'

I used a function instead of an alias in case of autossh will in future regard all parameters given after the command as part of the command as ssh does.

The additional options -x and -a disable X and SSH Agent forwarding which both don’t work if you reattach to an already running screen.

And if you’re using Zsh as I do, you can even add some more format string magic to set the window title more or less to the expanded alias, eh, function:

function asc() {
    # Set the title to something more obvious, e.g. the expanded
    # alias, eh, function
    print -Pn "\e]0;%n@%m: autossh -t $* 'screen -RdU'\a";
    autossh -x -a -t "$@" 'screen -RdU'
compdef asc=ssh

Update, 25-May-2010, 14:59: As Hauke points out in a comment, Zsh users should also declare that asc should have the same tab completion as ssh itself. The example above has been updated accordingly. (End of Update)

In the meantime on the EeePC I use asc on the commandline more often than ssh itself. And I nearly no more type autossh. (The most common exception here is autossh hostname tail -F /path/to/some/logfile.)

Using that function you can also add common ssh options for tunneling, etc. — I use it most often like this:

asc -D 1080 sym.noone.org

This opens a SOCKS proxy on localhost, port 1080 and that way I can surf via the host I’m connecting to by SSH.

There’s one small drawback though: You didn’t expect that I can just invent some new three letter command without a namespace clash, did you? There is a free game called Advanced Strategic Command whose binary (and Debian package) is named asc, too. If you have that game installed, you can always call it using its full path, e.g. /usr/games/asc on Debian.

P.S.: My whole grml based .zshrc is also available via git at git.noone.org as well as on github.

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This is the blog or weblog of Axel Stefan Beckert (aka abe or XTaran) who thought, he would never start blogging... (He also once thought, that there is no reason to switch to this new ugly Netscape thing because Mosaïc works fine. That was about 1996.) Well, times change...

He was born 1975 at Villingen-Schwenningen, made his Abitur at Schwäbisch Hall, studied Computer Science with minor Biology at University of Saarland at Saarbrücken (Germany) and now lives in Zürich (Switzerland), working at the Network Security Group (NSG) of the Central IT Services (Informatikdienste) at ETH Zurich.

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