After some weeks without any post, I'm back with a tip about chained SSH connection in a highly virtualized world.

I present you in this tip pros and cons of 4 different ways to connect to a virtual machine using SSH.

Manual connection from the host

It's the basic way to connect to a virtual machine: by hand from its host but it costs one more command than other methods.

kdecherf@home ~ % ssh
Last login: Sun Oct 28 18:36:24 2012 from
server ~ # ssh
Last login: Sun Oct 28 18:46:48 2012 from
virtual ~ #

Automatic login using authorized_keys file

When you use keys to login to your servers, you can specify a command to be executed when a specific key is used. So you can chain SSH connection like this:

command="/usr/bin/ssh root@yourhost",no-port-forwarding,no-X11-forwarding,no-agent-forwarding ssh-rsa yourrsapublickey mykeycomment

So when you connect to the server with this key, you will be automatically logged to the virtual machine:

kdecherf@home ~ % ssh
Last login: Sun Oct 28 18:35:18 2012 from
virtual ~ #

And you will be disconnected from the host when you log out.


  • You can use one public key for each virtual machine (it can quickly become a con)
  • It's easy to use and maintain


  • The virtual machine will only see that the connection comes from the host and not from your computer
  • The virtual machine is not able to use your public key for the connection but will use the key of the host's user (or will ask you a password if you don't use any key)
  • The command argument of ssh will fail

Port redirection using iptables

You can also use iptables to redirect one port of the host to the SSH server of the virtual server.

iptables -t nat -A PREROUTING -m tcp -p tcp --dport 2222 -j DNAT --to-destination
kdecherf@home ~ % ssh -p 2222
Last login: Sun Oct 28 18:59:47 2012 from
virtual ~ #


  • The virtual machine sees the origin of the connection
  • The virtual machine is able to use your public key for this connection
  • It's the only method that doesn't need authentication on the host to access to the virtual machine


  • You will consume one port per virtual machine
  • The SSH server of each virtual machine is exposed to the ruthless world

Automatic login using sshd_config file

The last method is to use the SSH server (OpenSSH here) configuration file of the host to chain the connection to the virtual machine:

Match User myvirtualuser
         ForceCommand /usr/bin/ssh root@
         AllowTCPForwarding no
         X11Forwarding no

And after the restart of openssh-server:

kdecherf@home ~ % ssh
Last login: Sun Oct 28 19:13:59 2012 from
virtual ~ #


  • I've not found any pro for this method


  • One system user on the host for each virtual machine
  • It's hard to maintain because you need to restart the host SSH server on each change
  • And same cons than Automatic login using authorized_keys file

I personally prefer the second solution when I have only few virtual machines to manage :)

Enjoy it!


OpenSSH now provides a new feature: AuthorizedKeysCommand which allows us to make a script to automatically generate public keys listing for a given user at the login.