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Edit sshd_config using a Bash script

Using Bash scripts can ensure consistent configuration of SSH and other services.
How to capture terminal sessions using the script commandPhoto by Sora Shimazaki from Pexels

Photo by Sora Shimazaki from Pexels

Using a Bash script, you can ensure certain configuration parameters are set in your sshd_config file.

Bash is the default shell on most Linux systems these days. It can be used as an interactive command-line interpreter as well as a scripting language to automate common tasks. This article shows you how to use a Bash script to ensure specific configuration parameters are set in your /etc/ssh/sshd_config file.

Why use a script instead of an editor?

Manually editing the /etc/ssh/sshd_config using an editor multiple times on multiple systems is prone to errors. There's always the risk of making a typo or forgetting to set a parameter. These mistakes could have a severe impact on your production environment.

Using a script is a form of configuration as code and offers several advantages. For one, you only need to specify your parameters once and can reuse the script to set them on any host where you want them. Also, using a script makes sure the same parameters with the same values are set in the same way on every host where the script runs.

The scenario

The task at hand is to make sure the following four keyword argument pairs are used in any /etc/ssh/sshd_config on all Linux systems in the infrastructure:

PermitRootLogin no

PubkeyAuthentication yes

AuthorizedKeysFile .ssh/authorized_keys

PasswordAuthentication no

Say your environment looks like this:

  • Linux hosts run various distros.
  • Bash is the default shell.
  • The hosts use OpenSSH for their SSH service, and the configuration file is /etc/ssh/sshd_config.
  • The current content of that file on the different hosts is unknown.
  • The hosts belong to different departments and teams.
  • There are different sysadmins with root access to these hosts.

[ You might also be interested in reading Introduction to Linux Bash programming: 5 `for` loop tips. ]

The script

There isn't just one way of doing it. I chose the following method because I believe it follows the "keep it simple" principle and has a pretty robust solution. So here is the script, followed by an explanation:

# Description:
# This script sets certain parameters in /etc/ssh/sshd_config.
# It's not production ready and only used for training purposes.
# What should it do?
# * Check whether a /etc/ssh/sshd_config file exists
# * Create a backup of this file
# * Edit the file to set certain parameters
# * Reload the sshd configuration
# To enable debugging mode remove '#' from the following line
#set -x
# Variables

param[1]="PermitRootLogin "

# Functions
  cat << EOF
    usage: $0 ARG1
    ARG1 Name of the sshd_config file to edit.
    In case ARG1 is empty, /etc/ssh/sshd_config will be used as default.

    This script sets certain parameters in /etc/ssh/sshd_config.
    It's not production ready and only used for training purposes.

    What should it do?
    * Check whether a /etc/ssh/sshd_config file exists
    * Create a backup of this file
    * Edit the file to set certain parameters

  if [ -f ${file} ]
    /usr/bin/cp ${file} ${file}.1
    /usr/bin/echo "File ${file} not found."
    exit 1

  for PARAM in ${param[@]}
    /usr/bin/sed -i '/^'"${PARAM}"'/d' ${file}
    /usr/bin/echo "All lines beginning with '${PARAM}' were deleted from ${file}."
  /usr/bin/echo "${param[1]} no" >> ${file}
  /usr/bin/echo "'${param[1]} no' was added to ${file}."
  /usr/bin/echo "${param[2]} yes" >> ${file}
  /usr/bin/echo "'${param[2]} yes' was added to ${file}."
  /usr/bin/echo "${param[3]} .ssh/authorized_keys" >> ${file}
  /usr/bin/echo "'${param[3]} .ssh/authorized_keys' was added to ${file}."
  /usr/bin/echo "${param[4]} no" >> ${file}
  /usr/bin/echo "'${param[4]} no' was added to ${file}"

  /usr/bin/systemctl reload sshd.service
  /usr/bin/echo "Run '/usr/bin/systemctl reload sshd.service'...OK"

# main
while getopts .h. OPTION
  case $OPTION in

if [ -z "${file}" ]


The script starts with the shebang and some lines of comments. I like to use comments at the top to briefly describe what the script is supposed to do. Then I put in a debug switch with set -x. Try it out if you're not familiar with debugging. It comes in pretty handy when tracing errors in your script.

I like to have all the variables I need to define in one place. They are found in the next few lines following the comments and before I define some functions. You don't need to use functions, but I like them because they help give the script some structure. And the functions help you when it comes to troubleshooting. You could easily comment out large parts of your code (the functions) and focus on the sections that cause you trouble. If you are not familiar with functions, please see the "Shell Function Definitions" section in the bash(1) manpage.

I'll go through the rest of the script function by function.


This function outputs a brief instruction on how to use this script. It is called when the script is executed with the option -h or -?.


Before changing anything on a production system, it's best practice to create a backup of the files that are subject to change. And that's what happens here, by copying ${file} to ${file}.1.

If the file specified in ${file} does not exist, the script prints an error message to STDOUT.


Now that I have a backup, I'll edit the file. First, I remove all lines beginning with the specified parameters because I don't know how often they already occur in the file. I need to make sure that only my desired configuration exists in the end. This is the job of the sed command running in a for loop.

Since my parameters are stored as elements in a Bash array, I can loop over all the array elements to remove them. You can find information about Bash arrays in the "Arrays" section on the bash(1) manpage.

Second, the desired keyword-argument pairs are appended to the sshd_config file. The changes are printed to STDOUT to inform the user.


SSHD needs to reload the config to put it in action. That's what's happening here.

# main

After all variables and functions are declared, the script starts to work. The following code will print a description of how to use this script to STDOUT when it's executed with the option -h or -?:

while getopts .h. OPTION
  case $OPTION in

In case no argument is specified, /etc/ssh/sshd_config should be used as the default file:

if [ -z "${file}" ]



And finally, the functions are called to back up, edit, and reload the sshd_config.

[ Keep the fundamentals close at hand. Download a Bash Shell Scripting Cheat Sheet. ] 

Wrapping up

This article showed you how to use a Bash script to edit the file /etc/ssh/sshd_config. I explained the advantage of using a script instead of an editor, provided a sample script, and explained the different components.

This script could be put on a schedule with cron to ensure the desired values are reset regularly if a sysadmin changes them and forgets to switch them back.

Topics:   Bash   Programming   Command line utilities  
Author’s photo

Jörg Kastning

Jörg has been a Sysadmin for over ten years now. His fields of operation include Virtualization (VMware), Linux System Administration and Automation (RHEL), Firewalling (Forcepoint), and Loadbalancing (F5). More about me

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