Is there a way to do a remote "ls" much like "scp" does a remote copy in a standard linux shell?

  • I can see it'd be nice to do this, but why not just SSH in and do an ls? Mar 2, 2011 at 12:54
  • 3
    @SpacemanSpiff - So you can script it. That's how I got to this page. Aug 27, 2014 at 13:02

7 Answers 7


You could always do this:

ssh user@host ls -l /some/directory

That will SSH to the host, run ls, dump the output back to you and immediately disconnect.

  • 14
    ... if you have real shell access. Some systems have a special shell which will only accept certain scp and rsync calls, maybe sftp as well, and that's it.
    – glglgl
    Jun 6, 2014 at 22:11
  • how would you alias this to, say, "rls" ? Oct 18, 2014 at 16:24
  • 4
    @WalrustheCat alias rls="ssh user@host ls -l" Restart your shell and rls /some/directory should work.
    – chishaku
    Oct 10, 2015 at 9:17
  • The only problem with this is that file not found returns an error code,when my reason for doing it is precisely why I want to call ls. Nov 28, 2017 at 18:54
  • Not following @SteveCohen. Are you wanting the error code from the remote ls? If so, $? contains it right after you execute the command. (e.g. it returns 2 if I run this [locally or remotely] on a file that is not found)
    – Corey S.
    Nov 28, 2017 at 23:42

To list all files in a directory:

rsync host.name.com:directory/path/'*'

For something like find directory/path -ls

rsync -r host.name.com:directory/path
  • 1
    If rsync is not installed on the host, then you get something like bash: rsync: command not found. I guess this implies it's using SSH in the background?
    – mwfearnley
    Sep 25, 2015 at 10:23
  • Note the the format is similar to ls -l. On my system, it doesn't look like there is an option to just list the files.
    – Jonathan
    May 3, 2016 at 11:37
  • @mwfearnley: No, although most packaging will define ssh as a recommendation or dependency for rsync, its quite possible to install one without the other.
    – symcbean
    Sep 11, 2020 at 23:03
  • Love this answer!
    – Scottie H
    Jun 15 at 0:05

For all coming via google to this question because they are looking for a way to list remote files but can not access the remote server via ssh (common case for backup servers) you could use 'sftp'.


sftp [email protected]
cd somedir

Start an interactive session in a specific remote directory:

sftp [user@]host[:dir]

Yes. SSH and do an ls:

ssh host ls /path

You could easily script this to be more flexible, or use the host:path syntax scp uses.


As mentioned, if you can SSH into the host, you can do whatever you like.
You can use either ssh user@host or ssh alias (defined in ~/.ssh/config)


Edit: Fixed some examples by single quoting the entire command to be sent. Thanks @dave_thompson_085 for pointing to the problem.

$ ssh user@host 'ls /dir/file'

You mentioned that you don't want to receive the errors from ls if the file does not exist.

One option is to just discard the error messages

$ ssh user@host 'ls /dir/file 2>/dev/null'

This will preserve the return as well. So $? will be 0 only if the ls command found /dir/file. This is nice because it works for files, folders, symlinks or anything that can be listed by ls.

Another option is to check if the file exists before listing.

$ ssh user@host '[ -f /dir/file ] && ls /dir/file'

You could also test and list a folder, but the syntax changes

$ ssh user@host '[ -d /dir/sub ] && ls /dir/sub'

You could chain and test for ANY as well

$ ssh user@host '[ -f /dir/file ] || [ -d /dir/file ] && ls /dir/file'

You could also just check if the item exists and nothing else

$ ssh user@host '[ -f /dir/file ] || [ -d /dir/file ]'
$ echo $? # exit code will be 0 ONLY if the file exists

You may want to include a test for symlinks with [ -L /my/target ] as well.

You could run conditional codes remotelly

$ ssh user@host '[ -f /dir/file ] && echo "File EXISTS!" || echo "File NOT FOUND!"'

Or locally if you move the commands outside the command string

$ ssh user@host '[ -f /dir/file ]' && echo "File EXISTS!" || echo "File NOT FOUND!"

The way quoting and expansion works can be tricky though. If you use double quotes outside the main command (instead of single quotes as above), variables will be expanded BEFORE connecting ssh, unless you escape the $. It is normally easier to use single quotes to avoid that, but your mileage may vary. Some times you need stuff to expand locally AND remotelly, which can be tricky.

  • Your 2nd example is wrong; the ls runs locally, or tries to. Similarly in your 5th example the echo's run locally (which is okay for echo) and in your 6th example { } does not change that. Lastly, for shells with history expansion, normally interactive bash and zsh, echo "FILE EXISTS!" doesn't work (anywhere, not just with ssh). Sep 13, 2020 at 8:08
  • Thanks for pointing it out. I have (hopelly) fixed the answers and also added some more examples and explanations. Cheers!
    – Gus Neves
    Sep 14, 2020 at 23:32

The above answers do not contemplate when you need to add a password. To include password and username in a single command, install sshpass.

For mac: $ brew install hudochenkov/sshpass/sshpass

For linux: sudo apt-get install sshpass -y


$ sshpass -p your_password ssh user@hostname ls /path/to/dir/

You can also save output:

$ sshpass -p your_password ssh user@hostname ls /path/to/dir/ > log.txt

In python3:

import subprocess

cluster_login_email = 'user@hostname'
cluster_login_password = 'your_password'
path_to_files = '/path/to/dir/'

response = subprocess.run([
        'sshpass', '-p', cluster_login_password, 'ssh', cluster_login_email, 'ls',
        path_to_files], capture_output=True)

response = response.stdout.decode("utf-8").split('\n')

I find my most frequent use of this is to get the ls result, a simple list of files without all the permissions and dates and such, and keep it in a local file.

{ ssh [email protected] "cd /dir/of/interest; ls -1f *.txt;" } > /home/me/listoffiles.txt

You can run anything you want within the quotes. All output ends up in your local text file. Or if you want to run a big nasty script on the server and capture all of its output, even errors:

{ ssh [email protected] <script.remote.sh } > /home/me/output.log 2>/home/me/output.err
  • 1
    In the 2nd code line, the { } are not needed.
    – glglgl
    Jun 6, 2014 at 22:12
  • @glglgl+ in the 1st code line also (it's the quoting, and only the quoting, that controls what gets sent to remote system for execution) Sep 13, 2020 at 8:09

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