How to Keep SSH Session Alive

Keep SSH Session Alive

SSH (Secure Shell) is the cornerstone of remote access and administration in the world of Linux. It allows system administrators to securely connect to remote servers and devices, making it an indispensable tool for managing Linux-based systems. However, one common challenge that Linux administrators face is the automatic termination of SSH sessions due to inactivity. This can be frustrating, especially when you’re in the middle of an important task or remote troubleshooting. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve deep into the world of SSH session management, exploring the reasons behind session timeouts and providing you with a detailed roadmap to ensure that your SSH sessions remain active and responsive.

Understanding SSH Session Timeout

Explanation of SSH Session Timeout

SSH session timeout is a security feature designed to automatically terminate an SSH connection when it remains inactive for a predefined period. This inactivity-based termination is essential for security, as it prevents unauthorized access and reduces the risk of attacks. However, it can also be a source of inconvenience if not managed properly.

Default SSH Session Timeout Settings in Linux

Before we delve into the strategies for extending SSH session lifetimes, it’s crucial to understand that default session timeout settings can vary depending on the Linux distribution and SSH server configuration. Familiarizing yourself with these defaults is the first step in managing SSH sessions effectively.

Let’s dive into the reasons behind SSH session timeouts and explore various methods to keep your SSH sessions alive on Linux.

Reasons for SSH Session Timeout

SSH session timeouts can occur for a variety of reasons, and it’s essential to recognize these factors to address them effectively.

Factors Leading to SSH Session Timeouts

  1. Inactivity: When you stop actively using your SSH session, the system may interpret it as idle and terminate the connection. This is a security measure to prevent unauthorized access.
  2. Firewall Rules: Network configurations, including firewalls, can be configured to terminate idle connections. While this is essential for network security, it can inadvertently lead to SSH session timeouts.
  3. Server Load: Overloaded servers may prioritize active connections over idle ones. When resources are scarce, the system might decide to terminate idle sessions to free up resources.
  4. Configuration Errors: Incorrect server or client configurations can lead to unexpected session terminations. Reviewing and correcting these configurations is crucial.
  5. Security Policies: Strict security policies within your organization or on the server itself may enforce short session lifetimes to minimize security risks.

Impact of Session Timeouts on Workflow

SSH session timeouts can disrupt your workflow and hinder critical tasks, such as software updates, file transfers, or server maintenance. Understanding the consequences of these timeouts underscores the importance of managing your SSH sessions effectively.

Now that we’ve explored the reasons behind SSH session timeouts, let’s move on to the methods you can employ to ensure that your SSH sessions stay active and responsive.

Methods to Keep SSH Sessions Alive

Maintaining SSH sessions requires a combination of server-side and client-side adjustments, along with the use of remote monitoring tools to track and manage active sessions effectively.

Server-Side Configuration

1. Modifying SSH Server Configuration Files

  • Step 1: Connect to your server using SSH.
  • Step 2: Open the SSH server configuration file. The location of this file can vary but is often found at /etc/ssh/sshd_config.
  • Step 3: Locate the ClientAliveInterval and ClientAliveCountMax settings. These determine how often the server sends keepalive messages and how many unanswered messages are allowed before the connection is terminated.
  • Step 4: Adjust these settings according to your requirements. For example, to send keepalive messages every 300 seconds and allow 3 unanswered messages, add or modify these lines:

ClientAliveInterval 300
ClientAliveCountMax 3
  • Step 5: Save the configuration file and restart the SSH service to apply the changes.

2. Changing Session Timeout Settings

  • Step 1: Similar to the previous method, connect to your server using SSH.
  • Step 2: Open the SSH server configuration file (/etc/ssh/sshd_config).
  • Step 3: Locate the LoginGraceTime setting. This determines the time a client has to authenticate after making a connection. Extend this time if necessary.
  • Step 4: Save the configuration file and restart the SSH service for the changes to take effect.

3. Adjusting Keepalive Settings

  • Step 1: Connect to your server via SSH.
  • Step 2: Open the SSH server configuration file (/etc/ssh/sshd_config).
  • Step 3: Look for the TCPKeepAlive setting. Ensure that it’s set to yes to enable TCP keepalive.
  • Step 4: Save the configuration file and restart the SSH service.

Client-Side Techniques

1. Implementing SSH Client Configuration

  • Step 1: On your local machine, open or create the SSH client configuration file, typically found at ~/.ssh/config.
  • Step 2: Add the following lines to set the client-side keepalive interval. This example sets it to 300 seconds:
Host *
ServerAliveInterval 300
  • Step 3: Save the configuration file.

2. Using SSH Options

  • Step 1: When connecting to a remote server, use the -o option followed by ServerAliveInterval and ServerAliveCountMax. For example:

ssh -o ServerAliveInterval=300 -o ServerAliveCountMax=3 user@hostname
  • This command sets the client-side keepalive interval to 300 seconds and allows for 3 unanswered keepalive messages.

3. Utilizing Terminal Multiplexers

  • Step 1: If you’re a fan of terminal multiplexers like tmux or screen, start your session with one of these tools.
  • Step 2: Even if your SSH session becomes idle, your terminal multiplexer will keep running, preventing SSH timeouts.

Remote Monitoring Tools

1. Introduction to Session Monitoring Tools

Session monitoring tools like tmux and screen provide a powerful way to manage and monitor active SSH sessions. These tools allow you to create and switch between multiple terminal sessions within a single SSH connection.

2. Installing and Configuring Tools

  • Step 1: On your server, install your preferred terminal multiplexer. For tmux, you can typically use your package manager. For example, on Debian-based systems:
sudo apt install tmux
  • Step 2: Once installed, start a tmux session by simply typing tmux in your terminal.

3. Real-Time Session Tracking

  • Step 1: Inside your tmux session, you can create and manage multiple terminal panes or windows, each running its own command or task.
  • Step 2: To detach from a tmux session but keep it running in the background, press Ctrl-b followed by d.

By implementing these server-side and client-side techniques and utilizing terminal multiplexers, you can significantly extend the lifetime of your SSH sessions on Linux. However, there are some best practices and security considerations you should keep in mind.

Best Practices

Recommendations for SSH Session Management

  1. Regularly Review and Adjust Timeout Settings: Periodically revisit your SSH timeout settings to ensure they align with your organization’s security policies and workflow.
  2. Use Strong Authentication: Implement strong authentication methods like public-key authentication to enhance security while minimizing the risk of unauthorized access.
  3. Implement Two-Factor Authentication (2FA): Consider enabling 2FA for SSH to add an additional layer of security to your SSH sessions.
  4. Regularly Update SSH Software: Keep your SSH server and client software up-to-date to benefit from the latest security improvements and bug fixes.
  5. Monitor SSH Sessions: Utilize session monitoring tools like tmux to keep track of active sessions and quickly identify and address any issues.

Security Considerations

  1. Balancing Security and Convenience: While it’s essential to extend SSH session lifetimes, always strike a balance between security and convenience. Avoid excessively long timeouts, as they can introduce security risks.
  2. Audit SSH Access: Regularly audit SSH access logs to detect any unusual or unauthorized activities. Tools like Fail2ban can help block malicious IP addresses.
  3. Implement Firewall Rules: Configure firewall rules to limit SSH access to trusted IP addresses, reducing exposure to potential threats.
  4. Protect SSH Keys: Safeguard your SSH private keys with strong passphrases and restrict their access to authorized users only.


Common Issues and Resolutions

  1. SSH Session Still Times Out: If your SSH session continues to timeout, ensure that your changes to the server and client configurations have been applied and that you’ve restarted the SSH service where necessary.
  2. Client Configuration Not Taking Effect: Double-check your client-side configuration file (~/.ssh/config) to ensure that it contains the correct settings and that there are no typos.
  3. Server Configuration Errors: If you encounter issues with server-side configuration changes, review the configuration file carefully for syntax errors and ensure that you’ve restarted the SSH service.
  4. Firewall Blocking Keepalive: Check your firewall settings to ensure that they are not blocking the Keepalive messages sent by your SSH client.
  5. Excessive Resource Usage: If extended SSH session lifetimes lead to resource contention on your server, consider adjusting keepalive settings or implementing other resource management strategies.

Troubleshooting Tips and Tricks

  1. Verbose Logging: Use verbose logging (-v or -vv with SSH) to gain more insight into the SSH connection process and identify any issues.
  2. Check Server Load: Monitor your server’s resource utilization during SSH sessions to determine if a high load is contributing to session timeouts.
  3. Network Latency: High network latency can sometimes trigger session timeouts. Consider optimizing your network or choosing a server with lower latency.
  4. Testing with a Different Client: If you suspect client-side issues, try connecting from a different SSH client or machine to see if the problem persists.


In conclusion, SSH is an indispensable tool for Linux administrators, enabling secure remote access and efficient system management. While SSH session timeouts are a security necessity, they can be managed effectively with the right strategies and configurations. By following the best practices outlined in this guide and staying vigilant about security, you can maintain seamless and secure SSH access to your Linux systems.


r00t is a seasoned Linux system administrator with a wealth of experience in the field. Known for his contributions to, r00t has authored numerous tutorials and guides, helping users navigate the complexities of Linux systems. His expertise spans across various Linux distributions, including Ubuntu, CentOS, and Debian. r00t's work is characterized by his ability to simplify complex concepts, making Linux more accessible to users of all skill levels. His dedication to the Linux community and his commitment to sharing knowledge makes him a respected figure in the field.
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