Ange ftp over ssh

Russell Standish


GNU emacs has a wonderful remote file editing facility called Ange ftp. However, because it uses ftp as its file transport agent, passwords are transmitted as plain text which can be snooped by the unscrupulous ``bad guys'' out there in cyberspace. This package is a ``drop in replacement'' for the ftp client that instead redirects the file transfers over ssh, which allows for connections without the ned for plain text passwords to be transmitted.


You should have GNU Emacs and ssh installed, which you probably have already. You will also need Perl 5 installed. Then you need to download the nftp script which is in the angeftpoverssh package client software, written in perl. This software is tested on Unix platforms, but apparently runs on Windows. Thanks to Ed Hughes for patches to support PuTTY. You will need to set the variable $putty in .nftprc to use PuTTY. You will also need to add something like:

(setq ange-ftp-ftp-program-name "c:/bin/perl.exe")
(setq ange-ftp-ftp-program-args '("c:\\bin\\unsupported\\"))
to your .emacs file.

If you are not already familiar with ange ftp, you should read the Emacs manual. In brief, you can open remote files for editing using the syntax:


Getting ssh to connect without prompting for a password

You also need to get ssh to connect to your remote site without prompting for a password, as ssh reads the keyboard directly, and cannot be fed a password directly from There are two ways to do this:

Set up a .rhosts or .shosts file on your remote system with you local hostname and userid. This technique is simple, but requires the local workstation to have a well known address (not true of ISP dial account, for example). It is also susceptible to IP spoofing attacks, and may well have been disabled by the system administrator of the remote site for this reason.
Set up an ssh-agent to supply your bona fides to the remote system using RSA public key encryption. My setup has the following lines in my .profile:
if [ "${ttname%%[0-9]}" = "/dev/tty" ]; then
  eval `ssh-agent`
This script (which you may need to modify for non-Linux OSes) will set up an ssh-agent, and prompt you for your password to load your private key into the agent's database.

You now need to copy your public key (located in .ssh/ into the files ~/.ssh/authorized_keys and ~/.ssh/known_hosts on the remote system. This should enable the remote system to authenticate your ssh connection, using the public key information supplied by ssh-agent.

Configuration file ~/.nftprc

Create the file ~/.nftprc containing a list of machines you wish to remotely edit via ssh with the following sample format:

Any machine name not mentioned in this file will be connected to by the usual ftp method. In the above example, two hostnames are defined, grimble, and grunge. In the first case, will ssh to grimble on port 22 (the standard ssh port). In the second case, the standard ssh port of grunge has been forwarded to port 2000 on localhost (by another ssh process perhaps). This is a convenient way of dealing with firewalls.

Configuring .emacs

Add the following line to yout .emacs file:

(setq ange-ftp-ftp-program-name "")

That should be it!

Things that can go wrong deliberately suppresses error messages to avoid confusing ange-ftp. Try testing a file transfer using something like the following command:

scp -q -P 22 /tmp
Any error messages you recieve should be taken seriously. For example, earlier versions of scp do not support -q, or your default PATH on the remote system may not include scp.

Russell Standish