Tunneling NFS over SSH


This recipe is for tunneling NFS traffic over SSH. This adds encryption and Public Key authentication to otherwise insecure NFS traffic.

For this recipe to work, requires NFSv4. Earlier versions were not tested, but I expect not all the functionality to work.

server configuration

Install packages:

  • nfs-kernel-server
  • ncat or netcat-openbsd

Configure /etc/exports. Add a line:

/export/path,... other options...)
  • /export/path: File system to export
  • Loopback address, we only allow local connections.
  • insecure: Normally, the NFS server only allows connections from ports less than 1024. This option removes that restriction. We need this because the ssh traffic is running as a normal user.

Additional NFS export options:

  • rw : Allow read/write access
  • sync : sync I/O (recommended to prevent data loss)
  • no_subtree_check : When exporting full filesystem, this remove the subtree checks. This has to do with the fact that NFS uses inodes. This check is needed to make sure that the inode is within the exported filesystem sub-tree. However if you are exporting the entire filesystem, there should never be the case that an inode falls outside the subtree.
  • no_root_squash : allow root access
  • mountpoint=/mount/path : Only export if a filesystem is mounted on /mount/path

Obtain a public/private key. Either use ssh-keygen or copy it from elsewhere. Install authorized_keys on the account to be used for SSH/TCP forwarding:

command="nc -N  localhost 2049",no-port-forwarding,no-X11-forwarding,no-agent-forwarding,no-pty ssh-rsa ...

This account does not need to be root. The additional settings make sure that this key can only be used for forwarding traffic.

client configuration

This is for Ubuntu. Other distros may need different packages and/or approaches.

Install packages:

  • nfs-common
  • ncat (netcat-openbsd is not enough, ncat needs to support -e or -c)

Make sure the NFS server is in the SSH forwarder's known_hosts file. Use this command to make sure this happens:

ssh -n -i $ssh_key -T \
        -o StrictHostKeyChecking=accept-new \
        -o BatchMode=yes \
        -o ConnectTimeout=10 \

In this approach we are using ncat to implement SSH forwarder. Run this command from the /etc/rc.local file:

ssh_opts="-o BatchMode=yes -o ConnectTimeout=10 -a -C"

( ncat -l $lport -k --allow localhost -c "exec ssh -i $ssh_key $ssh_opts $nfs_srv" ) &


  • -a : disable agent forwarding
  • -C : request compression
  • -T : disable pty

An alternative to this is to use inetd.conf or use systemd.

At this point we are ready to mount NFS filesystems:

mount -t nfs \
  -o nfsvers=4,nolock,nosuid,nodev,port=4096,sec=sys,tcp,soft,intr,fg \
  localhost:/export/nfs/path \


  • nfsvers=4 : make sure we are running NFSv4
  • nosuid : disable SUID executables
  • nodev : disable device files
  • sec=sys : traditional UNIX security modes
  • tcp : use TCP protocol
  • soft,intr : how we handle CTRL+C and other errors


  • showmount command does not show NFSv4 information.
  • I have not tried to use this with autofs. autofs configure for NFS shares is in /etc/autofs/auto.net, but it uses showmount command, so it probably would not work out of the box.


Some implementations of the nc command supports a -p source_port option. This would remove the need to use the insecure option from the nfs export options. However this requires netcat to run as root.


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