SSHFS: How to Mount Remote File Systems Over SSH

July 26, 2021

Introduction

SSHFS (SSH File System) is a client for mounting a file system located on a remote machine onto your local system through an SSH connection. Using the SFTP (SSH file transfer protocol), the SSHFS command-line tool mounts a physical or virtual disk locally, allowing file transfer between a local and remote machine.

This article demonstrates the installation and usage of SSHFS to mount a remote folder or file system over SSH.

SSHFS: How to Mount Remote File Systems Over SSH

Prerequisites

  • Access to the command line with administrator privileges.
  • A remote folder or file system to mount for transferring files.
  • The username and host address of the remote server.

What is SSHFS?

SSHFS is a command-line tool for safely mounting a remote folder from a server to a local machine. The client extends the SSH file transfer protocol, which helps locally mount a remote file system as a disk image securely.

SSHFS allows accessing, transferring, and manipulating files as if working on a local disk. This approach is handy when moving a lot of content to and from a remote machine.

SSH offers two ways to establish a connection:

1. Using password authentication.

2. Using the SSH key pair (recommended).

For Linux and macOS, the best way to mount a remote directory is through the terminal. On the other hand, Windows offers several solutions, including the command line, Windows Explorer, and a GUI.

Install SSHFS

SSHFS is not available by default on most machines. Different packages exist based on the operating system of the local machine.

Linux

To install SSHFS on Ubuntu/Debian systems using the apt package manager, run:

sudo apt install sshfs

For CentOS based systems, install SSHFS using the yum package manager:

sudo yum install fuse-sshfs

macOS

To install SSHFS on MacOS, download the latest stable release of FUSE and SSHFS packages. Run the FUSE installer first (dmg file) and the SSHFS (pkg file) second.

Windows

To use SSHFS on Windows, download and install:

  • The latest stable version of WinFS.
  • The newest stable version of SSHFS-Win is compatible with your system. Optionally, the SSHFS-Win Manager frontend interface is available as well. The interface provides a convenient GUI interface for establishing and managing connections.
SSHFS-Win Download Page

Mount a Remote File System on Linux

Mounting and unmounting a remote file system with SSHFS is a simple process. The outlined steps also work on a macOS machine.

Step 1: Create Mount Point

Create a mount point directory in the mnt folder where the remote file system will be mounted:

sudo mkdir /mnt/<folder name>

Step 2: Mount the Remote File System Using SSHFS

Mount the remote file system to the created mount point using the SSHFS tool:

sudo sshfs [-o <options>] <remote user>@<remote host>:/<path to remote directory> /mnt/<folder name>/

Enter the login password when requested if using password authentication. If the remote server uses SSH key authorization, provide the path of the private key. For example:

sudo sshfs -o allow_other,IdentityFile=/home/kb/.ssh/id_rsa [email protected]:/home/ubuntu/ /mnt/test/
Output of the SSHFS command in Linux

The above command mounts a remote directory located at 131.153.142.254 under the name ubuntu to the /mnt/test/ mount point.

The -o tag indicates the presence of added options:

  • The allow_other option allows access to users other than root.
  • The IdentityFile=<path to private key> option is for file systems with configured access via SSH. If the private key is under the root user, the command accepts a relative path. Otherwise, use the full link.

For a comprehensive list of available options, run:

sshfs -h

Step 3: Check Mounted File System

Check if the file system mapped correctly by navigating to the directory using the cd command:

cd /mnt/<directory name>
Checking contents of directory using the cd command

Alternatively, navigate to the folder using the GUI:

Checking mounted file system using GUI

Step 4: Unmount a Remote File System on Linux

Lastly, when finished with the mount point, unmount the remote file system with:

sudo umount /mnt/<folder name>
Unmounting a device using umount command

Note: Still mounted? Double-check if you typed the umount command correctly. There is no letter N.

Mount a Remote File System on Windows via Windows Explorer

The most common way to mount a remote file system on Windows is through Windows Explorer.

Step 1: Map Network Drive

Open the file explorer. Right-click This PC from the menu on the left pane and select the option Map Network Drive.

Map network drive in Windows Explorer

A dialog box appears for network mapping.

Step 2: Mount the Remote File System Using SSHFS

Select the letter of the drive to which you'd like to map the remote folder. In the Folder box, type in the sshfs command:

\\sshfs[.option]\<remote user>@<remote host>[!port][\path]

Note: The default port for SSH connections is 22. Hackers are aware of this, too. Change the default port if transferring sensitive information.

Depending on your use case, the sshfs command offers a few options:

  • sshfs maps the remote user's home directory.
  • sshfs.r connects to the remote user's root directory.
  • sshfs.k maps the remote user's home directory and uses the SSH key stored in <local user>/.ssh/id_rsa.
  • sshfs.kr adds the remote user's root directory and uses the locally stored SSH key.

For example:

\\sshfs.k\[email protected]
Mapping network folder using sshfs

Click Finish to map the remote file system. A dialog box appears when attempting to make a connection. Upon successfully connecting, the remote file system opens in the Windows Explorer.

Step 3: Check Mounted File System

The newly mounted file system is visible from This PC in Windows Explorer under Network locations:

Mounted file system in Windows Explorer

Step 4: Unmount a Remote File System on Windows via Explorer

To unmount the disk, right-click the mounted device and select the option Disconnect:

Disconnecting mounted device on Windows Explorer

Mount a Remote File System on Windows via CMD

Mounting a remote file system in Windows via the command line is a quick and simple process.

Step 1: Mount the Remote File System With net use

Use the net use command to mount the remote file system:

net use <drive letter>: \\sshfs[.option]\<remote user>@<remote host>[!port][\path]

For example:

net use X: \\sshfs.k\[email protected]

The command does the following:

  • X: represents the drive letter on the local machine.
  • sshfs.k indicates the use of an SSH key stored in <local user>/.ssh/id_rsa.
  • [email protected] is the remote user and host.
Mounting remote file system using net use command

The output of the command informs of a successful connection.

Step 2: View the Mounted Device(s)

To view the currently mounted disks through SSHFS, run:

net use
Output of the net use command

The command outputs the local mount point name and the remote connection point.

Step 3: Unmount a Remote File System on Windows via CMD

To remove the mapped device from your system, run:

net use <drive letter>: /delete

For example, if the remote file system is on the drive X, use:

net use X: /delete
Deleting mounted device using net use delete

Mount a Remote File System on Windows via SSHFS-Win Manager

The SSHFS-Win Manager offers a convenient and easy-to-use GUI for establishing and managing remote server connections.

Step 1: Locate and Run the SSHFS-Win Manager

Search for SSHFS-Win Manager in the Start menu and run the program. A GUI interface opens for managing device connections.

Step 2: Add a Connection

Add a new connection by clicking the Add Connection button on the right menu.

SSHFS Win-Manager add device button

A form menu pops out. Fill out the provided fields and select the options for your situation:

Adding a connection using SSHFS Win-Manager
  • Name is a custom name for your connection.
  • IP/Host is the host address.
  • Port is 22 by default for SSH connections. Leave as-is unless you specifically changed the port.
  • The User is the username of the remote system.
  • The Authentication method is either through a private key file or password. If using the secret key file, provide the path. Alternatively, the password option allows providing a password immediately or when establishing a connection.
  • The Remote path is the path to the remote file system.
  • Local Drive letter is a list of locally available drive letters for a mount point.

Lastly, Click Save when done filling out the fields. The newly created server connection shows up in the main menu.

SSHFS Win-Manager added connection

Step 3: Mount the Remote File System and View the Contents

Click the socket icon next to your connection name to establish a connection. If the connection succeeds, the socket icon changes to a green connected socket, and a folder icon appears:

Established connection in SSHFS Win-Manager

Click the folder icon to view the contents of the remote file system.

Step 4: Unmount a Remote File System on Windows via SSHFS Win-Manager

To unmount the server connection, click the socket icon in the SSHFS Win-Manager menu. If the connection is no longer needed, delete the information using the Delete mode button.

Conclusion

SSHFS provides a secure way to mount a remote folder to a local machine. The connection uses the SSH file transfer protocol for each transferred file, ensuring secure communication between two points.

An alternative way to transfer files via SSH is through remote sync. Check out our guide: How to Transfer Files with Rsync and see which method works best for you.

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Milica Dancuk
Milica Dancuk is an aspiring technical writer at phoenixNAP and a data nerd. Her background in Electrical Engineering and Computing and her teaching experience give her a unique set of skills - being able to easily explain complex technical concepts through her content.
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