Linux Commands

How to Debug SSH Connections

This tutorial will go over some quick methods and techniques you can use to diagnose various SSH connections, including when you cannot connect to SSH, Authentication errors, and such.

NOTE: Before getting started, ensure that the device you wish to connect to is online and the error is not a result of the device being unavailable.

Issue 1: SSH Service not Running

A common cause of SSH connection errors is the service not running on the remote host. This can be because of accidental service shutdown or service not starting after a system reboot.

To check if the SSH service is running, use the system manager using the command:

sudo systemctl status sshd

The above command should report if the service is running or not, as shown in the screenshots below.


To resolve SSH issues caused by the service not running, use the system to start the service. If the service responds with errors, check the logs and fix the issues reported in the log.

Use the command below to check the service logs.

grep 'sshd' /var/log/auth.log

Use the command below to start or stop the SSH service using systemd.

sudo systemctl start sshd

Issue 2: SSH on Non-Standard Port

The second common issue when debugging SSH connections is the use of a non-standard port. If SSH is running on another port other than the default port 22, you will not connect to the remote host unless you explicitly specify the port on which SSH is running.

To view the port on which SSH is running, use a tool such as netstat as below:

[centos@centos8 ~]$ sudo netstat -ptln | grep ssh
tcp 0 0* LISTEN      1131/sshd          
tcp6 0 0 :::56 :::* LISTEN 1131/sshd

The above output shows which port the SSH service is running on. In this case, it is port 56.


To resolve this issue, you can use the information from netstat to explicitly specify the port in your ssh command as:

ssh username@ip -p 56

Issue 3: Another Service using the same port

Another cause of SSH connection errors is if another service or process also uses the same port as the SSH service. For example, if SSH is explicitly specified to run on port 80 (terrible idea), a service like Apache may be using the same port.

To view if another process is using the same port as SSH, check the logs using the command:

sudo journalctl -t sshd

This command should return an error like the one shown below, indicating if another process uses the SSH-bound port.

sshd[110611]: error: Bind to port 80 on failed: Address already in use

It is good to ensure that the port binding error is caused by another service, not security measures such as SELinux.


There are various ways you can use to resolve this issue. These include:

The first is to bind the SSH service to a different port. You can do this by editing the SSH config file. For example, change Port entry to port 3009 as shown in the commands:

sudo nano /etc/ssh/sshd_config
Port 3009

Another method you can use to resolve this issue is to stop the service using the SSH port. For example, stop apache service using port 80 as:

sudo systemctl stop httpd
sudo systemctl disable httpd

Issue 4: Firewall

If you have tried all the above methods and still no SSH connection, you can move on to the next possible cause of the issue: Firewall restrictions. Depending on the Firewall method you are using (UFW or Iptables), you need to ensure that the firewall allows SSH connections.


Firewall rules are wide and can vary depending on the system configuration. Thus, I cannot cover every aspect. However, the following is a simple solution to ensure the SSH service is allowed on UFW Firewall.

sudo ufw allow <ssh_port>/tcp

You can also reset all the UFW rules and start over. That will allow you to troubleshoot the firewall connections from scratch.

sudo ufw reset

Issue 5: Disabled Password Logins

Sometimes you can configure SSH not to accept password logins and only use public-key authentication. That can cause an issue if the public key is not available on the server or missing your private key pair.

To check if password logins are allowed, cat the ssh config as:

[centos@centos8]$ sudo grep PasswordAuthentication /etc/ssh/sshd_config
#PasswordAuthentication yes
PasswordAuthentication yes
# PasswordAuthentication.  Depending on your PAM configuration,
# PAM authentication, then enable this but set PasswordAuthentication

The above output shows that password logins are allowed.


To resolve the above issue, you can use two methods:

First, if you have the value set to no, change the PasswordAuthentication value to yes and restart the ssh service.

The other method is to create an ssh key-value pair and use it to log in to the server. To learn how to create ssh key-value pair, use the following guide.


In this quick guide, we discussed major causes of SSH connection errors and how you can resolve them. Although this guide covers common issues, you may find errors specific to your system based on the configuration and permissions.

About the author

John Otieno

My name is John and am a fellow geek like you. I am passionate about all things computers from Hardware, Operating systems to Programming. My dream is to share my knowledge with the world and help out fellow geeks. Follow my content by subscribing to LinuxHint mailing list