How to Configure SFTP Server with Chroot in Debian 10

SFTP stands for Secure File Transfer Protocol / SSH File Transfer Protocol, it is one of the most common method which is used to transfer files securely over ssh from our local system to remote server and vice-versa. The main advantage of sftp is that we don’t need to install any additional package except ‘openssh-server’, in most of the Linux distributions ‘openssh-server’ package is the part of default installation. Other benefit of sftp is that we can allow user to use sftp only not ssh.


Recently Debian 10, Code name ‘Buster’ has been released, in this article we will demonstrate how to configure sftp with Chroot ‘Jail’ like environment in Debian 10 System. Here Chroot Jail like environment means that user’s cannot go beyond from their respective home directories or users cannot change directories from their home directories.  Following are the lab details:

  • OS = Debian 10
  • IP Address =

Let’s jump into SFTP Configuration Steps,

Step:1) Create a Group for sftp using groupadd command

Open the terminal, create a group with a name “sftp_users” using below groupadd command,

root@linuxtechi:~# groupadd sftp_users

Step:2) Add Users to Group ‘sftp_users’ and set permissions

In case you want to create new user and want to add that user to ‘sftp_users’ group, then run the following command,

Syntax: #  useradd -m -G sftp_users <user_name>

Let’s suppose user name is ’Jonathan’

root@linuxtechi:~# useradd -m -G sftp_users jonathan

set the password using following chpasswd command,

root@linuxtechi:~# echo "jonathan:<enter_password>" | chpasswd

In case you want to add existing users to ‘sftp_users’ group then run beneath usermod command, let’s suppose already existing user name is ‘chris’

root@linuxtechi:~# usermod -G sftp_users chris

Now set the required permissions on Users,

root@linuxtechi:~# chown root /home/jonathan /home/chris/

Create an upload folder in both the user’s home directory and set the correct ownership,

root@linuxtechi:~# mkdir /home/jonathan/upload
root@linuxtechi:~# mkdir /home/chris/upload
root@linuxtechi:~# chown jonathan /home/jonathan/upload
root@linuxtechi:~# chown chris /home/chris/upload

Note: User like Jonathan and Chris can upload files and directories to upload folder from their local systems.

Step:3) Edit sftp configuration file (/etc/ssh/sshd_config)

As we have already stated that sftp operations are done over the ssh, so it’s configuration file is “/etc/ssh/sshd_config“, Before making any changes I would suggest first take the backup and then edit this file and add the following content,

root@linuxtechi:~# cp /etc/ssh/sshd_config /etc/ssh/sshd_config-org
root@linuxtechi:~# vim /etc/ssh/sshd_config
#Subsystem      sftp    /usr/lib/openssh/sftp-server
Subsystem       sftp    internal-sftp

Match Group sftp_users
  X11Forwarding no
  AllowTcpForwarding no
  ChrootDirectory %h
  ForceCommand internal-sftp

Save & exit the file.

To make above changes into the affect, restart ssh service using following systemctl command

root@linuxtechi:~# systemctl restart sshd

In above ‘sshd_config’ file we have commented out the line which starts with “Subsystem” and added new entry “Subsystem       sftp    internal-sftp” and new lines like,

Match Group sftp_users”  –> It means if a user is a part of ‘sftp_users’ group then apply rules which are mentioned below to this entry.

ChrootDierctory %h” –> It means users can only change directories within their respective home directories, they cannot go beyond their home directories, or in other words we can say users are not permitted to change directories, they will get jai like environment within their directories and can’t access any other user’s and system’s directories.

ForceCommand internal-sftp” –> It means users are limited to sftp command only.

Step:4) Test and Verify sftp

Login to any other Linux system which is on the same network of your sftp server and then try to ssh sftp server via the users that we have mapped in ‘sftp_users’ group.

[root@web-server ~]# ssh [email protected]
[email protected]'s password:
Write failed: Broken pipe
[root@web-server ~]# ssh [email protected]
[email protected]'s password:
Write failed: Broken pipe
[root@web-server ~]#

Above confirms that users are not allowed to SSH , now try sftp using following commands,

[root@web-server ~]# sftp [email protected]
[email protected]'s password:
Connected to
sftp> ls -l
drwxr-xr-x    2 root     1001         4096 Sep 14 07:52 debian10-pkgs
-rw-r--r--    1 root     1001          155 Sep 14 07:52 devops-actions.txt
drwxr-xr-x    2 1001     1002         4096 Sep 14 08:29 upload

Let’s try to download a file using sftp ‘get‘ command

sftp> get devops-actions.txt
Fetching /devops-actions.txt to devops-actions.txt
/devops-actions.txt                                                                               100%  155     0.2KB/s   00:00
sftp> cd /etc
Couldn't stat remote file: No such file or directory
sftp> cd /root
Couldn't stat remote file: No such file or directory

Above output confirms that we are able to download file from our sftp server to local machine and apart from this we have also tested that users cannot change directories.

Let’s try to upload a file under “upload” folder,

sftp> cd upload/
sftp> put metricbeat-7.3.1-amd64.deb
Uploading metricbeat-7.3.1-amd64.deb to /upload/metricbeat-7.3.1-amd64.deb
metricbeat-7.3.1-amd64.deb                                                                        100%   38MB  38.4MB/s   00:01
sftp> ls -l
-rw-r--r--    1 1001     1002     40275654 Sep 14 09:18 metricbeat-7.3.1-amd64.deb

This confirms that we have successfully uploaded a file from our local system to sftp server.

Now test the SFTP server with winscp tool, enter the sftp server ip address along user’s credentials,


Click on Login and then try to download and upload files


Now try to upload files in upload folder,


Above window confirms that uploading is also working fine, that’s all from this article. If these steps help you to configure SFTP server with chroot environment in Debian 10 then please do share your feedback and comments.

7 thoughts on “How to Configure SFTP Server with Chroot in Debian 10”

    • %h means users will directly land into its home directory when they do sftp command.
      internal-sftp is a configuration keyword that tells sshd to use SFTP server code built-into sshd.
      You need to set the required permissions on User’s home directory

  1. You can also try SFTPGo


    it has chroot support builtin, virtual quota, atomic uploads, bandwidth throttling and many other features.

    It can execute configurable custom commands and/or send HTTP notifications on upload, download, delete or rename.

    It is written in Go, so no runtime dependencies, and it works on Windows too

  2. I followed this guide and it worked for me, at least until I rebooted the host. Now, every time I test the connection using WinSCP or Filezilla, its trying to open / folder instead of redirecting to the subfolder under the homefolder for the user. Can’t figure it out, any ideas?

    • Make the public key directory – mkdir /home/$User/.ssh

      Make the key file to hold the key touch /home/$User/.ssh/authorized_keys

      Give the user ownership of their key folder – chown $User:$User /home/$User/.ssh && chown $User:$User /home/$User/.ssh/authorized_keys

      Modify permissions on ssh folder – chmod 0700 /home/$User/.ssh

      Possibly modify the key file permissions – chmod 640 /home/$User/.ssh/authorized_keys <— Not 100% if this needs to be done try without it first and if it wont work add it in

      Add the public key – /home/$User/.ssh/authorized_keys

      Restart ssh – systemctl restart sshd


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