Gate One

I came across a program called Gate One by LiftOff Software that just amazed me. This is an open-source, web-based ssh terminal. It is capable of multiple users, sessions, and bookmarks. I’ve tried a number of AJAX terminals or Java applet based ones in the past. The javascript ones usually did not have very good terminal emulation, while the Java apps worked, but worked just like a local desktop app (making it’s own connection to port 22). Gate One uses WebSockets, allowing for full duplex communication through your web browser over the same port 80 or 443 used to serve up the web page.


Gate One is a python application using the Tornado framework. As such, at runs independently of an existing web server and handles connections from browsers internally. If you already have a web server running on your system, you will need to tell Gate One to use a different IP or a different port.

Installation using pre-built binaries or the source is fairly straightforward and detailed in the documentation.

The installer creates a directory of /opt/gateone and places all necessary files there. You can run it by changing to that directory and running as root.

At this point, gateone is running in the foreground and you can view as connections occur and any errors. Pressing Ctrl If you conect to gateone using your webbrowser, you are logged in as user ANONYMOUS and can connect to any ssh host, either localhost or something remote.

If you edit /opt/gateone/server.conf, you can change authentication to “pam” or “google”. Using pam will perform a Basic HTTP style authenication requiring a system-level username and password. Using google will log you in with your google account. Both of these “just work” without complicated setup.

Running as a Non-Root

Before I put something like this in production, I wanted to apply some additional security. First off, I want to see if I can get this to run as a non-root user.

Since gateone ran as root user initially, it has files owned by rootOnly UID 0 can open ports below 1024.gateone may need permission to write to system directories

To solve the first one, I chowned the /opt/gateone directory to my username. In the future, I’ll want to run it under its own user, but I’ll use mine for now for simplicity. To solve the second and third, I edited server.conf.


Running as a lower uid, you can use authentication of None or “google” without issue. If you use “pam”, you discover you can only login with the username that gateone is running under. If you are the only intended user of the service, this may not be an issue. But if you want to allow other users, this becomes an issue. If you are fine with running as root or using Google as your authentication provider, you can ignore this next step.

Fortunately, pam is highly configurable. You aren’t required to authenticate against shadow passwords. You can also authenticate against db4 files with pam_userdb, msyql, or even htpasswd files. To start off, I’m going to use htpasswd files. Note that Ubuntu doesn’t provide by default. You need to install libpam-pwdfile (“sudo apt-get install libpam-pwdfile”).

Note – in testing, I discovered gateone uses Crypt encryption while htpasswd defaults to MD5. Use -d to switch to crypt encryption.

Create a pam module called gateone under /etc/pam.d

Modify server.conf to use pam and pam_service of gateone:

Now start gateone and log in.

One additional nice feature with authentication enabled is the ability to resume sessions – even across different computers or browsers.

Reverse Proxy

(I failed on this part, but felt it was worth recording)

Once I got it working in single user mode, I wanted to go ahead and set this up under a reverse proxy under Apache. This would allow me to integrate it into my existing web server under a sub-directory.

First, I edited server.conf to use a URL prefix of /g1/

Second, I tried setting up a ReverseProxy in Apache.

This almost worked. I had no errors, but the resulting page was unreadable. However, at the bottom was a clue. “The WebSocket connection was closed. Will attempt to reconnect every 5 seconds… NOTE: Some web proxies do not work properly with WebSockets.” The problem was Apache not properly proxying my websocket connection. People have managed to get this working under nginx, but not Apache.

Searching for a solution led me to a similar question on ServerFault, an apache-websocket module on github, and a websocket tcp proxy based on that module.


In order to get this work, I’ll need to download and compile some code. The apxs command requires the apache-prefork-dev package in Debian/Ubuntu. Install it with “sudo apt-get install apache-prefork-dev”.

Now we are ready to download the code and install the module:

Before we restart, I want to remove my Proxy lines and replace them with the mod_websocket_tcp_proxy lines.

Despite all this, I was still unable to get this to work. I even attempted using the web root (/) as my location. If the Location matches and your HTTP request is handled by mod_websocket, you get a 404. If you use Proxy, then your websocket request is handled by mod_proxy. Mod_proxy wins out over Location matches. Perhaps you can modify gateone code to have one URL for the web interface and one for websockets (or maybe it’s already in place and we just need to know), but I don’t see a way at this time to get this working under Apache. I may be able to work with the gateone author and the mod_websocket_tcp_proxy.c author to come up with a solution. Or I could try installing nginx. In the meantime, I can continue to run Open Gate as a non-root user on a non-standard port. Alternatively, I could find a wrapper to bring port 443 to 2443.

Author: stratus

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