HotSSH – this afternoon’s few hours of PyGTK hacking

November 18, 2007

Improving the command line

One of the goals I had when starting the Hotwire shell project was to experiment with possible UI improvements to the command line[1]. The old terminal+shell combination gives quick access to a lot of the system, but the tty interface is very limited. I think Hotwire does successfully demonstrate that you can improve on things like ls while still retaining most of the general power of a traditional Unix terminal+shell.

How not to do it

One of the things I’ve wanted to improve since the beginning of the project was the ssh experience. Now when you think of “GUI SSH”, you may be imagining something like Putty. No offense to Simon or any of the Putty developers who brought a very useful bit of Free Software to those of us periodically stuck on Windows, but Putty has a poor user interface. It’s quite complex and confusing if you just want to connect to a remote computer; all of the useful options are mixed in with the options created for all of the 3 people in the world using Kerberized SSH or whatever, it doesn’t remember which hosts I use most, etc.

What is HotSSH

HotSSH is my afternoon hack to create a thin SSH-specific runtime UI, written in ~500 lines of Python/GTK+. Here is how you are expected to run it (using e.g. bash):

$ alias ssh='/path/to/hotssh/bin/hotssh'
$ ssh

In other words, I’m not breaking your workflow here by making you type into some crappy dialog. HotSSH is designed to be launched from your existing shell. You can keep taking advantage of any smarts your shell has, like intelligent host completion, history etc. So what does HotSSH do then? A picture is in order here:

OpenSSH icon, knows which host you’re connected to, etc.

So when you type ssh hostname from your shell, it opens a new tab in your existing HotSSH window, instead of taking over your terminal. You get a nice OpenSSH blowfish icon in your task list instead of an undifferentiated terminal icon. In the future there will be more, here’s the current TODO:

* Connect dialog, with completion from known_hosts
* Reconnect button
* Open SFTP button?
* <owen> … doing a list down the left rather than tabs with both favorites and running ssh, and have running ssh bold
* Latency display (not sure how to implement this with OpenSSH)

And that’s about it. Right now I’m tentatively planning to ship HotSSH with Hotwire, so Hotwire users get a nicer out of the box SSH experience, but I did make it a separate code base, so if you don’t yet use Hotwire you can still take advantage of HotSSH. Here’s the Git repository:

git clone

Send any feedback, patches etc. you have for HotSSH to the Hotwire Discussion Group.

Relation to other projects

The Internet is full of projects which create terrible looking connection dialogs for SSH. I initially searched for a project like HotSSH trying to improve the post-connection aspect while still allowing you to use it as a drop-in replacement for the ssh command but didn’t find one. It would be interesting though if someone added support for HotSSH to say SSHMenu.

[1] – In addition to creating a shell that by default does not lose all of your history if your computer crashes.


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