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Editing remote scripts locally via SSH using SublimeText 3

Nowadays I conduct most of my work in servers, like Microsoft Azure. The two main methods for interacting with remote systems are either using SSH directly (ie. using Putty in Windows) or by tunneling X11 applications to use a GUI (something like Remote Desktop Environment).

Editing scripts through either of those methods is a pain in the ass, because you either do it via a laggy graphical interface or you edit directly within the command line using something like nano, which lacks syntax highlighting and other goodies. Both of these options suck, so I implemented a setup that works perfectly for me: edit remote text files locally using SublimeText 3 and have them automatically transferred via SSH onto the remote server.

SublimeText 3 (ST3) is a superb text editor that’s available for free on Windows, Mac and Linux. In a previous post I explained how to get ST3 up and running, and how to configure it in order to be able to edit R, Python, Stata, LaTeX and Julia scripts. For this post I’ll assume you have ST3 installed (including Package Control).

Initial configuration

  1. Fire up ST3 on your local machine and open the Package Control panel (Ctrl-Shift-P on Linux/Win; Cmd-Shift-P on Mac), type “install” and hit enter. Now search for the rsub package and hit enter again to install it.

  2. You must add a new forwarded port (52698) to your SSH connection. This process is different depending on your OS.


    Add the following option to your ssh command:
    -R 52698:localhost:52698

    For instance, if you normally connect to the machine by typing

    ssh <username>@<remotehost>

    where <remotehost> is the server address or IP, now you should type

    ssh -R 52698:localhost:52698 <username>@<remotehost>

    Of course, a much better alternative is to store these settings into your .ssh/config file. If you haven’t done this already, now may be a good time to do it. The cool thing about it is that you just choose an <alias> for the session and it will store and load all the necessary settings. Simply launch the terminal and run

    nano ~/.ssh/config

    You will see a blank file if you haven’t configured any SSH hosts. Write the following lines, filling in your own information in any fields that are written like <this>:

    host <alias>
    HostName <remotehost>
    User <username>
    RemoteForward 52698 localhost:52698

    Save with Ctrl+O and exit with Ctrl+X. The beauty of having configured your .ssh/config file is that now you can connect just by typing

    ssh <alias>

    Windows (Putty)

    If you’re using Windows I’ll assume you use Putty as your SSH client. Load your session and go to the Connection > SSH > Tunnels category. Write 52698 as “Source port” and localhost:52698 as “Destination”. Change the radio buttons below so that “Remote” is selected and click “Add”. You should see something like the screenshot below once the new forwarded port is added:

    Be sure to save these settings into your session before connecting to the remote system.

  3. Install rmate in the remote machine by executing these commands:
    sudo wget -O /usr/local/bin/rmate
    sudo chmod a+x /usr/local/bin/rmate


That’s it! You’re now ready to edit any remote text file locally. Just execute rmate <file> and the file will be seamlessly transferred through SSH and opened in ST3 (be sure to have it open). You can edit the file locally and each time you save it will be automatically transferred to the remote machine.

Multiple users on same server

If multiple users are going to log into the same remote machine and they both want to use rmate, then a few extra steps are needed. Failing to complete these will result in unwanted behavior, like having <userA> opening a text file in <userB>’s local machine. This issue has been documented in this SE question and in this issue, for instance.

Basically you need to alter two things to avoid this problem.

  1. Tunnel source port must be different for each user, so in step 2 above the SSH command for <userA|userB> would be
    ssh -R <52678|52679>:localhost:52698 <userA|userB>@<remotehost>

    In Windows this amounts to <userA|userB> typing <52678|52679> as the “Source port” in Putty’s SSH Tunnels window. Of course, one user could keep using the same default source port (ie. 52698), but any additional users must change it.

  2. Whenever <userA|userB> runs rmate in the remote machine, she must add the -p <52678|52679> flag. So the command to execute would be something like
    rmate -p <52678|52679> <file>