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For short periods of time (generally measured in seconds or minutes), I need to enable ftp (vsftpd) access on a webserver hosting WordPress so that plugins, themes, etc can be updated via the WP administrative dashboard.

Currently, I initiate an ssh session, enable vsftpd, run the update from wordpress, disable vsftpd, and logout.

Such maintenance activities are done on an ad hoc basis, as and when updates are made available - and not necessarily on a specific maintenance cycle (for exploit/bug fixes, new features, etc).

What would be some viable routes to automate the enabling and disabling of the ftp server in this scenario?

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Isn't that precisely what shell scripts are for? – EEAA Feb 15 '12 at 6:29
@ErikA - absolutely: the issue is how to do it via a remote trigger when an update needs to happen, ie without having ssh access to the host. Linking a shell script execution to a web page (a la PHP), would seem to be a pretty big security risk. – warren Feb 15 '12 at 6:31
up vote 2 down vote accepted

I would try achieving this using xinetd

Check man xinetd.conf and setup example

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