SSH fails because /var/empty/sshd is not owned by root and is not group-writable or world-writable

Applies to: Virtual Machine running Linux


You cannot to connect a Linux virtual machine (VM) by using a secure shell (SSH) connection. When this problem occurs, you may receive the following error message about the /var/empty/sshd file, depending on your Linux distribution.  




This problem may occur if the /var/empty/sshd file is not owned by the root directory and is not group-writable or world-writable.


To change the permissions on a Linux file if you don’t have SSH access, use one of the following methods:

  • Azure portal: Run a Linux custom script on the VM that issues the Linux chmod commands on the file that you have to change.
  • Manual attachment: Delete the VM, keep the disks, mount the system disk to another temporary VM, and then update the files on the temporary VM. Then, re-create the VM from the system disk.
  • CLI: Use the command Line interface to run BASH commands on the VM.

Azure portal

This method relies on the Azure Linux agent (WAgent). 

Open the Properties window of the VM in the Azure portal to check the agent status. If the agent is enabled, follow these steps to change the permission: 

  1. Copy the following script to your local computer, and then rename the file to

    Note You must update the script to reflect your system distribution. This script runs on Red Hat variants only.
    #!/bin/bash#Script to change permissions on a file###################################################param=$1chmod 755 /var/empty/sshd;chown root:root /var/empty/sshd;service sshd restart
  2. Go to the Azure portal, locate your VM settings, and then select Extensions > AddCustom Script For Linux Create
  3. In Script files, upload the file, and then click OK.
    Upload Linux script
  4. After the script is pushed to the VM, the STATUS value should be Success.
    Check the status of the script
  5. The sample script changes the permissions on the /var/empty/sshd file from 777 to 755 and sets the owner and group to root:root. Wait for script to run. This can take several minutes. The Linux Agent receives the request, and then it hands off to the correct extension.

If you can connect to the VM by using the SSH connection, and you want to to see what occurred while the script ran, examine the extension.log file in the /var/log/azure/Microsoft.OSTCExtensions.CustomScriptForLinux/<version> directory.

Manually attach your VM disks to a temporary VM

Follow these steps:

  1. Delete the VM, keep the disks, mount the system disk to another temporary VM, and then update the files (permissions and ownership) on the temporary VM.
  2. Re-create the VM from disk.

For more information, see CLI: How to delete and re-deploy a VM from VHD (unmanaged disk).


Use the Command Line Interface (CLI) to inject commands into a VM. There are two versions of CLI. For more information, see Use the Azure Custom Script Extension with Linux virtual machines.

The following example uses the newer CLI version 2. It resets the /var/empty/sshd file permissions and ownership by using the customScript extension through CLI. The sshd service is also restarted.

In this script, replace <yourvm> with the actual name of the VM, and <yourrg> with the actualname of the Resource Group.

vmname=yourvm;rg=yourrg;timestamp=`date +%d%Y%H%M%S`;az vm extension set –resource-group $rg –vm-name $vmname –name customScript –publisher Microsoft.Azure.Extensions –settings “{‘commandToExecute’: ‘bash -c \’chmod 755 /var/empty/sshd;chown root:root /var/empty/sshd;systemctl start sshd;ps -eaf | grep sshd\”,’timestamp’: “$((timestamp))”}”


Serial Console

This feature lets you access the VM through a console as a physical server. This scheme allows you to modify files without using a custom script and without having to delete the VM.

Reset by using Serial Console