How to configure chroot SFTP in Linux

There are some scenario where system admin wants only few users should be allowed to transfer files to Linux boxes but no ssh. We can achieve this by setting up SFTP in chroot environment.

Background of SFTP & chroot :

SFTP stands for SSH File Transfer protocol or Secure File Transfer Protocol. SFTP provides file access, file transfer, and file management functionalities over any reliable data stream. When we configure SFTP in chroot environment , then only allowed users will be limited to their home directory , or we can say allowed users will be in jail like environment where they can’t even change their directory.

In article we will configure Chroot SFTP in RHEL 6.X & CentOS 6.X. We have one user ‘Jack’ , this users will be allowed to transfer files on linux box but no ssh access.

Step:1  Create a group

[root@localhost ~]# groupadd  sftp_users

Step:2 Assign the secondary group(sftp_users) to the user.

If the users doesn’t exist on system , use below command :
[root@localhost ~]# useradd  -G sftp_users  -s /sbin/nologin  jack
[root@localhost ~]# passwd jack

For already existing users , use below usermod command :
[root@localhost ~]# usermod –G sftp_users  -s /sbin/nologin  jack

Note : if you want to change the default home directory of users , then use ‘-d’ option in useradd and usermod  command and set the correct permissions.

Step:3 Now edit the config file “/etc/ssh/sshd_config”  

# vi /etc/ssh/sshd_config
#comment out the below line and add a line like below
#Subsystem sftp /usr/libexec/openssh/sftp-server
Subsystem sftp internal-sftp

# add Below lines  at the end of file
Match Group sftp_users
X11Forwarding no
AllowTcpForwarding no
ChrootDirectory %h
ForceCommand internal-sftp

Where :
Match Group sftp_users – This indicates that the following lines will be matched only for users who belong to group sftp_users
ChrootDirectory %h – This is the path(default user’s home directory) that will be used for chroot after the user is authenticated. So, for Jack, this will be /home/jack.
ForceCommand internal-sftp – This forces the execution of the internal-sftp and ignores any command that are mentioned in the ~/.ssh/rc file.

Restart the ssh service
# service sshd restart

Step:4 Set the Permissions :

[root@localhost ~]# chmod 755 /home/jack
[root@localhost ~]# chown root /home/jack
[root@localhost ~]# chgrp -R sftp_users /home/jack

If You want that jack user should be allowed to upload files , then create a upload folder with the below permissions ,

[root@localhost jack]# mkdir /home/jack/upload
[root@localhost jack]# chown jack. /home/jack upload/

 Step:5  Now try to access the system & do testing

Try to access the system via ssh


As You can see below jack user is logged in  via SFTP and can’t change the directory becuase of chroot environment.


Now do the uploading and downloading testing as shown below:


As we can see above , both uploading & downloading working fine for jack user.

13 Responses

  1. boris b says:

    I like sftp much better than regular FTP. Main reason, you can exchange keys for user that use SFTP so there are no passwords. This improves security on your server!!!

  2. Gopal Kalita says:

    I have followed the exact steps given in the tutorial, but I am getting error in uploading a file. I am able to downlaod any files.
    sftp> put sftp_file
    Uploading sftp_file to /upload/sftp_file
    remote open(“/upload/sftp_file”): Permission denied

    Is SELinux need to be configured anyway?

    • Pradeep Kumar says:

      Hi Gopal ,

      If Selinux is enable on your linux box , then for Chroot SFTP you need to write SELiux rule “setsebool -P ssh_chroot_rw_homedirs on”.

      I hope this might help you.

  3. hpcolo says:

    Following the same exact instructions In ubuntu 14.04 I got an error after entering the password when invoking ssh wstest@localhost : Write failed broken pipe

    • Pradeep Kumar says:

      Hi ,

      These steps are tested on CentOS 6.X and RHEL 6.X , i am not sure whether these steps will work on Ubuntu Linux.

    • Mark Wilson says:

      I usually see this error when I don’t have ‘root’ set as the owner & group and 755 for permissions of the user’s directory (‘Jack’ in the author’s example).

  4. fred gannett says:

    This line needs some improvement

    [root@localhost jack]# chown jack. /home/jack upload/

    1) All the commands above have absolute directory paths. This command make assumption that it’s in the directory /home.
    2) There is a . DOT after jack ? Either a typo or means current directory. See 1.
    3) Why upload/ is this just upload or /home/jack/upload ?

    [root@localhost jack]# cd /home/jack ; chown jack $PWD /home/jack/upload

    • Pradeep Kumar says:

      Hi Fred ,

      I have used . DOT after jack in chown command because i want to make this user both File Owner and Group Owner of upload folder. I have choose upload folder because i want jack user to upload its files and directory on upload directory only.

  5. Benjamin Weiss says:

    I’ve gone through this step by step, but when I try to log in using WinSCP, I get “Error listing directory ‘/upload’ Permission denied.
    Error code: 3
    Error message from server: Permission denied
    Request code: 11

    I can go into the folder, but I can’t list anything, and when I try to upload a file I get Permission denied.
    Error code: 3
    Error message from server: Permission denied
    Request code: 3

  6. Benjamin Weiss says:

    Okay, when I put SELinux in Permissive mode, it works. I’m running CentOS 6, and I tried your setsebool -P ssh_chroot_rw_homedirs on but it didn’t work.

    Sorry for the multiple posts

  7. Timal Mangra says:

    These instructions WILL NOT work for Ubuntu Linux and you will effectively lock yourself (admin/root) out if working remotely.

  8. andrey says:

    This solve problem with permission denide on enabled selinux:
    setsebool -P ssh_chroot_full_access on

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