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SFTPGo as OpenSSH's SFTP subsystem

This tutorial shows how to run SFTPGo as OpenSSH's SFTP subsystem and still use its advanced features.

Please note that when running in SFTP subsystem mode some SFTPGo features are not available, for example SFTPGo cannot limit the concurrent connnections or user sessions, restrict available ciphers etc. In this mode OpenSSH accepts the network connection, handles the SSH handshake and user authentication and then executes a separate SFTPGo process for each SFTP connection. Hooks may or may not work because OpenSSH stops the SFTPGo process when the user logs out and some hooks may not have run or ended yet. If you need these features use SFTPGo in standalone mode.

Preliminary Note

Before proceeding further you need to have a basic minimal installation of Ubuntu 20.04. The instructions can easily be adapted to any other Linux distribution.

Install SFTPGo

To install SFTPGo you can use the PPA here.

Start by adding the PPA.

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:sftpgo/sftpgo
sudo apt update

Next install SFTPGo.

sudo apt install sftpgo

After installation SFTPGo should already be running and configured to start automatically at boot, check its status using the following command.

systemctl status sftpgo

We don't want to run SFTPGo as service, so let's stop and disable it.

sudo systemctl disable sftpgo
sudo systemctl stop sftpgo

Configure OpenSSH to use SFTPGo as SFTP subsystem

We have several configuration options. Let's examine them in details in the following sections.

Chroot any existing OpenSSH user within their home directory

Open the OpenSSH configuration file /etc/ssh/sshd_config find the following section:

# override default of no subsystems
Subsystem sftp /usr/lib/openssh/sftp-server

and change it as follow.

# override default of no subsystems
#Subsystem sftp /usr/lib/openssh/sftp-server
Subsystem  sftp /usr/bin/sftpgo startsubsys -j

The -j option instructs SFTPGo to write logs to journald. If unset the logs will be written to stdout.

Restart OpenSSH to apply the changes.

sudo systemctl restart sshd

Now try to login via SFTP with an existing OpenSSH user, it will work and you will not be able to escape the user's home directory.

Change home dir, set virtual permissions and other SFTPGo specific features

The current setup is pretty straightforward and can also be easily achieved using OpenSSH. Can we set a different home directory or use specific SFTPGo features such as bandwidth throttling, virtual permissions and so on?

Of course we can, we need to configure SFTPGo with an appropriate configuration file and we need to map OpenSSH users to SFTPGo users.

SFTPGo stores its users within a data provider, several data providers are supported. For this use case SQLite and bolt cannot be used as OpenSSH will start multiple SFTPGo processes and it is not safe/possible to access to these data providers from multiple separate processes. So we will use the memory provider. MySQL, PostgreSQL and CockroachDB can be used too.

Any unmapped OpenSSH user will work as explained in the previous section. So you could only map specific users.

The memory provider can load users from a JSON file. Theoretically you could create the JSON file by hand, but this is quite hard. An easier way is to create users from another SFTPGo instance and then export a dump.

Then, we temporarily launch the system's SFTPGo instance.

sudo systemctl start sftpgo.service

We assume that we have an OpenSSH/system user named nicola and its home directory is /home/nicola, adjust the following instructions according to your configuration.

Open in your web browser, replacing with the appropriate IP address if SFTPGo is not running on localhost and initialize SFTPGo. The full procedure is detailed within the Getting Started guide.

Now, from the SFTPGo web admin interface, create a user named nicola (like our OpenSSH/system user) and set his home directory to /home/nicola/sftpdir. You must set a password or a public key to be able to save the user, set any password it will be ignored as it is OpenSSH that authenticates users.

You can also set some virtual permissions, for example for the path /test allow list and upload. You can also set a quota or bandwidth limits, for example you can set 5 as quota files and 128 KB/s as upload bandwidth.

Save the user.

From the Maintenance section save a backup to /home/nicola. You should now have the file /home/nicola/sftpgo-backup.json.

We can stop the SFTPGo instance now.

sudo systemctl stop sftpgo.service

If you check the JSON backup file, it should contain something like this.

"users": [
      "id": 1,
      "status": 1,
      "username": "nicola",
      "expiration_date": 0,
      "password": "$2a$10$dc.djrShrnyEdfpTEh5S2utQr2CTja1XOB2O4ZiGcvFxbrvcgu/WK",
      "home_dir": "/home/nicola/sftpdir",
      "uid": 0,
      "gid": 0,
      "max_sessions": 0,
      "quota_size": 0,
      "quota_files": 5,
      "permissions": {
        "/": [
        "/test": [
      "used_quota_size": 0,
      "used_quota_files": 0,
      "last_quota_update": 0,
      "upload_bandwidth": 128,
      "download_bandwidth": 0,

Let's create a specific configuration directory for SFTPGo as a subsystem and copy the configuration file and the backup file there.

sudo mkdir /usr/local/etc/sftpgosubsys
sudo cp /etc/sftpgo/sftpgo.json /usr/local/etc/sftpgosubsys/
sudo chmod 644 /usr/local/etc/sftpgosubsys/sftpgo.json
sudo cp /home/nicola/sftpgo-backup.json /usr/local/etc/sftpgosubsys/

Open /usr/local/etc/sftpgosubsys/sftpgo.json, find the data_provider section and change it as follow.

"data_provider": {
    "driver": "memory",
    "name": "/usr/local/etc/sftpgosubsys/sftpgo-backup.json",

Open /etc/ssh/sshd_config and set the following configuration.

# override default of no subsystems
#Subsystem sftp /usr/lib/openssh/sftp-server
Subsystem  sftp /usr/bin/sftpgo startsubsys -c /usr/local/etc/sftpgosubsys -j -p

The -c option specifies where to search the configuration file and the -p option indicates to use the home directory from the data provider (the json backup file in this case) for users defined there.

Restart OpenSSH to apply the changes.

sudo systemctl restart sshd

Now you can log in using the user nicola and verify that the new chroot directory is /home/nicola/sftpdir, and that the other settings are working. Eg. create a directory called test, you will be able to upload files but not download them.

Configure a custom hook on file uploads

We show this feature by executing a simple bash script each time a file is uploaded.

Here is the test script.


echo `date` "env, action: $SFTPGO_ACTION, username: $SFTPGO_ACTION_USERNAME, path: $SFTPGO_ACTION_PATH, file size: $SFTPGO_ACTION_FILE_SIZE, status: $SFTPGO_ACTION_STATUS" >> /tmp/command_sftp.log

It simply logs some environment variables that SFTPGo sets for the upload action. Please refer to Custom Actions for more detailed info about hooks.

So copy the above script to the file /usr/local/bin/ and make it executable.

sudo chmod 755 /usr/local/bin/

Open /usr/local/etc/sftpgosubsys/sftpgo.json, and configure the custom action as follow.

  "common": {
    "idle_timeout": 15,
    "upload_mode": 0,
    "actions": {
      "execute_on": ["upload"],
      "execute_sync": [],
      "hook": "/usr/local/bin/"

Login and upload a file.

sftp nicola@
nicola@'s password:
Connected to
sftp> put file.txt
Uploading fle.txt to /file.txt
sftp> quit

Verify that the custom action is executed.

cat /tmp/command_sftp.log
Fri 30 Jul 2021 06:56:50 PM UTC env, action: upload, username: nicola, path: /home/nicola/sftpdir/file.txt, file size: 4034, status: 1