How to pass objects to remote system using SSH

Synopsis

This post shows how to create pipe channel over SSH. In particular, it demonstrates how to instantiate pipeline channel over SSH. We use this channel to pass an object to a remote system. This post shows two methods. One using named-pipe and the other using unnamed-pipe.

Motivation

We needed a simple mechanism to pass objects between hosts on a cluster. The goal was to have a secured process but without the need to establish and maintain ports for communications. Managing firewalls became bureaucratic headake. Therefore, we opt to use SSH as the security medium for the channel.

SSH Settings

Security needs to be arranged using SSH public and private keys. Moreover, the account under which SSH channel will be established should be set correctly so SSH invocation would include environment settings.

  1. Create ~/.ssh_profile:

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    # what ever setting needed, similar to .profile
    # and, source virtualenv for the connection
    source /path/to/virtualenv/bin/activate
    
  2. Update ~/.ssh/authorized_keys:

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

Note that there are multiple ways to accomplish what the above steps do. For example, you can remove the ability to get command prompt via SSH. Or you can source directly ~/.profile. The key requirement is to be able to send a command via SSH and have the environment for that command to be arranged automatically.

The object

This example uses simple object of class RemoteWorker that would be passed to a remote engine to be acted upon. RemoteWorker has a simple method, run() that writes 'Hello' to stdout.

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class RemoteWorker(object):
    def __init__(self):
        pass

    def run(self):
        print("Hello")

Using Named-pipe

Main program (below) starts with creating named-pipe (using mkfifo). It then forks a child process where SSH channel will be established. The child function remote_agent process starts sshagent_namedpipe.py which under SSH. This program will run on the remote host and will accept the object send to it by send_workload_to_agent function which is called by the parent process.

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from concepts.sshcmd import sshcmd
import pickle
import os
from concepts.sshtypes import RemoteWorker

def remote_agent(pipe_name, host, agentpy):
    pipein = open(pipe_name, 'rb')
    remote = sshcmd(host, "python " + agentpy, stdin=pipein)

    if remote.returncode != 0:
        raise Exception(remote.stderr.decode())
    return remote.stdout

def send_workload_to_agent(pipe_name):
    pipeout = open(pipe_name, 'wb')
    worker = RemoteWorker()
    workload = pickle.dumps(worker)
    pipeout.write(workload)

if __name__ == '__main__':
    mp.freeze_support()
    mp.set_start_method('spawn')

    pipe_name = 'ssh_pipe'

    if not os.path.exists(pipe_name):
        # creating namedpipe
        os.mkfifo(pipe_name)

    pid = os.fork()
    if pid == 0:
        # child process
        agent_dir = "/path/to/program/directory"
        agentpy = os.path.join(agent_dir, "sshagent_namedpipe.py")
        msg = remote_agent(pipe_name, '192.168.1.70', agentpy)
        print("from remote: %s" % msg.decode())
        exit()

    send_workload_to_agent(pipe_name)
    pid, status = os.waitpid(pid, os.WNOHANG)

Notes:

  1. sshagent_namedpipe.py is assumed to be installed on the remote host.
  2. remote_agent function opens named-pipe for reading and passes it to a remote process.
  3. sshcmd function establishes the SSH connection via subprocess (can be found here: sshcmd).
  4. local_host function opens named-pipe to write, pickles RemoteWorker object, and passes it to the pipe.
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import pickle
import sys

# need to import objects that would be passed with in
from concepts.sshtypes import RemoteWorker

workload = sys.stdin.buffer.read()
worker = pickle.loads(workload)
worker.run()

Notes:

  1. sshagent_namedpipe.py simply reads the pickled representation of RemoteWorker.
  2. it then invokes its run() method.

Using Pipe

The one drawback of named-pipe is that it leaves a footprint on the filesystem. That footprint of named-pipe needs to be taken care of. An alternative to named-pipe is a unnamed-pipe or just pipe. It's a bit more complicated to handle for passing objects via SSH, but not by too much.

The concept is similar; we need to create a pipe with reader and writer on its ends. This time we will use os.pipe(), instead of mkfifo.

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import pickle
import os
import struct
from concepts.sshcmd import sshcmd
from concepts.sshtypes import RemoteWorker

def get_pipe():
    pipein, pipeout = os.pipe()
    pipe_reader = os.fdopen(pipein, 'rb')
    pipe_writer = os.fdopen(pipeout, 'wb')
    return pipe_reader, pipe_writer

def remote_agent(host, agentpy, pipein):
    remote = sshcmd(host, "python " + agentpy, stdin=pipein)

    if remote.returncode != 0:
        print(remote.stderr.decode())

    return remote.stdout

def send_workload_to_agent(pipeout):
    worker = RemoteWorker()
    workload = pickle.dumps(worker)
    msgsize = len(workload)
    pipeout.write(struct.pack(">L", msgsize))
    pipeout.write(workload)

if __name__ == '__main__':
    mp.freeze_support()
    mp.set_start_method('spawn')

    pipein, pipeout = get_pipe()

    pid = os.fork()
    if pid == 0:
        # child process
        agent_dir = "/path/to/program/directory"
        agentpy = os.path.join(agent_dir, "sshagent_pipe.py")
        msg = remote_agent( '192.168.1.70', agentpy, pipein)
        print("from remote: %s" % msg.decode())
        exit()

    send_workload_to_agent(pipeout)
    pid, status = os.waitpid(pid, os.WNOHANG)

Notes:

  1. The function get_pipe() opens a pipe and creates reader and writer file descriptors to it. File descriptors allow the pipe to be treated as stdin and stdout respectively.
  2. The other main change is that send_workload_to_agent function sends the length of the pickled object before sending the object itself. The pickled object size is packed before sending it over.
  3. Last, the child process runs sshagent_pipe.py Instead of its sibling sshagent_namedpipe.py.
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import pickle
import sys
import struct
from concepts.sshtypes import RemoteWorker

msgsize_raw = sys.stdin.buffer.read(4)
msgsize = struct.unpack(">L", msgsize_raw)
workload = sys.stdin.buffer.read(msgsize[0])

worker = pickle.loads(workload)
worker.run()

Notes:

  1. The agent pipe version first reads and unpacks the size of the object being transferred.
  2. It then reads the pickled object and invokes its action.

Conclusion

Both named-pipe and pipe version of SSH object communication is workable. Both named-pipes and unnamed-pipes would do the job. My personal preference is the unnamed-pipe solution due to the absence of filesystem footprint.

However, os.fork and os.pipe are not supported on all platforms. This mechanism will work for Linux based systems (including os x), but not on Windows. Next post on this subject will show how to accomplish the same using Multiprocessing package which supports Windows.

References

ssh command: sshcmd

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