How do I make sure ssh sources .profile and .bashrc on login without tty?

I have a Mac (10.6.8) that I'm using for various UNIX-y tasks like hosting git repositories. I have remote login enabled via the System Preferences "Sharing" pane. When I ssh into the machine, bash sources ~/.profile, which I have set up to source my ~/.bashrc file and set up my MacPorts path. The problem is that when I run ssh without a tty, like this:

ssh myhost echo \$PATH

Or run a git command that essentially uses ssh in the same way:

git clone ssh://myhost/~/code/myrepo.git

My ~/.profile file is never sourced, so my $PATH variable is missing /opt/local (where MacPorts has installed git). I am aware that:

  • I can configure git on my local machine to use /opt/local/bin/git-* on my remote machine
  • I wouldn't have this problem if I was forcing a tty with ssh -t

But I don't want to do either of those. I want my remote machine to source my ~/.profile file regardless of whether or not I'm logging in w/ a tty.

How do I make that dream a reality?

Also: I checked the behavior on a couple Linux machines (Debian and Fedora), and both systems seem to source the ~/.bashrc file on login regardless of whether it is a tty. I was under the impression that BSD and Linux both use the same OpenSSH and bash implementations, so it seems like the difference in behavior might come from differences in /etc config files?

3 Answers 3


Bash has special provisions in its source code to source ~/.bashrc when it's invoked by rshd or sshd. It's a compilation option, which given your experience seems not to be turned on under OSX.

If you're logging in with a key, you can (ab)use the command= option in the ~/.ssh/authorized_keys file. A key with a command option is good only for running the specified command; but the command in the authorized_keys file runs with the environment variable SSH_ORIGINAL_COMMAND set to the command the user specified (empty for interactive sessions). So you can use something like this in ~/.ssh/authorized_keys (of course, it won't apply if you don't use this key to authenticate):

command=". ~/.profile;
         if [ -n \"$SSH_ORIGINAL_COMMAND\" ]; then
           eval \"$SSH_ORIGINAL_COMMAND\";
         else exec \"$SHELL\"; fi" ssh-rsa …

Note that I put line breaks above for legibility, but this actually needs to be all on one line.

How can I set environment variables for a remote rsync process? may have other helpful suggestions.

  • I'm gonna credit you with the answer to this since it was in the question you referenced, but I ended up using ~/.ssh/environment to set the path (hard-coded, unfortunately). It works b/c I'm the only user who needs this functionality.
    – aaronstacy
    Sep 1, 2011 at 3:01
  • I tried to add this command line to authorized_keys on the host but found that in this case the key is not recognized anymore and I need to enter a password. Do I need to add it somewhere else?
    – highsciguy
    Nov 24, 2012 at 20:37
  • @highsciguy You probably got the syntax of the authorized_keys file wrong, or added an extra character on the line or something. In particular, make sure that your editor didn't split the line due to word wrap. Nov 25, 2012 at 19:00
  • @aaronstacy Check out my answer for a way to use ~/.ssh/environment and not hard code the path. Dec 31, 2012 at 0:39

Here's a method to have bash source .bashrc on non-interactive sessions so that you don't have to hard code environment variables in multiple places:

  1. Set PermitUserEnvironment to yes in /etc/sshd_config (man sshd)
  2. Set BASH_ENV to ~/.bashrc in ~/.ssh/environment (man bash)
  3. Add this line to the top of your ~/.bashrc, which sources /etc/profile for non-interactive sessions:

This essentially duplicates the interactive login environment for non-interactive logins, without having to hard code environment values (e.g., $PATH) in multiple places.

if [[ ! $- == *i* ]]; then
        . /etc/profile

Step 3. is needed only if you have the Macports path(s) set in /etc/paths like I do. But if you're setting those paths (e.g., /opt/local/bin) in ~/.bashrc, then I suppose you wouldn't need Step 3.

For your situation, you should be able to change ~/.bashrc to ~/.profile.

I have ~/.bash_profile source ~/.bashrc, and I do not use ~/.profile. With this configuration (and the above changes), bash environment variables (e.g., $PATH) should look identical for interactive login, interactive non-login, and non-interactive sessions.

  • If you use BASH_ENV, set it to ~/.profile, and define environment variables there. Reserve .bashrc for interactive settings (aliases, completion, …). See Alternative to .bashrc Dec 31, 2012 at 0:58
  • 1
    It's personal preference. I prefer to have all environment variables consistent across the different types of sessions, and it's less to maintain when all of those variables are defined in one file (i.e., ~/.bashrc). Dec 31, 2012 at 1:25
  • @ClaytonStanley thanks for the answer! it's been a while since i messed with this, but if i have to return to it and use your technique i may end up changing your answer to the accepted one. cheers!
    – aaronstacy
    Jan 3, 2013 at 17:55

this was very annoying. uncomment this line in config-top.h and rebuild:

/* Define this if you want bash to try to check whether it's being run by sshd and source the .bashrc if so (like the rshd behavior). This checks for the presence of SSH_CLIENT or SSH2_CLIENT in the initial environment, which can be fooled under certain not-uncommon circumstances. */


according the CHANGES in the source this behavior was changed in bash-2.05a-rc1. but the current man page still claims the previous behavior:

   Bash attempts to determine when it is being run with its standard input
   connected  to a a network connection, as if by the remote shell daemon,
   usually rshd, or the secure shell daemon sshd.  If bash  determines  it
   is  being  run  in  this  fashion,  it reads and executes commands from
   ~/.bashrc, if that file exists and is readable.  It will not do this if
   invoked as sh.  The --norc option may be used to inhibit this behavior,
   and the --rcfile option may be used to force another file to  be  read,
   but  rshd  does  not  generally  invoke the shell with those options or
   allow them to be specified.

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