SSH multiplexing gotchas


OpenSSH (the book) says this about SSH multiplexing:

Multiplexing is the ability to send more than one signal over a single line or connection. In OpenSSH, multiplexing can re-use an existing outgoing TCP connection for multiple concurrent SSH sessions to a remote SSH server, avoiding the overhead of creating a new TCP connection and reauthenticating each time.

For example, maybe you want to use the Docker CLI on, against a Docker daemon on You follow the Docker docs' suggestion for setting up Docker over SSH, including multiplexing:

  ControlMaster     auto
  ControlPath       ~/.ssh/control-%C
  ControlPersist    yes

After using this setup for a while, you notice that SSHing into docker-host fails occasionally with an error message like "Session open refused by peer". You Google and discover that, by default, OpenSSH has a limit of 10 multiplexed sessions per TCP connection. Beyond that, sshd on docker-host starts rejecting sessions.

You resolve this by increasing the MaxSessions setting in /etc/ssh/sshd_config on docker-host, to 100, 1,000, or 2,147,483,647 (the max value for a 32-bit signed integer, to disable this limit entirely).

However, even after bumping MaxSessions and restarting the sshd service, you still see the error message. sshd -T shows that sshd_config is valid and you set MaxSessions correctly. What's going on?

The problem is, restarting sshd doesn't kill existing SSH sessions. On docker-host, those existing sessions are supported by existing sshd instances. And those existing processes use the old configuration from sshd_config... including MaxSessions 10.

Fixing the immediate problem is easy. Just delete ~/.ssh/control-... from jump-host. But how to avoid this next time you update sshd_config?

Part of the problem is ControlPersist yes. This means that the master SSH session between jump-host and docker-host, the one that all the multiplexed sessions run on, stays open until you close it manually. Even between sshd service restarts.

So you change ControlPersist to a time, e.g. 60m. That way, if the master session lives for more than 60 minutes, it'll close as soon as all its multiplexed sessions also close. Which should happen... at some point? Probably? Fingers crossed.