ubuntu ssh failed to start openbsd secure shell server

admin3 April 2024Last Update :

Unraveling the Mystery Behind Ubuntu SSH Service Woes: A Deep Dive into OpenBSD Secure Shell Server Troubleshooting

Welcome to an in-depth exploration of a common yet perplexing issue that many Ubuntu users encounter – the failure to start the OpenBSD Secure Shell (SSH) server. This article is crafted for system administrators, developers, and IT professionals who rely on secure remote connections to manage servers and applications. We will dissect the problem, explore its causes, and provide comprehensive solutions to get your SSH service up and running smoothly.

Understanding SSH and Its Importance in Ubuntu Systems

Secure Shell (SSH) is an essential protocol used for securely accessing network services over an unsecured network. In the world of Ubuntu, SSH is not just a luxury but a necessity for performing remote operations with enhanced security. The OpenBSD implementation of SSH, known as OpenSSH, is widely recognized for its robust encryption techniques, making it the go-to choice for secure remote logins, file transfers, and command execution.

The Role of SSH in Daily Operations

SSH plays a pivotal role in the daily operations of system administrators by providing:

  • A secure channel for executing commands on remote machines.
  • Encrypted file transfer capabilities through SCP and SFTP.
  • Tunneling support for forwarding TCP ports and X11 sessions.
  • Key-based authentication for password-less access to servers.

Dissecting the “Failed to Start OpenBSD Secure Shell Server” Error

When the SSH service fails to start on an Ubuntu system, it can bring productivity to a halt. Understanding the error message is crucial for diagnosing and resolving the issue effectively.

Common Causes of SSH Service Failure

The failure of the SSH service to start can be attributed to various factors, including:

  • Incorrect configuration files.
  • Port conflicts or improper firewall settings.
  • Corrupted SSH packages or missing dependencies.
  • Permission issues on key files and directories.

Step-by-Step Guide to Resolving SSH Service Startup Issues

Let’s walk through a systematic approach to troubleshoot and fix the SSH service startup problems on Ubuntu systems.

Verifying SSH Configuration Files

One of the first steps in troubleshooting is to check the SSH configuration files for any syntax errors or misconfigurations. The primary configuration file for the SSH daemon is located at /etc/ssh/sshd_config. Use the following command to test the configuration:

sudo sshd -t

If there are any errors, they will be displayed, and you can proceed to correct them accordingly.

Checking for Port Conflicts and Firewall Settings

SSH typically runs on port 22. If another service is using this port or if the firewall is blocking it, the SSH service will fail to start. Use the following command to check for listening ports:

sudo netstat -tulpn | grep :22

Ensure that no other service is using port 22 and that your firewall rules allow traffic on this port.

Inspecting SSH Package Integrity

Corrupted SSH packages can also lead to service startup failures. To check the integrity of the SSH packages and reinstall if necessary, use the following commands:

sudo apt-get purge openssh-server
sudo apt-get install openssh-server

This process will remove and then reinstall the SSH server package, potentially fixing any corruption issues.

Ensuring Proper Permissions

Incorrect permissions on SSH key files and directories can prevent the service from starting. Ensure that the permissions are set correctly using the following commands:

sudo chmod 700 /etc/ssh/sshd_config
sudo chmod 600 /etc/ssh/ssh_host_*

These commands set the appropriate read and write permissions for the configuration file and host keys.

Advanced Troubleshooting Techniques

For more persistent issues, advanced troubleshooting may be required. This includes delving into system logs, enabling verbose mode during SSH startup, and checking for SELinux context issues.

Analyzing System Logs for Clues

System logs can provide valuable insights into why the SSH service failed to start. Check the logs using the following command:

journalctl -u ssh.service

Look for any error messages that could indicate the root cause of the problem.

Enabling Verbose Mode During SSH Startup

To get more detailed information during the SSH service startup, you can enable verbose mode by editing the systemd service file for SSH:

sudo systemctl edit ssh.service

Add the following lines to override the default service configuration:

ExecStart=/usr/sbin/sshd -D -e

Then restart the SSH service and observe the output for any errors:

sudo systemctl restart ssh.service

Checking SELinux Contexts

If you’re running SELinux, incorrect contexts on SSH-related files can prevent the service from starting. Use the following command to restore the proper contexts:

restorecon -Rv /etc/ssh

This command will recursively apply the correct SELinux contexts to the SSH configuration directory.

Frequently Asked Questions

What should I do if my SSH service still won’t start after following these steps?

If the SSH service continues to fail, consider seeking help from community forums, professional support channels, or consulting with a system administrator experienced in Linux troubleshooting.

Can I change the default SSH port to enhance security?

Yes, changing the default SSH port can be a security measure to avoid automated attacks. You can do this by editing the /etc/ssh/sshd_config file and changing the ‘Port’ directive to a non-standard port number.

How can I ensure my SSH service starts automatically after a reboot?

To ensure the SSH service starts automatically, enable it using the following command:

sudo systemctl enable ssh.service

Is it safe to disable password authentication for SSH?

Disabling password authentication and using key-based authentication can significantly improve security. However, make sure you have set up and tested key-based authentication before disabling password authentication.


In conclusion, while encountering a “failed to start OpenBSD Secure Shell server” error can be frustrating, understanding the underlying causes and methodically applying the troubleshooting steps outlined in this article can help resolve the issue. By ensuring proper configuration, checking for port conflicts, verifying package integrity, and setting correct permissions, you can restore secure remote access to your Ubuntu system. Remember to consult system logs and seek community support when needed, and always keep security best practices in mind when managing SSH services.


  • OpenSSH Project: https://www.openssh.com/
  • Ubuntu Documentation: https://ubuntu.com/server/docs
  • SSH Man Pages: http://manpages.ubuntu.com/manpages/latest/en/man1/ssh.1.html
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