How to SSH into a Linux VPS: A Guide for Beginners

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Jul 18, 2023


In the world of web hosting and server management, SSH (Secure Shell) is a crucial tool that allows you to remotely connect to and control your Linux VPS (Virtual Private Server) with ease. While it may seem intimidating at first, learning how to SSH is an essential skill for anyone managing a Linux server. In this beginner’s guide, we will walk you through the step-by-step process of setting up an SSH connection to your Linux VPS, enabling you to take control of your server like a pro.

Understanding SSH and its Benefits:

SSH, or Secure Shell, is a cryptographic network protocol that enables secure communication between a client and a server. It provides a secure and encrypted channel over an unsecured network, such as the internet. SSH offers several advantages, including remote access to your server, secure file transfers, and the ability to execute commands remotely. With SSH, you can manage your Linux VPS efficiently and securely, regardless of your physical location.

Preparing for SSH Connection:

Before establishing an SSH connection to your Linux VPS, there are a few preparatory steps to take.

1. Obtaining an SSH Client:

An SSH client is software that allows you to initiate an SSH connection to your Linux VPS. There are several options available, depending on your operating system:

a) OpenSSH (Linux and macOS): OpenSSH is a popular and widely used SSH client that comes pre-installed on most Linux distributions and macOS systems. To check if you have OpenSSH installed, open the Terminal and type the following command:

ssh -V

If you see version information, it means OpenSSH is already installed, and you can skip this step. Otherwise, you can easily install it using your package manager. For example, on Ubuntu or Debian-based systems, run:

sudo apt-get install openssh-client

b) PuTTY (Windows): PuTTY is a popular SSH client for Windows users. It provides an easy-to-use graphical interface for connecting to remote servers via SSH. To install PuTTY, download the executable from the official website and run the installer. Once installed, you can launch PuTTY to initiate SSH connections.

c) Terminal (macOS): macOS users can also use the built-in Terminal application to establish an SSH connection. To launch Terminal, go to “Applications” > “Utilities” > “Terminal.”

Choose an SSH client that best suits your operating system and familiarity with command-line interfaces.

2. Gathering Server Credentials:

Before connecting via SSH, you will need the following information from your VPS hosting provider:

a) Server IP Address: The server IP address is a unique numerical label that identifies your Linux VPS on the internet. It typically looks like You can find this information in the welcome email or control panel provided by your hosting company.

b) SSH Port Number: By default, SSH uses port 22 for connections. However, some administrators change the port number to enhance security. Verify the SSH port number assigned to your VPS. If it’s not the default port, you will need to specify it explicitly during the SSH connection.

c) Username and Password or SSH Key: To authenticate yourself during the SSH connection, you will need either a username and password or an SSH key pair. Your hosting provider should have provided you with the necessary credentials. If you’re using SSH key-based authentication, make sure you have the private key on your local machine and the corresponding public key uploaded to your server.

3. Verifying Server Accessibility:

Before attempting to connect via SSH, ensure that your Linux VPS is accessible from your local machine and the internet. If you have the IP address and port number, you can use a simple ping test to check connectivity. Open the Terminal (or Command Prompt on Windows) and type the following command:

ping server_ip_address

Replace “server_ip_address” with your VPS IP address. If you receive responses from the server, it means your VPS is reachable.

Additionally, ensure that your VPS’s firewall settings allow SSH traffic on the specified port. Some hosting providers offer control panels that allow you to manage firewall rules. If you encounter issues connecting, verify that your firewall settings permit SSH connections.

By following these preparatory steps, you will be ready to establish an SSH connection to your Linux VPS successfully. Remember to keep your server credentials secure and practice good security measures throughout the process.

Establishing the SSH Connection:

Now that you have the necessary tools and information, let’s establish an SSH connection to your Linux VPS.

1. Launching the Terminal:

For Linux and macOS users, the Terminal application is the command-line interface through which you can interact with your local machine and remote servers. To launch the Terminal:

a) On Linux: Press Ctrl + Alt + T to open the Terminal.

b) On macOS: Go to “Applications” > “Utilities” > “Terminal” to open it.

2. Initiating the SSH Connection:

To initiate the SSH connection, you’ll use the ssh command followed by the appropriate parameters:

ssh username@server_ip_address -p port_number

a) Replace “username” with your VPS username: This is the username provided by your hosting provider to access your VPS. It may be “root” or a custom username with administrative privileges.

b) Replace “server_ip_address” with your VPS IP address: The unique numerical label that identifies your VPS on the internet.

c) Replace “port_number” with the SSH port number (if not the default): If your hosting provider has changed the default SSH port (22) for security reasons, specify the correct port number using the -p option.


ssh [email protected] -p 2222

After entering the command, you will be prompted to confirm the authenticity of the server. Type “yes” to continue. If you’re connecting for the first time, your local machine will cache the server’s fingerprint to prevent future warnings.

3. Authenticating with SSH Key:

SSH key-based authentication offers enhanced security and convenience over password authentication. To use SSH key-based authentication:

a) Generate an SSH Key Pair: If you haven’t already generated an SSH key pair on your local machine, you can do so using the following command:

ssh-keygen -t rsa -b 4096 -f ~/.ssh/id_rsa

This command generates an RSA key pair with 4096 bits and saves the private key as id_rsa and the public key as in the ~/.ssh/ directory.

b) Copy the Public Key to the Server: Once you have an SSH key pair, you need to copy the public key to your VPS. Use the following command:

ssh-copy-id username@server_ip_address -p port_number

This command will prompt you to enter your VPS password. Once authenticated, it will copy the public key to the appropriate location on the server, allowing you to log in without a password.

c) Authenticate with the Private Key: With the public key copied to the server, you can now authenticate using the private key. When connecting via SSH, your local machine will automatically use the private key to authenticate, and you won’t need to enter your password.


ssh [email protected] -p 2222

4. Authenticating with Username and Password:

If you prefer to use a username and password for authentication instead of SSH key-based authentication, you can do so by entering your VPS username and password when prompted. This method is less secure than using SSH keys, but it’s still commonly used for convenience.


ssh [email protected] -p 2222

Upon successful authentication, you will be granted access to your Linux VPS via SSH. Now, you can execute remote commands, manage files, and perform various administrative tasks securely and efficiently.

Navigating the Linux VPS via SSH:

Once you have successfully established an SSH connection to your Linux VPS, you can start navigating and managing your server using various commands.

1. Basic Linux Commands:

To navigate your Linux VPS, you’ll use a set of fundamental commands. Here are some commonly used basic Linux commands:

a) ls – List files and directories: Use ls to view the contents of the current directory. For example:


You can also list files and directories in a specific location:

ls /path/to/directory

b) cd – Change directory: The cd command allows you to move between directories. To enter a directory, use:

cd /path/to/directory

To go back to the previous directory, use:

cd ..

c) mkdir – Create a directory: You can create a new directory using mkdir. For example:

mkdir new_directory

d) rm – Remove files and directories: The rm command is used to delete files and directories. Be cautious when using this command, as deleted files are not recoverable. To remove a file:

rm filename

To remove an empty directory:

rm -r directory_name

e) nano – Text editor: Nano is a simple text editor that allows you to create and edit files directly in the Terminal. To create or edit a file:

nano filename

Use Ctrl + O to save the changes and Ctrl + X to exit the editor.

2. File and Directory Management:

Using SSH, you can easily manage files and directories on your Linux VPS.

a) Upload and Download Files: You can transfer files between your local machine and the server using the scp (secure copy) command. To upload a file from your local machine to the server:

scp /path/to/local/file username@server_ip_address:/path/to/destination

To download a file from the server to your local machine:

scp username@server_ip_address:/path/to/remote/file /path/to/destination

b) Changing File Permissions: File permissions dictate who can read, write, and execute files. To change file permissions, use the chmod command. For example, to give read and write permissions to the file owner:

chmod u+rw filename

To grant read and execute permissions to the file owner, read-only access to the group, and no access to others:

chmod 750 filename

c) File Compression and Extraction: You can compress and extract files and directories using various compression formats like tar and gzip. To create a tarball (compressed archive) of a directory:

tar -czvf archive_name.tar.gz /path/to/directory

To extract the contents of a tarball:

tar -xzvf archive_name.tar.gz

These basic commands will help you navigate, manage, and organize files and directories on your Linux VPS via SSH. As you become more comfortable with the command-line interface, you can explore additional commands and tools to optimize your server management. Remember to exercise caution when performing operations that could modify or delete critical files. Always back up important data before making significant changes to your VPS.

Securing SSH Access:

To ensure the security of your Linux VPS, it’s essential to implement certain measures to secure SSH access.

1. Disabling Root Login:

By default, most Linux distributions allow direct SSH login as the root user. This poses a significant security risk, as the root account has unrestricted access to your server. It is highly recommended to disable direct root login and create a separate user with administrative privileges to manage your VPS.

To disable root login via SSH, follow these steps:

a) Log in to your VPS as the root user.

b) Edit the SSH configuration file using a text editor (e.g., nano or vim):

nano /etc/ssh/sshd_config

c) Locate the line that says PermitRootLogin yes and change it to:

PermitRootLogin no

d) Save and exit the file.

e) Restart the SSH service to apply the changes:

service ssh restart

Now, you can only log in using the separate user account you created, and once logged in, you can use the sudo command to execute administrative tasks.

2. Configuring SSH Port:

Changing the default SSH port from 22 to a non-standard port adds an extra layer of security. Many automated scripts target the default SSH port, making it a common target for brute-force attacks. By using a non-standard port, you make it more challenging for potential attackers to find and target your SSH service.

To change the SSH port, follow these steps:

a) Log in to your VPS as the root user.

b) Edit the SSH configuration file:

nano /etc/ssh/sshd_config

c) Locate the line that says Port 22 and change it to your desired port number (e.g., 2222). Ensure that the port number you choose is not being used by other services on your server.

d) Save and exit the file.

e) Restart the SSH service to apply the changes:

service ssh restart

After changing the port, you’ll need to specify the custom port number every time you initiate an SSH connection. For example:

ssh username@server_ip_address -p 2222

3. Implementing SSH Key-Based Authentication:

SSH key-based authentication is more secure than using passwords, as it eliminates the risk of brute-force attacks. It involves generating a pair of cryptographic keys—a private key (kept on your local machine) and a public key (uploaded to the server). When you attempt to connect via SSH, the server verifies your identity using the corresponding public key, allowing you access without entering a password.

To implement SSH key-based authentication, follow these steps:

a) Generate an SSH Key Pair (if not already done):

ssh-keygen -t rsa -b 4096 -f ~/.ssh/id_rsa

b) Copy the Public Key to the Server:

ssh-copy-id username@server_ip_address -p port_number

c) Test the Key-Based Authentication: Try connecting to your server again, and this time, SSH should authenticate you using the private key.

d) Disable Password Authentication (Optional but Recommended): Once you’ve confirmed that SSH key-based authentication works, you can disable password authentication to further enhance security. In the SSH configuration file (/etc/ssh/sshd_config), locate the line that says PasswordAuthentication yes and change it to:

PasswordAuthentication no

Save and exit the file, then restart the SSH service.

By implementing these security measures, you significantly improve the safety of your SSH connections, reducing the risk of unauthorized access and potential security breaches on your Linux VPS. Always keep your SSH keys secure and avoid sharing them with anyone else. Regularly monitor your server’s logs and update your system and SSH software to protect against emerging threats.

Troubleshooting SSH Connection Issues:

Encountering issues while establishing an SSH connection is not uncommon. Learn some common problems and their solutions, such as connection timeouts, incorrect credentials, or firewall restrictions.


Mastering SSH is a significant step toward efficiently managing your Linux VPS. With the knowledge gained from this beginner’s guide, you can confidently establish an SSH connection, navigate your VPS, and implement security measures to protect your server. Embrace the power of SSH, and unlock the potential of your Linux VPS today!

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© 2022-2023 Initech LLC. all rights reserved.