How do I use SSH to access my EC2 instance after changing the instance’s sshd_config file?

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I changed my Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instance's sshd_config file, and now I can't access my instance using SSH.

Short description

Changing an instance's sshd_config file might cause a connection refused error when connecting through SSH.

To confirm that you can't access the instance due to a connection refused error, access the instance through SSH with verbose messaging on. See the following example:

$ ssh -i "myawskey.pem" -vvv

This example connects with the DNS name and uses myawskey.pem for the private key file, with ec2-user as the username. Substitute your key file and username for the example's key file and user name.

The following example output shows the connection refused error message:

OpenSSH_7.9p1, LibreSSL 2.7.3
debug1: Reading configuration data /etc/ssh/ssh_config
debug1: /etc/ssh/ssh_config line 48: Applying options for *
debug1: Connecting to port 22.
ssh: connect to host port 22: Connection refused


Note: If you're using a Nitro-based instance, then device names differ from the examples given in the following steps. For example, instead of /dev/xvda or /dev/sda1, the device name on a Nitro-based instance is /dev/nvme. For more information, see Device names on Linux instances.

Method 1: Use the EC2 serial console

If you activated EC2 serial console for Linux, then you can use it to troubleshoot supported Nitro-based instance types. The serial console helps you troubleshoot boot issues, network configuration, and SSH configuration issues. The serial console connects to your instance without the need for a working network connection. Use the Amazon EC2 console or AWS Command Line Interface (AWS CLI) to access the serial console.

Before you use the serial console, grant access to the console at the account level. Then, create AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) policies that grant access to your IAM users. Also, every instance that uses the serial console must include at least one password-based user. If your instance is unreachable and you didn't configure access to the serial console, then follow the instructions in the section, Method 2: Use a rescue instance. For information on configuring the EC2 serial console for Linux, see Configure access to the EC2 serial console.

Note: If you receive errors when running AWS CLI commands, make sure that you’re using the most recent version of the AWS CLI .

Method 2: Use a rescue instance


  • If your instance is instance store backed or has instance store volumes that contain data, then the data is lost when you stop the instance. For more information, see Determine the root device type of your instance.
  • If your instance is part of an Amazon EC2 Auto Scaling group, then stopping the instance might terminate the instance. Instances that you launch with Amazon EMR, AWS CloudFormation, or AWS Elastic Beanstalk might be part of an AWS Auto Scaling group. Instance termination in this scenario depends on the instance scale-in protection settings for your Auto Scaling group. If your instance is part of an Auto Scaling group, then temporarily remove the instance from the Auto Scaling group before starting the resolution steps.
  • Stopping and starting the instance changes the public IP address of your instance. If you don't want your EC2 public IP address to change when you restart or terminate your instance, then use an Elastic IP address. If you use Amazon Route 53, then you might have to update the Route 53 DNS records when the public IP changes.

1.    Launch a new EC2 instance in your virtual private cloud (VPC). Use the same Amazon Machine Image (AMI) in the same Availability Zone as the impaired instance. The new instance becomes your rescue instance.

2.    Stop the impaired instance.

3.    Detach the Amazon Elastic Block Store (Amazon EBS) root volume (/dev/xvda or /dev/sda1) from your impaired instance.

4.    Attach the EBS volume as a secondary device (/dev/sdf) to the rescue instance.

5.    Use SSH to connect to your rescue instance.

6.    Run the lsblk command to view devices:

$ lsblk
xvda    202:0    0   8G  0 disk
└─xvda1 202:1    0   8G  0 part /
xvdf    202:80   0   8G  0 disk
 └─xvdf1 202:81   0   8G  0 part

7.    Create a mount point directory (/rescue) for the new volume that you attached to the rescue instance in step 4:

$ sudo mkdir /mnt/rescue

8.    Mount the volume at the directory that you created in step 7:

$ sudo mount -t xfs -o nouuid /dev/xvdf1 /mnt/rescue/

To mount ext3 and ext4 file systems, run the following command:

$ sudo mount /dev/xvdf1 /mnt/rescue

Note: The syntax of the preceding mount command might vary. For more information, run the man mount command.

9.    Run the lsblk command again to verify that the volume mounted the directory:

$ lsblk
xvda    202:0    0   8G  0 disk
└─xvda1 202:1    0   8G  0 part /
xvdf    202:80   0   8G  0 disk
└─xvdf1 202:81   0   8G  0 part /mnt/rescue

Correct or copy the sshd_config file

You can investigate the sshd_config file on your impaired instance and, if needed, rollback your changes. Use the SSH verbose messaging output to guide you to the error location in the file:

$ sudo vi /mnt/rescue/etc/ssh/sshd_config

Or, run the following command to copy the sshd_config file from the rescue instance to your impaired instance. This command replaces the contents of the sshd_config file on your original instance:

$ sudo cp /etc/ssh/sshd_config /mnt/rescue/etc/ssh/sshd_config

Reattach the volume to the original instance and test the connection

Note: If you used Method 2: Use a rescue instance, then complete the following steps.

1.    Run the umount command to unmount the volume:

$ sudo umount /mnt/rescue/

2.    Detach the secondary volume from the rescue instance, and then attach the volume to the original instance as /dev/xvda (root volume).

3.    Start the instance.

4.    Connect to the instance using SSH to verify that you can reach the instance.

Related information

Why can't I connect to my Amazon EC2 Linux instance using SSH?

AWS OFFICIALUpdated 2 months ago