tsshbatch / tsshbatch.rst


tsshbatch - Run Commands On Batches Of Machines


tsshbatch is a powerful tool for automating activities on many servers at a time. This also gives you to power to make many mistakes at a time! This is especially true if you have sudo privilege promotion capabilities on the systems in your care. So be careful out there!

We therefore STRONGLY recommend you do the following things to mitigate this risk:

  • Read This Fine Manual from beginning to end.
  • Practice using tsshbatch on test machines or VMs that can easily be recovered or reimaged if you break someting.
  • Make heavy use of test mode (which is the default) to see what the program would do if it actually ran in execution mode.

SYNOPSIS [-EKLNSTWaehkqrstvxy -G 'file dest' -P 'file dest' -f cmdfile -l logfile -n name -p pw ] -H 'host ..' -i 'hostfile ...' [command arg ... ]


tsshbatch is a tool to enable you to issue a command to many hosts without having to log into each one separately. When writing scripts, this overcomes the ssh limitation of not being able to specify the password on the command line.

You can also use tsshbatch to GET and PUT files from- and to many hosts at once.

tsshbatch also understands basic sudo syntax and can be used to access a host, sudo a command, and then exit.

tsshbatch thus allows you to write complex, hands-off scripts that issue commands to many hosts without the tedium of manual login and sudo promotion. System administrators, especially, will find this helpful when working in large server farms.


tsshbatch supports a variety of options which can be specified on either the command line or in the $TSSHBATCH environment variable:

-B Print start, stop, and elapsed execution time statistics. This does not include any time spent for interactive prompting and response, but reflects actual program runtime. (Default: Off)
-C configfile Specify the location of the ssh configuration file. (Default: ~/.ssh/config)

Normally, tsshbatch writes it's own errors to stderr. It also writes the stderr output from each host it contacts to the local shell's stderr (unless the -e option has been selected).

The -E option redirects any such tsshbatch output intended for stderr to stdout instead. This avoids the need to do things like 2>&1 | ...` on the command line when you want to pipe all ``tsshbatch output to another program.

-F strings

This will examine every file on the host- or command paths, looking for matching strings within these files. Matches will report the file name, the location within the file, and the line containing any of the specified strings.

This is a simple, case-insensitive string literal match and does not support regular expressions.

This is handy when you're looking for a host name or command string, say like, sudo and you don't want to have to manually go through all your support files.

-K Force prompting for passwords. This is used to override a prior -k argument.
-G spec

GET file on host and write local dest directory. spec is a quoted pair of strings. The first specifies the path of the source file (on the remote machine) to copy. The second, specifies the destination directory (on the local machine): -G "/foo/bar/baz /tmp" -i hostlist

This copies /foo/bar/baz from every machine in host file to the local /tmp/ directory. Since all the files have the same name, they would overwrite each other if copied into the same directory. So, tsshbatch prepends the string hostname- to the name of each file it saves locally.

-H hostlist

List of hosts on which to run the command. This should be enclosed in quotes so that the list of hosts is handed to the -H option as a single argument:

-H 'host1 host2 host3'

This option may appear on the command line multiple times. The hosts will be processed in the order in which they appeared on the command line.

-L List names of all (if any) host- and command files found on their respective search paths. These are listed in the order they are found on those paths.
-N Force interactive username dialog. This cancels any previous request for key exchange authentication.
-P spec

PUT file from local machine to remote machine destination directory. spec is a quoted pair of strings. The first specifies the path of the source file (on the local machine) to copy. The second, specifies the destination directory (on the remote machine): -P "/foo/bar/baz /tmp" -i hostlist

This copies /foo/bar/baz on the local machine to /tmp/ on every host in hostlist.

-S Force prompting for sudo password.
-T seconds Set timeout for ssh connection attempts. (Default: 15 seconds)
-V strings Similar to the -F command but with the inverse logic. Reports the names of all host- and command files that do not contain any of the specified strings.

Print out a single line list of the inventory that would be processed and exit. (Test mode only - Ignored in execution mode.)

This allows you to embed tsshbatch in external shell scripts like this:

for server in $( -i devserverlist -i uatserverlist -W)
  ssh $server

Why? Because tsshbatch has lots of powerful ways to maintain inventories of hosts and combine them through includes and multiple command line arguments. The -W option makes it convenient for external programs to make use of those inventory features.

-a Don't abort program after failed file transfers. Continue to next transfer attempt. (Default: Abort)
-b Don't abort program after failed sudo command. Normally, any sudo failure causes immediate program termination. This switch tells tsshbatch to continue processing on the next host even if such a failure occurs. This allows processing to continue for those hosts where sudo does work correctly. This is helpful in large environments where sudo is either improperly configured on some hosts or has a different password. This can also be used to discover where sudo does- and does not work correctly.
-e Don't report remote host stderr output.
-f cmdfile Read commands from a file. This file can be commented freely with the # character. Leading- and trailing whitespace on a line are ignored.
-h Print help information.
-i hostfiles

Specify which files to read to get a list of desired hosts to target. This option may be repeated on the command line and may also be followed with a quoted list of such files. The following are equivalent: -i devservers -i uatservers ... -i "devservers uatservers" ...

The -H and -i options can be freely combined and repated on the command line to create custom host lists made up of both known inventory and specific, individual hosts.

-k Use ssh keys instead of name/password credentials.
-l logfile Log diagnostic output to logfile. (Default: /dev/null)
-n name Login name to use.
-p pw Password to use when logging in and/or doing sudo.
-q Quiet mode - produce less noisy output. Turns off -y.
-r Suppress reporting of start/stop statistics. This allows you to make statistics reporting the default, say via the $TSSHBATCH environment variable, but override it when you need to.
-s Silence all program noise - only return command output. Applies only to command operations. File transfer and error reporting, generally, are unaffected.
-t Test mode: Only show what would be done but don't actually do it. This also prints diagnostic information about any variable definitions, the list of hosts, any GET and PUT requests, and final command strings after all variable substitutions have been applied. This is the default program behavior.
-v Print detailed program version information and exit.
-x Override any previous -t specifications and actually execute the commands. This is useful if you want to put -t in the $TSSHBATCH environment variable so that the default is always run the program in test mode. Then, when you're ready to actually run commands, you can override it with -x on the command line.
-y Turn on 'noisy' reporting for additional detail on every line, instead of just at the top of the stdout and stderr reporting. This is helpful when you are filtering the output through something like grep that only returns matching lines and thus no context information. Turns off -q.

The last entry on the command line is optional and defines a command to run. tsshbatch will attempt to execute it on every host you've specified either via -H or a host file: -Hmyhost ls -al /etc

This will do a ls -al /etc on myhost.

Be careful when using metacharacters like &&, <<, >>, <, > and so on in your commands. You have to escape and quote them properly or your local shell will interfere with them being properly conveyed to the remote machine.

tsshbatch does all the GETs, then all the PUTs before attempting to do any command processing. If no GETs, PUTs, or commands have been specified, tsshbatch will exit silently, since "nothing to do" really isn't an error.


tsshbatch respects the $TSSHBATCH environment variable. You may set this variable with any options above you commonly use to avoid having to key them in each time you run the program. For example:

export TSSHBATCH="-n jluser -p l00n3y"

This would cause all subsequent invocations of tsshbatch to attempt to use the login name/password credentials of jluser and l00n3y respectively.

tsshbatch also supports searching for files over specified paths with the $TSSHBATCHCMDS and $TSSHBATCHHOSTS environment variables. Their use is described later in this document.


tsshbatch has limited support for ssh configuration files. Only the HostName and IdentityFile directives are currently supported.

By default, tsshbatch will look in ~/.ssh/config for this configuration file. However, the location of the file can be overriden with the -C option.


Although you can specify a list of target hosts with one or more -H "host host host" command line options, this gets cumbersome when you have to manage a large inventory of machines. This is what "host files" are intended to do.

Host files are files that name a host, one per line. They may contain comments, include other host files, and make reference to previously defined variables. Here's an example, let's call it stage-servers:

# Example staging host list

.define __EXTERNAL__ =

Say you'd like to get the uptime for each of these servers: -x -i stage-servers uptime

You can have more than one of these on a command line: -x -i dev-servers -i stage-servers -i prod-servers uptime

But ... that's kind of clumsy. Instead let's create a new host file called all-servers like this:

# Master host list

.include dev-servers
.include stage=servers
.include prod-servers

Now our command looks like this: -x -i all-servers uptime

You can put as many -i arguments as you wish on the command line. The contents of these files will be run in the order they appear from left-to-right on the command line.

You can organize your host files in any hierarchy you like by making use of search paths, as described later in this document.

The use of host files, the -H command line option, .includes, and variable substitution, give tsshbatch a very powerful way to manage complex host inventories. There may be times when you'd like to select a subset of that inventory but run some other program with those host names. This is most commonly the case when you'd like to interactively ssh into each host for some reason.

That's what the -W command line option is for. tsshbatch computes the inventory you've specified, spits it out as single line of text and exits, thereby enabling things like this:

for server in $( -i dev-servers -i dr-servers -W)
  ssh $server

This allows you to do all your intentory management via tsshbatch constructs, but make use of it with any other program of your choosing.


Although tsshbatch accepts command to be run on each host on its own command line, this gets cumbersome for multi-step activities. The -f option allows you to specify one or more "command files" that list the things you want done, in order.

Command files may include other command files, make use of variables, and even specify sudo commands. For example:

# This is a comment
.include master_commands  # optional, can be repeated
command1                  # a command to run on each host
sudo foo                  # run foo with sudo promotion on each host

Notice that this is not the same thing as a shell script. There are no conditionals or other programming features. The contents of a command file are more-or-less a "to do" list for each host. If your job requires the complexity of a "real" language, write script in the language of your choice, and then make reference to that script in a command file.

If you've specified a command file containing the commands you want run via the -f option, these commands will run before the command you've defined on the command line. That one is always the last command run on each host.

Command files may freely make use of comments and variable definitions as described below. They also have a special directive available, .notify. This directive tells tsshbatch to print descriptive messages to stdout as the commands in the file are executed on a remote host. This is helpful when running long, complex jobs:

# Example cmdfile

.include /my/fine/options
.define __JOB_NAME__
.notify starting JOB_NAME processing
.notify starting phase 2 of __JOB_NAME__

Notifications are entirely optional and do not run on the remote host. Think of them as runtime comments emitted by tsshbatch to help you know what's going on. Notifications are supressed if you select silent operation (-s).

You can also specify file transfers within a command file. See the section below on file transfers for all the details.

You can put as many -f arguments as you wish on the command line. The contents of these files will be run in the order they appeare from left-to-right on the command line.

You can organize your command files in any hierarchy you like by making use of search paths, as described later in this document.


Over time, you will probably build up a large set of host files for describing your inventory and command files for standard jobs you run often. It's convenient to search through them quickly when you're looking for something specific.

The -L command line option just lists every host file and command file tsshbatch knows about on all defined search paths. This is handy if you want to examine your hierarchy of files.

The -F string string ... command line option looks through all your host and command files and returns the names of those that contain any of the strings you've listed. The match is case-insensitive and literal - no regular expressions are supported.

The -V string string ... command line option is the inverse of -F. It returns a list of host and command files that do not contain the strings you specify. Again, the match is literal and case-insensitive.


The sections below describe the various features of tsshbatch in more detail as well as common use scenarios.

Different Ways To Specify Targeted Hostnames

There are two ways to specify the list of hosts on which you want to run the specified command:

  • On the command line via the -H option: -H 'hostA hostB' uname -a

    This would run the command uname -a on the hosts hostA and hostB respectively.

    Notice that the list of hosts must be separated by spaces but passed as a single argument. Hence we enclose them in single quotes.

  • Via a host list file: myhosts df -Ph

    Here, tsshbatch expects the file myhosts to contain a list of hosts, one per line, on which to run the command df -Ph. As an example, if you want to target the hosts larry, curly and moe in, myhosts would look like this:

    This method is handy when there are standard "sets" of hosts on which you regularly work. For instance, you may wish to keep a host file list for each of your production hosts, each of your test hosts, each of your AIX hosts, and so on.

    You may use the # comment character freely throughout a host list file to add comments or temporarily comment out a particular host line.

    You can even use the comment character to temporarily comment out one or most hosts in the list given to the -H command line argument. For example: -H "foo #bar baz" ls

    This would run the ls command on hosts foo and baz but not bar. This is handy if you want to use your shell's command line recall to save typing but only want to repeat the command for some of the hosts your originally Specified.

Authentication Using Name And Password

The simplest way to use tsshbatch is to just name the hosts can command you want to run: linux-prod-hosts uptime

By default, tsshbatch uses your login name found in the $USER environment variable when logging into other systems. In this example, you'll be prompted only for your password which tsshbatch will then use to log into each of the machines named in linux-prod-hosts. (Notice that his assumes your name and password are the same on each host!)

Typing in your login credentials all the time can get tedious after awhile so tsshbatch provides a means of providing them on the command line: -n joe.luser -p my_weak_pw linux-prod-hosts uptime

This allows you to use tsshbatch inside scripts for hands-free operation.

If your login name is the same on all hosts, you can simplify this further by defining it in the environment variable:

export TSSHBATCH="-n joe.luser"

Any subsequent invocation of tsshbatch will only require a password to run.

HOWEVER, there is a huge downside to this - your plain text password is exposed in your scripts, on the command line, and possibly your command history. This is a pretty big security hole, especially if you're an administrator with extensive privileges. (This is why the ssh program does not support such an option.) For this reason, it is strongly recommended that you use the -p option sparingly, or not at all. A better way is to push ssh keys to every machine and use key exchange authentication as described below.

However, there are times when you do have use an explicit password, such as when doing sudo invocations. It would be really nice to use -p and avoid having to constantly type in the password. There are two strategies for doing this more securely than just entering it in plain text on the command line:

  • Temporarily store it in the environment variable:

    export TSSHBATCH="-n joe.luser -p my_weak_pw"

    Do this interactively after you log in, not from a script (otherwise you'd just be storing the plain text password in a different script). The environment variable will persist as long as you're logged in and disappear when you log out.

    If you use this just make sure to observe three security precautions:

    1. Clear your screen immediately after doing this so no one walking by can see the password you just entered.
    2. Configure your shell history system to ignore commands beginning with export TSSHBATCH. That way your plain text password will never appear in the shell command history.
    3. Make sure you don't leave a logged in session unlocked so that other users could walk up and see your password by displaying the environment.

    This approach is best when you want your login credentials available for the duration of an entire login session.

  • Store your password in an encrypted file and decrypt it inline.

    First, you have to store your password in an encrypted format. There are several ways to do this, but gpg is commonly used:

    echo "my_weak_pw" | gpg -c >mysecretpw

    Provide a decrypt passphrase, and you're done.

    Now, you can use this by decrypting it inline as needed:

    # A demo scripted use of tsshbatch with CLI password passing
    MYPW=`cat mysecretpw | gpg`   # User will be prompted for unlock passphrase -n joe.luser -p $MYPW -i hostlist1 command1 arg -n joe.luser -p $MYPW -i hostlist2 command2 arg -n joe.luser -p $MYPW -i hostlist3 command3 arg

    This approach is best when you want your login credentials available for the duration of the execution of a script. It does require the user to type in a passphrase to unlock the encrypted password file, but your plain text password never appears in the wild.

Authentication Using Key Exchange

For most applications of tsshbatch, it is much simpler to use key-based authentication. For this to work, you must first have pushed ssh keys to all your hosts. You then instruct tsshbatch to use key-based authentication rather than name and password. Not only does this eliminate the need to constantly provide name and password, it also eliminates passing a plain text password on the command line and is thus far more secure. This also overcomes the problem of having different name/password credentials on different hosts.

By default, tsshbatch will prompt for name and password if they are not provided on the command line. To force key- authentication, use the -k option: -k AIX-prod-hosts ls -al

This is so common that you may want to set it in your $TSSHBATCH environment variable so that keys are used by default. If you do this, there may still be times when you want for force prompting for passwords rather than using keys. You can do this with the -K option which effectively overrides any prior -k selection.

Executing A sudo Command

tsshbatch is smart enough to handle commands that begin with the sudo command. It knows that such commands require a password no matter how you initially authenticate to get into the system. If you provide a password - either via interactive entry or the -p option - by default, tsshbatch will use that same password for sudo promotion.

If you provide no password - you're using -k and have not provided a password via -p - tsshbatch will prompt you for the password sudo should use.

You can force tsshbatch to ask you for a sudo password with the -S option. This allows you to have one password for initial login, and a different one for sudo promotion.

Any time you a prompted for a sudo password and a login password has been provided (interactive or -p), you can accept this as the sudo password by just hitting Enter.


tsshbatch makes a reasonable effort to scan your command line and/or command file contents to spot explicit invocations of the form sudo .... It will ignore these if they are inside single- or double quoted strings, on the assumption that you're quoting the literal string sudo ... for some other purpose.

However, this is not perfect because it is not a full reimplementation of the shell quoting and aliasing features. For example, if you invoke an alias on the remote machine that resolves to a sudo command, or you run a script with a sudo command in it, tsshbatch has no way to determine what you're trying to do. For complex applications, it's best to write a true shell script, push it all the machines in question via -P, and then have tsshbatch remotely invoke it with sudo myscript or something similar.

As always, the best way to figure out what the program thinks you're asking for is to run it in test mode and look at the diagnostic output.

Precedence Of Authentication Options

tsshbatch supports these various authentication options in a particular heirarchy using a "first match wins" scheme. From highest to lowest, the precedence is:

  1. Key exchange
  2. Forced prompting for name via -N. Notice this cancels any previously requested key exchange authentication.
  3. Command Line/$TSSHBATCH environment variable sets name
  4. Name picked up from $USER (Default behavior)

If you try to use Key Exchange and tsshbatch detects a command beginning with sudo, it will prompt you for a password anyway. This is because sudo requires a password to promote privilege.

File Transfers

The -G and -P options specify file GET and PUT respectively. Both are followed by a quoted file transfer specification in the form:

"path-to-source-file path-to-destination-directory"

Note that this means the file will always be stored under its original name in the destination directory. Renaming isn't possible during file transfer.

However, tsshbatch always does GETs then PUTs then any outstanding command (if any) at the end of the command line. This permits things like renaming on the remote machine after a PUT: -P "foo ./" -i hostlist mv -v foo

GETs are a bit of a different story because you are retrieving a file of the same name on every host. To avoid having all but the last one clobber the previous one, tsshbatch makes forces the files you GET to be uniquely named by prepending the hostname and a "-" to the actual file name: -H myhost -G "foo ./"

This saves the file myhost-foo in the ./ on your a local machine.

These commands do not recognize any special directory shortcut symbols like ~/ like the shell interpreter might. You must name file and directory locations using ordinary pathing conventions. You can put as many of these requests on the command line as you like to enable GETs and PUTs of multiple files. You cannot, however, use filename wildcards to specify multi-file operations.

You can put multiple GETs or PUTs on the command line for the same file. They do not override each other but are cummulative. So this: -P"foo ./" -P"foo /tmp" ...

Would put local file foo in both ./ and /tmp on each host specified. Similarly, you can specify multiple files to GET from remote hosts and place them in the same local directory: -G"/etc/fstab ./tmp" -G"/etc/rc.conf ./tmp" ...

You may also put file transfer specifications into a command file via the .getfile and .putfile directives. This is handy when you have many to do and don't want to clutter up the command line. Each must be on its own line in the command file and in the same form as if it were provided on the command line:

.getfile /path/to/srcfile destdir    # This will get a file
.putfile /path/to/srcfile destdir    # This will put a file

File transfers are done in the order they appear. For instance, if you have a file transfer specification on the command line and then make reference to a command file with a file transfer specification in it, the one on the command line gets done first.


Keep in mind that tsshbatch always processes file transfers before executing any commands, no matter what order they appear in the command file. If you have this in a command file:

echo "Test"
.putfile "./myfile /foo/bar/baz/"

The file will be transferred before the echo command gets run. This can be counterintuitive. It's therefore recommended that you put your file transfers into a single file, and .include it as the first thing in your command file to make it obvious that these will be run first.

By default, tsshbatch aborts if any file transfer fails. This is unlike the case of failed commands which are reported but do not abort the program. The rationale' for this is that you may be doing both file transfer and command execution with a single tsshbatch invocation, and the commands may depend on a file being transfered first.

If you are sure no such problem exists, you can use the -a option to disable abort-after-failure semantics on file transfer. In this case, file transfer errors will be reported, but tsshbatch will continue on to the next transfer request.

tsshbatch does preserve permissions when transferring files. Obviously, for this to work, the destination has to be writable by the ID you're logging in with.


The file transfer logic cannot cope with filenames that contain spaces. The workaround is to either temporarily rename them, or put them in a container like a tarball or zip file and transfer that instead.


Both the command file and host file can be freely commented using the # character. Everything from that character to the end of that line is ignored. Similarly, you can use whitespace freely, except in cases where it would change the syntax of a command or host name.


You may also include other files as you wish with the .include filename directive anywhere in the command file or host file. This is useful for breaking up long lists of things into smaller parts. For example, suppose you have three host lists, one for each major production areas of your network:


You might typically run different tsshbatch jobs on each of these sets of hosts. But suppose you now want to run a job on all of them. Instead of copying them all into a master file (which would be instantly obsolete if you changed anything in one of the above files), you could create hosts-all with this content:

.include hosts-development
.include hosts-stage
.include hosts-production

that way if you edited any of the underlying files, the hosts-all would reflect the change.

Similarly you can do the same thing with the command file to group similar commands into separate files and include them.

tsshbatch does not enforce a limit on how deeply nested .includes can be. An included file can include another file and so on. However, if a circular include is detected, the program will notify you and abort. This happens if, say, file1 includes file2, file2 includes file3, and file3 includes file1. This would create an infinite loop of includes if permitted. You can, of course, include the same file multiple times, either in a single file or throughout other included files, so long as no circular include is created.

The target of a .include directive can also contain variable references. Note, however, that references to builtin variables will fail unless you have overriden them. Why? Because builtins don't get defined until a host connection is attempted. This doesn't happen until after all global variable processing and file includes have been done. So:

.define MYINCLUDE = /some/fine/file                    # OK
.include MYINCLUDE

.define MYINCLUDE = ! find /some/path -name includeski # OK
.include MYINCLUDE

.include __HOSTNAME__   # Nope, not defined yet -
                        # tries to include file called '__HOSTNAME__'

.define __HOSTNAME__ ! hostname  # Override the builtin
.include __HOSTNAME__                                   # OK

As a matter of keeping things simple, stick to global variables as part of an .include target.

Search Paths

tsshbatch supports the ablity to search paths to find files you've referenced. The search path for cmdfiles is specified in the $TSSHBATCHCMDS environment variable. The hostlistfiles search path is specified in the $TSSHBATCHHOSTS environment variable. These are both in standard path delimited format for your operating system. For example, on Unix-like systems these look like this:

export TSSHBATCHCMDS="/usr/local/etc/.tsshbatch/commands:/home/me/.tsshbatch/commands"

And so forth.

These paths are honored both for any files you specify on the command line as well as for any files you reference in a .include directive. This allows you to maintain libraries of standard commands and host lists in well known locations and .include the ones you need.

tsshbatch will always first check to see if a file you've specified is in your local (invoking) directory and/or whether it is a fully qualified file name before attempting to look down a search path. If a file exist in several locations, the first instance found "wins". So, for instance, if you have a file called myhosts somewhere in the path defined in $TSSHBATCHHOSTS, you can override it by creating a file of same name in your current working directory.

tsshbatch also checks for so-called "circular includes" which would cause an infinite inclusion loop. It will abort upon discovering this, prior to any file transfers or commands being executed.

An Overview Of Variables

As you become more sophisticated in your use of tsshbatch, you'll begin to see the same patterns of use over and over again. Variables are a way for you to use "shortcuts" to reference long strings without having to type the whole string in every time. So, for example, instead of having to type in a command like this:

myfinecommand -X -Y -x because this is a really long string

You can just define variable like this:

.define __MYCMD__ =  myfinecommand -X -Y -x because this is a really long string

From then on, instead of typing in that long command on the command line or in a command file, you can just use __MYCMD__ and tsshbatch will substitute the string as you defined it whenever it encounters the variable.

Variables can be used pretty much everwhere:

  • In hostlistfiles or in the hostnames listed with -H:

    .define __MYDOMAIN__ =
    #.define __MYDOMAIN__ =

    Now you can switch tsshbatch operation from stage to prod simply by changing what is commented out at the beginning.

  • In file transfer specifications: -xP"./fstab-__MYHOSTNAME__  ./" -i hostlist -xG"/etc/__OSNAME__-release ./" -i hostlist
  • In cmdfiles:

    .define __SHELL__ = /usr/local/bin/bash
    __SHELL__ -c myfinescript


A variable can have pretty much any name you like excepting the use of metacharacters like < or !. But if you are not careful, you can cause unintended errors:

.define foo = Slop

When you run tsshbatch it will then turn the server name into - probably not what you want.

So, it's a Really Good Idea (tm) to use some kind of naming scheme to make variables names stand out and make them unlikely to conflict accidentally with command- and host strings.

Types Of Variables

tsshbatch has four different kinds of variables:

  • Global Variables are the kind in the example above. You, the user, define them as you wish in a command file or host file.
  • Local Variables work exactly the same a global variables, except that they can only be used in the file (command- or host) in which they are defined. These variables are defined with the .local name = value syntax.
  • Execution Variables run any program or script of your choosing (on the same machine you're running tsshbatch) and assign the results to either a global- or locala variable.
  • Builtin Variables are variables the tsshbatch itself defines. You can override their default values by creating a Global Variable of the same name.

Where And When Do Variables Get Processed?

Global, Local, and Execution Variables are defined in either a host file or command file.

Builtin Variables are defined within tsshbatch itself unless you override them.

Global Variables are all read in and then used. If you do something like this:

.define __FOO__ = firstfoo
echo __FOO__
.define __FOO__ = secondfoo

You'll get an output of ... secondfoo! Why? Because before tsshbatch tries to run anything, it has to process all the cmdfiles, host file, and the command line content. So, before we ever get around to doing an echo __FOO__ on some host, the second definition of __FOO__ has been read in ... and last definition wins.

Local Variables are read in as a command- or host file is processed. They can only be referenced within the same file - i.e., They are not visible to any other file.

Execution Variables are processed a single time at the time they're read in from a command file or host file.

Builtin Variables get evaluated every time ``tsshbatch`` prepares to connect to a new host (unless you've overriden them). That way, the most current value for them is available for use on the next host.

Keep in mind that tsshbatch isn't a programming language. It's "variables" are simple string substitutions with "last one wins" semantics (for globals). If you define the same global variable in, say, a command file and also in the host file, the latter will "win". Why? Because hostlistfiles are always read in after any cmdfiles.

Finally, variable references in a definition are ignored. Say you do this in a command file:

.define __CLEVER      __ = __REALLYCLEVER__
.define __REALLYCLEVER__ = Not That Smart
echo __CLEVER__

You will get this output, __REALLYCLEVER__! Why? Because, the variable references on the right side of a definition statement are never replaced. This is a concious design choice to keep variable definition and use as simple and obvious as possible. Allowing such "indirect" definitions opens up a treasure trove of maintenance pain you really want to avoid. Trust us on this one.

Global Variables

tsshbatch allows you to define variables which will then be used to replace matching strings in cmdfiles, hostlistfiles, and file transfer specifications. For example, suppose you have this in a host file:



At runtime, the program will actually connect to,, and so on. This allows for ease of modularization and maintenance of your files.

Similarly, you might want define MYCMD=some_long_string so you don't have to type some_long_string over and over again in a command file.

There are some "gotchas" to this:

  • The general form of a variable definition is:

    .define name = value

    You have to have a name but the value is optional. .define FOO= simply replaces any subsequent FOO strings with nothing, effectively removing them.

    Any = symbols to the right of the one right after name are just considered part of the variable's value.

    Whitespace around the = symbol is optional but allowed.

  • Variables are substituted in the order they appear:

    .define LS = ls -alr
    LS /etc               # ls -alr /etc
    .define LS = ls -1
    LS /foo               # ls -1 /foo
  • Variable names and values are case sensitive.

  • Variables may be defined in either cmdfiles or hostlistfiles but they are visible to any subsequent file that gets read. For instance, cmdfiles are read before any hostlistfiles. Any variables you've defined in a command file that happen to match a string in one of your hostnames will be substituted.

    This is usually not what you want, so be careful. One way to manage this is to use variables names that are highly unlikely to ever show up in a hostname or command. That way your commands and hostnames will not accidentally get substrings replaced with variable values. For example, you might use variable names like --MYLSCOMMAND-- or __DISPLAY_VGS__.

  • Variable substitution is also performed on any host names or commands passed on the command line.

Local Variables

As we saw previously, global variables have "last one wins" semantics. So, if the same variable name appears in different files, the last instance read will be the value assigned to that variable. Sometimes, you don't want this behavior. You want to define a variable in a file and only use it there without changing a global variable with the same name.

Say we have three files:

# First command file
.define __DEFAULT__ = ls -al  # global variable

# Second command file
.local __DEFAULT__ = ls -1    # variable is local to 2nd file

# Third command file

Now, say we run this command: -xH"somehost" -f file1 -f file2 -f file3

The net commands to be run on somehost will be:

ls -1
ls -al

The reference to __DEFAULT in file2 is resolved with the local definition, and the reference in file3 is resolved with the global definition.

Local variables accompish several things. First, they "insulate" a host- or command file from prior- or subsequent variable definitions found in other files. You are guaranteed that the local copy of a varaible always "wins".

Conversely, local variables also protect global variables of the same name from changing. In the example above, we have default behavior which can be overriden in a case-by-case basis, without changing the "master" definition.

Execution Variables

Execution Variables are actually a special case of Global and Local Variables. That is, they are evaluated at the same time and in the same manner as any other variable. The difference is that a normal variable describes a literal string replacement. But an Execution Variable runs a command, program, or script and assigns the results to the variable.

For example, suppose you want create a file on many machines, and you want that file to be named based on who ran the tsshbatch job. You might do this in a command file:

.define __WHOAMI__ = ! whoami
touch __WHOAMI__-Put_This_Here.txt

So, if ID luser is running tsshbatch, a file called luser-Put_This_Here.txt will be created (or have its timestamp updated) on every machine in the host file or named with -H.

Similarly, you can do the same thing with local variables:

.local __TYPE__ = ! uname

Notice it is the ! character that distinguishes an Execution Variable from a Global Variable. It is this character that tells tsshbatch, "Go run the command to the right of me and return the results." The trailing space is optional and the definition could be written as:

.define __WHOAMI__ = !whoami

If the command you specify returns multiple lines of output, it's up to you to process it properly. tsshbatch does no newline stripping or other postprocessing of the command results. This can make the output really "noisy". tssbatch normally reports a summary of the command and its results. But if you do something like this:

.define __LS__ = ! ls -al
echo __LS__

You will get a multiline summary of the command and then the actual output - which is also multiline. This gets to be obnonxious pretty quickly. You can make a lot of this go away with the -q, or "quiet" option.


It's important to remember that the program you are invoking runs on the same machine as tsshbatch itself, NOT each host you are sending commands to. In other words, just like Builtin Variables, Execution Variables are locally defined.

Builtin Variables

As noted previously, Builtin Variables are created by tsshbatch itself. They are created for each new host connection so that things like time, host number, and hostname are up-to-date.

As of this release, tsshbatch supports the following Builtins:

__DATE__ Date in YYYYMMDD format
__DATETIME__ Date and time in YYYYMMDDHHMMSS format
__HOSTNAME__ Full name of current host as passed to tsshbatch
__HOSTNUM__ Count of host being processed, starting at 1
__HOSTSHORT__ Leftmost component of hostname as passed to tsshbatch
__LOGINNAME__ User name used for remote login. For key auth, name of tsshbatch user.
__TIME__ Time in HHMMSS format

Using Builtin Variables

There are times when it's convenient to be able to embed the name of the current host in either a command or in a file transfer specification. For example, suppose you want to use a single invocation of tsshbatch to transfer files in a host-specific way. You might name your files like this:


Now, all you have to do is this: -xH "host 1 host2" -P "myfile.__HOSTNAME__ ./"

When run, tsshbatch will substitute the name of the current host in place of the string __HOSTNAME__. (Note that these are **double* underbars on each side of the string.*)

You can do this in commands (and commands within command files) as well: -x hosts 'echo I am running on __HOSTNAME__'

Be careful to escape and quote things properly, especially from the the command line, since < and > are recognized by the shell as metacharacters.

There are two forms of host name substitution possible. The first, __HOSTNAME__ will use the name as you provided it, either as an argument to -H or from within a host file.

The second, __HOSTSHORT__, will only use the portion of the name string you provided up to the leftmost period.

So, if you specify, __HOSTNAME__ will be replaced with that entire string, and __HOSTSHORT__ will be replaced by just myhost1.

Notice that, in no case does tsshbatch do any DNS lookups to figure this stuff out. It just manipulates the strings you provide as hostnames.

The symbols __HOSTNAME__ and __HOSTSHORT__ are like any other symbol you might have specified yourself with .define. This means you can override their meaning. For instance, say you're doing this: -x myhosts  echo "It is: __HOSTNAME__"

As you would expect, the program will log into that host, echo the hostname and exit. But suppose you don't want it to echo something else for whatever reason. You'd create a command file with this entry:

.define __HOSTNAME__ = Really A Different Name

Now, when you run the command above, the output is:

It is: Really A Different Name

In other words, .define has a higher precedence than the preconfigured values of HOSTNAME and HOSTSHORT.

Noise Levels

tsshbatch defaults to a medium level of reporting as it runs. This includes connection reporting, headers describing the command being run on every host,and the results written to stdin and stdout. Each line of reporting output begins with ---> to help you parse through the output if you happen to be writing a program that post-processes the results from tsshbatch.

This output "noise" is judged to be right for most applications of the program. There are times, however, when you want more- or less "noise" in the output. There are several tsshbatch options that support this.

These options only affect reporting of commands you're running. They do not change the output of file transfer operations. They also do not change error reporting, which is always the same irrespective of current noise level setting.

-q or "quiet" mode, reduces the amount of output noise in two ways. First, it silences reporting each time a successful connection is made to a host. Secondly, the command being run isn't reported in the header. For example, normally, running ls -l is reported like this:

--->  myhost:    SUCCESS: Connection Established
--->  myhost (stdout) [ls -l]:
--->  myhost (stderr) [ls -l]:

In quiet mode, reporting looks like this:

--->  localhost (stdout):
--->  localhost (stderr):

The main reason for this is that some commands can be very long. With execution variables, it's possible to create commands that span many lines. The quiet option gives you the ability to suppress echoing these long commands for each and every host in your list.

-y or "noisy" mode, produces normal output noise but also replicates the hostname and command string for every line of output produced. For instance, ls -1 might normally produce this:

--->  myhost:    SUCCESS: Connection Established
--->  myhost (stdout) [ls -1]:


But in noisy mode, you see this:

--->  myhost:    SUCCESS: Connection Established                                                                                                                     --->  myhost (stdout) [ls -1]:
[myhost (stdout) [ls -1]]        backups
[myhost (stdout) [ls -1]]        bin

Again, the purpose here is to support post-processing where you might want to search through a large amount of output looking only for results from particular hosts or commands.

-s or "silent" mode returns only the results from running the commands. No headers or descriptive information are produced. It's more-or-less what you'd see if you logged into the host and ran the command interactively. For instance, ls -l might look like this:

total 44
drwxr-xr-x  2 splot splot 4096 Nov  5 14:54 Desktop
drwxrwxr-x 39 splot splot 4096 Sep  9 14:57 Dev
drwxr-xr-x  3 splot splot 4096 Jun 14  2012 Documents

The idea here is to use silent mode with the various variables described previously to customize your own reporting output. Imagine you have this in a command file and you run tsshbatch in silent mode:

.define __USER__ = ! echo $USER
echo "Run on __HOSTNAME__ on __DATE__ at __TIME__ by __USER__"
uname -a

You'd see output along these lines:

Run on myhost on 20991208 at 141659 by splot
Linux myhost 3.11.0-12-generic #19-Ubuntu SMP Wed Oct 9 16:20:46 UTC 2013 x86_64 x86_64 x86_64 GNU/Linux


  • Comments can go anywhere.

  • Directives like .define and .include must be the first non-whitespace text on the left end of a line. If you do this in a command file:

    foo .include bar

    tsshbatch thinks you want to run the command foo with an argument of .include bar. If you do it in a host file, the program thinks you're trying to contact a host called foo .include bar. In neither case is this likely to be quite what you had in mind. Similarly, everything to the right of the directive is considered its argument (up to any comment character).

  • Whitespace is not significant at the beginning or end of a line but it is preserved within .define and .include directive arguments as well as within commmand definitions.

  • Strictly speaking, you do not have to have whitespace after a directive. This is recognized:


    But this is strongly discouraged because it's really hard to read.

  • tsshbatch writes the stdout of the remote host(s) to stdout on the local machine. It similarly writes remote stderr output to the local machine's stderr. If you wish to suppress stderr output, either redirect it on your local command line or use the -e option to turn it off entirely. If you want everything to go to your local stdout, use the -E option.

  • You must have a reasonably current version of Python 2.x installed. It almost certainly will not work on Python 3.x because it uses the deprecated commands module. This decision was made to make the program as backward compatible with older versions of Python as possible (there is way more 2.x around than there is 3.x).

  • If your Python installation does not install paramiko you'll have to install it manually, since tsshbatch requires these libraries as well.

  • tsshbatch has been run extensively from Unix-like systems (Linux, FreeBSD) and has had no testing whatsoever on Microsoft Windows. If you have experience using it on Windows, do please share with the class using the email address below. While we do not officially support this tool on Windows, if the changes needed to make it work properly are small enough, we'd consider updating the code accordingly.


  • You will not be able to run remote sudo commands if the host in question enables the Defaults requiretty in its sudoers configuration. Some overzealous InfoSec folks seem to think this is a brilliant way to secure your system (they're wrong) and there's nothing tsshbatch can do about it.

  • When sudo is presented a bad password, it ordinarily prints a string indicating something is wrong. tsshbatch looks for this to let you know that you've got a problem and then terminates further operation. This is so that you do not attempt to log in with a bad password across all the hosts you have targeted. (Many enterprises have policies to lock out a user ID after some small number of failed login/access attempts.)

    However, some older versions of sudo (noted on a RHEL 4 host running sudo 1.6.7p5) do not return any feedback when presented with a bad password. This means that tsshbatch cannot tell the difference between a successful sudo and a system waiting for you to reenter a proper password. In this situation, if you enter a bad password, the the program will hang. Why? tsshbatch thinks nothing is wrong and waits for the sudo command to complete. At the same time, sudo itself is waiting for an updated password. In this case, you have to kill tsshbatch and start over. This typically requires you to put the program in background (`Ctrl-Z in most shells) and then killing that job from the command line.

    There is no known workaround for this problem.


It's always interesting to see how other people approach the same problem. If you're interested in this general area of IT automation, you may want to also look at Ansible, Capistrano, Cluster SSH, Fabric, Func, and Rundeck.


tsshbatch is Copyright (c) 2011-2016 TundraWare Inc.

For terms of use, see the tsshbatch-license.txt file in the program distribution. If you install tsshbatch on a FreeBSD system using the 'ports' mechanism, you will also find this file in /usr/local/share/doc/tsshbatch.


Tim Daneliuk


$Id: '345a9ed tundra Sat Oct 15 16:12:01 2016 -0500'

This document was produced with emacs, RestructuredText, and TeX Live.

You can find the latest version of this program at: