4

I've just noticed that

ssh user@host >/tmp/out 2>/tmp/err

can write something like

Warning the RAS host key...
...
Are you sure you want to continue connecting (yes/no)?

stdout and stderr were both redirected but this still shows up in the tty.

  1. How is ssh doing this?
  2. Why is ssh doing this? Doesn't it violate *nix idioms?
  3. When I am running ssh (or another program with similar behaviour) as a child process with stdin/stdout/stderr connected by pipes, I want the parent process to see the output from the child process. If the child process dodges stdout/stderr like this, how can the parent process capture it?
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  • You may find my previous analysis of sudo an interesting read. I suspect ssh does something similar: directly access the terminal via /dev/tty for prompts that should go to the user.
    – Bob
    Jun 3, 2020 at 12:46

1 Answer 1

6

How?

How is ssh doing this?

It opens /dev/tty. The relevant line from strace ssh … is:

openat(AT_FDCWD, "/dev/tty", O_RDWR)    = 4

The file descriptor 4 is then used with write(2) and read(2).

(Testbed: OpenSSH_7.9p1 Debian-10+deb10u2).


Why?

Why is ssh doing this? Doesn't it violate *nix idioms?

I'm not sure about "*nix idioms", whatever they are; but POSIX explicitly allows this:

/dev/tty
In each process, a synonym for the controlling terminal associated with the process group of that process, if any. It is useful for programs or shell procedures that wish to be sure of writing messages to or reading data from the terminal no matter how output has been redirected. […]

(Emphasis mine).

Tools that need to interact with the user tend to use /dev/tty because it makes sense. Usually when users do this:

<local_file_0 ssh user@server tool >local_file_1 2>local_file_2

they want it to be as similar as possible to this:

<local_file_0 tool >local_file_1 2>local_file_2

The only difference should be where the tool actually runs. Usually users want ssh to be transparent. They don't want it to litter local_file_1 or local_file_2 and they don't want to wonder if they need to put yes or no in the local_file_0 in case ssh asks. Often one cannot predict if ssh will ask in any particular case.

Note when you run ssh user@server tool there's a shell involved on the remote side (compare this answer of mine). The shell can source some startup scripts that can litter the output. This is a different issue (and a reason the relevant startup scripts should be silent).


Solutions

When I am running ssh (or another program with similar behaviour) as a child process with stdin/stdout/stderr connected by pipes, I want the parent process to see the output from the child process. If the child process dodges stdout/stderr like this, how can the parent process capture it?

As stated above, your wish is rather unusual. This doesn't mean it's weird or totally uncommon. There are usage cases where one really wants this. The solution is to provide a pseudo-terminal you can control. The right tool is expect(1). Not only it will provide a tty, but it will also allow you to implement some logic. You will be able to detect (and log) Are you sure you want to continue connecting and answer yes or no; or nothing if ssh doesn't ask.

If you want to capture the whole output while interacting normally then consider script(1).


Broader picture

Up to this point we were interested in allocating tty on the client side, i.e. where ssh runs. In general you may want to run a tool that needs /dev/tty on the server side. The SSH server is able to allocate a pseudo-terminal or not, the relevant options are -t and -T (see man 1 ssh). E.g. if you do this:

ssh user@server 'sudo whatever'

then you will most likely see sudo: no tty present …. Provide a tty on the remote side and it will work:

ssh -t user@server 'sudo whatever'

But there's a quirk. Without -t the default stdin, stdout and stderr of the remote command are connected to the stdin, stdout and stderr of the local ssh process. This means you can tell apart the remote stdout from the remote stderr locally. With -t the default stdin, stdout and stderr (and /dev/tty) of the remote command point to the same pseudo-terminal; now stdout, stderr and whatever the remote command writes to its /dev/tty get combined into a single stream the local ssh prints to its (local) stdout. You cannot tell them apart locally. This command:

ssh -t user@server 'sudo whatever' >local_file_1

will write prompt(s) from sudo to the file! By using /dev/tty sudo itself tries to be transparent when it comes to redirections, but ssh -t sabotages this.

In this case it would be useful if ssh provided an option to allocate a pseudo-terminal (/dev/tty) on the remote side and to connect it to /dev/tty of the local ssh, while still connecting the default remote stdin, stdout and stderr to their local counterparts. Four separate channels (one of them bidirectional: /dev/tty).

AFAIK there is no such option (check this question and my answer there: ssh with separate stdin, stdout, stderr AND tty). Currently you can have either three unidirectional channels (without /dev/tty for the remote process) or what appears as one bidirectional channel (/dev/tty) for the remote process and two unidirectional channels (stdin and stdout of the local ssh) for the local user.

Your original command:

ssh user@host >/tmp/out 2>/tmp/err

does not specify a remote command, so it runs an interactive shell on the remote side and does provide a pseudo-terminal for it as if you used -t (unless there is no local terminal). This is the "one bidirectional channel for the remote process" case. It means that /tmp/err can only get stderr from the ssh itself (e.g. if you used ssh -v).

An interactive shell with output not being printed to the (local) terminal cannot be easily used interactively. I hope this was only a minimal example (if not then maybe you need to rethink this).

Anyway you can see a situation with /dev/tty, ssh and other tools that use /dev/tty can be complicated.

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  • So how do you capture both stdout and sterr separately and still provide a password to sudo interactively? Hm. After thinking a bit, I guess echo $password | ssh user@host cat \| sudo --prompt="" -S some_command.py > stdout.log 2> stderr.log does the job …
    – slhck
    Jun 1, 2021 at 7:59
  • I think that would be very useful! Your answer was extremely helpful, as I got confused trying to separately capture stdout and stderr from a command ran by sudo via SSH. (Edit: Whoops, your comment disappeared?)
    – slhck
    Jun 1, 2021 at 8:57
  • @slhck I removed the comment because I decided by myself I'm going to publish. It will probably be a self-answered question on U&L. I will leave you a comment here with a link when it's ready. Should be in few days. Jun 1, 2021 at 9:10
  • @slhck My self-answered question is here: ssh with separate stdin, stdout, stderr AND tty. Jun 8, 2021 at 17:46

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