Bash SSH Tutorial for Beginners

In this post, I will explain what the SSH utility is in the Bash scripting language and how to use it to remote into virtual private servers (VPS).

InstructorZach Gollwitzer
Last UpdatedMarch 29, 2024
Estimated Read Time6 minutes

This topic can get quite loaded, and therefore I am not going to dig too deep into it. We will cover the following:

  • How to setup a public and private keypair for ssh access
  • Adding your keys to the ssh-agent (if applicable)
  • How to use SSH to connect to a remote machine
  • How to transfer files between your local machine and remote machine using scp
  • How to download files from the internet
  • How to use VSCode with your VPS

I primarily use Digital Ocean for my hosting needs, so I will be going through a tutorial on how to setup and connect to a virtual private server on Digital Ocean. That said, the concepts apply across the board whether you are using AWS, Azure, etc. When you first create a VPS in Digital Ocean (also called a "Droplet"), it will ask you whether you want to connect to the machine using a password or SSH key. I almost always connect via an SSH key, so let's first learn how to create that key on our local computer. The process of connecting to a VPS works in the following steps.

  1. User creates a private/public SSH keypair on their local computer
  2. User inputs the public key into the SSH field of their hosting provider while setting up the host
  3. When user tries to connect to the host via SSH, the SSH tool will validate the private/public keypair stored on the local computer in the ~/.ssh directory with the public key stored on the VPS.
  4. If the keys validate, the user now gets remote access to the VPS, and your IP address is stored as a "known host" on the VPS.

So the first step requires us to create a public/private keypair. We can do this on Mac/Linux using the OpenSSH tool. In your terminal, type the following command.


This will ask you what directory to store the key in. For this to work, you need to put it in the ~/.ssh folder, but you can give it any custom name. When the command asks you for a password, just press enter twice without entering anything because we do not need to password protect the key since we are using our personal computer. My new key is stored as /home/zach/.ssh/id_digitalocean_rsa.

You now need to print out and copy the public version of this key. In my case, I type the command:

cat ~/.ssh/

Notice how I added .pub at the end. When you create a keypair, there will be a .pub version always. Once you have copied the contents of this file, paste it into the SSH key box on your hosting provider. On Digital Ocean, I will paste it here.

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Once you have done that, you can create your virtual machine. Now, find the IP address of your new virtual machine and type the following command into your terminal.

ssh -p 22 [email protected]

This should successfully log you into your VPS.

Permanently Add Keys to ssh-agent

This is generally not a problem on Linux, but on Mac, you will need to alter a few of the default settings. By default, any key that is not id_rsa will not be added to the ssh-agent utility, and not the Mac keychain. This means that every time you want to login to your VM, you will have to add the ssh key. For example, I have a key called digital-ocean that I use for logging in to my digital ocean droplets.

# Loads necessary environment variables
eval `ssh-agent -s`

# Adds ssh key
ssh-add -K ~/.ssh/digital-ocean

# Login
ssh -p 22 root@<some-ip-address>

To avoid doing this every time you login to your Mac, you will need to modify ~/.ssh/config to have the following entry:

Host *
  UseKeychain yes
  AddKeysToAgent yes
  IdentityFile ~/.ssh/id_rsa
  IdentityFile ~/.ssh/digital-ocean

Above, you are specifying a host of "everything" (you could replace with a domain such as, and telling the agent to use the keychain, add keys, and use the two identity files listed as logins.

From local computer to remote machine

Next, I want to show how to transfer files to and from your remote machine and local computer. To do this, we use the scp utility.

If I had sample-file.txt, the way I would upload this to my remote machine is like so:

scp -r sample-file.txt [email protected]:~/

This will upload the sample-file.txt file using the root user and place that file in the home directory ~/ on my remote machine. You can specify any path to place it on your remote machine so long as you put a colon : after the IP address.

From remote machine to local computer

To download that same file from your remote machine to your local computer, you would just run the following.

scp -r root@ ~/Downloads

This will place that same sample file into my local computer's ~/Downloads folder.

Downloading packages to your remote machine with wget

Sometimes, you will need to download software packages from the internet to your VPS. Since you do not have a GUI to work with, you must do this with the command line. Let's say I wanted to download a Google image to my VPS for whatever reason.

Here is a nice golf photo I took:

We could download this to our VPS using the following command.

wget -O my-custom-picture.jpg

This will download the photo and save it as my-custom-picture.jpg in whatever directory I execute the command from.

Using VSCode with your remote machine

Sure, you could use the Vim text editor for all of your development needs on a VPS, but it is nice to have a feature-rich text editor like VSCode. We can use VSCode with files on our VPS with the help of the rmate command. To do this, open VSCode, and download the extension called "Remote VSCode". Once downloaded, open your Settings by typing ctrl-shift + P, and typing ">Preferences:Open User Settings". Scroll down and find the "Extensions" dropdown and select "Remote VSCode". In the settings, you will want the following:

Remote Host:
Remote Port: 52698
Remote Onstartup: True (will be a checkbox)

Now, type ctrl-shift P again, and type ">Remote: Start Server". This will start the Remote server. Now, in your terminal, enter the following command to connect to your VPS.

ssh -R 52698: [email protected]

Obviously, you will replace the IP address with your own. Next, install the rmate utility on your VPS.

sudo wget -O /usr/local/bin/rmate
sudo chmod a+x /usr/local/bin/rmate

You can now edit any file using VSCode by running the following command from your VPS!

rmate sample-file.txt