remctl 3.18

(remote authenticated command execution with ACLs)
Maintained by Russ Allbery <>

Copyright 2015-2022 Russ Allbery <>. Copyright 2002-2014 The Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. This software is distributed under a BSD-style license. Please see the section LICENSE below for more information.


remctl is a client/server application that supports remote execution of specific commands, using Kerberos GSS-API for authentication. Authorization is controlled by a configuration file and ACL files and can be set separately for each command, unlike with rsh. remctl is like a Kerberos-authenticated simple CGI server, or a combination of Kerberos ssh and sudo without most of the features and complexity of either.


remctl is a client/server application that supports remote execution of specific commands, using Kerberos GSS-API for authentication and confidentiality. The commands a given user can execute are controlled by a configuration file and ACL files and can easily be tightly limited, unlike with rsh. The mapping of command to backend program is done by the configuration file, which allows some additional flexibility compared to ssh command restrictions and works with Kerberos authentications rather than being limited to public key authentications.

remctld is very similar to a CGI server that uses a different network protocol than HTTP, always does strong authentication before executing the desired command, and guarantees the data is encrypted on the network. Alternately, you can think of it as a very simple combination of Kerberos ssh and sudo, without most of the features of both but with simpler authorization.

There are a lot of different client/server systems that do something similar: current packages like gRPC, and a wealth of older systems like rsh, CGI, CERN's arc, and more elaborate systems like MIT's Moira. remctl has the advantage over many of these schemes of using GSS-API and being about as simple as it possibly can be while still being useful. It doesn't require any particular programming language, builds self-contained binaries, and uses as minimal of a protocol as possible.

Both C and Java clients and servers are provided, as well as Perl, PHP, Python, and Ruby bindings for the C client library. For more information about the Java client, see java/README. For more information about the PHP bindings, see php/README. For more information about the Python bindings, see python/README. For more information about the Ruby bindings, see ruby/README.

Also included in the remctl package is an alternate way of running the remctl server: remctl-shell. This program is designed to be run as either a shell or a forced command under ssh, using ssh for authentication and communicating the authentication information to remctl-shell via either environment variables or command-line arguments via the forced command configuration. This version of the server uses simple ssh clients, rather than using the remctl client program or libraries.

remctl was originally written by Anton Ushakov as a replacement for IBM's sysctl, a client/server application with Kerberos v4 authentication that allowed the client to run Tcl code on the server, protected by ACLs. At Stanford, we used sysctl extensively, but mostly only to run external programs, so remctl was developed as a Kerberos v5 equivalent that did only the portions we needed.

Complete protocol documentation is available in docs/protocol.html. Also present, as docs/design.html, is the original design document (now somewhat out of date).


The remctld server and the standard client are written in C and require a C compiler and GSS-API libraries to build. Both will build against either MIT Kerberos or Heimdal of any reasonable vintage. remctl will also build against the Kerberos GSS-API implementation shipped with AIX 5.2 (and possibly later versions) and the Solaris 10 generic GSS-API library (and possibly later versions). The remctl_set_ccache implementation is improved by building with Kerberos libraries and a GSS-API library that supports gss_krb5_import_cred.

The remctld server requires libevent 1.4.x or later. It was only tested with libevent 1.4.13-stable and later, but should work with 1.4.4 or later. It is now only tested with libevent 2.x, so moving to a later version of libevent if possible is recommended.

The remctl server will support regex ACLs if the system supports the POSIX regex API. The remctl server also optionally supports PCRE regular expressions in ACLs. To include that support, the PCRE library (either PCRE2 or PCRE1) is required.

To build the remctl client for Windows, the Microsoft Windows SDK for Windows Vista and the MIT Kerberos for Windows SDK are required, along with a Microsoft Windows build environment (probably Visual Studio). remctl has only been tested with the 3.2.1 MIT Kerberos for Windows SDK. To run the resulting binary, MIT Kerberos for Windows must be installed and configured. The client was tested on Windows XP and Vista and should work on Windows 2000 and up; however, the primary maintainer does not use or test Windows, so it's always possible Windows support has broken. The server is not supported on Windows.

To build the Perl bindings for the C client library, you will need Perl 5.10 or later.

To build the PHP bindings for the C client library, you will need PHP 5.x or later and phpize, plus any other programs that phpize requires. PHP 5.x support has only been tested on 5.2 and 5.3, and PHP support is now only tested on PHP 7.x and later.

To build the Python bindings for the C client library, you will need Python 2.7, or Python 3.1 or later. You will also need the setuptools and pytest modules and, for Python 2, the typing module. Earlier versions may work back to possibly Python 2.3, but are not tested.

To build the Ruby bindings for the C client library, you will need Ruby 1.8 or later (primarily tested with 2.5 and later).

None of the language bindings have been tested on Windows.

A Java client and Java server are available in the java subdirectory, but they are not integrated into the normal build or built by default. There is a basic Makefile in that directory that may require some tweaking. It currently requires the Sun Java JDK (1.4.2, 5, or 6) or OpenJDK 6 or later. A considerably better Java client implementation is available on the java branch in the Git repository but has not yet been merged.

To bootstrap from a Git checkout, or if you change the Automake files and need to regenerate, you will need Automake 1.11 or later. For bootstrap or if you change or any of the m4 files it includes and need to regenerate configure or, you will need Autoconf 2.64 or later. Perl is also required to generate manual pages from a fresh Git checkout. You will also need pkg-config installed to regenerate configure and xml2rfc to build the formatted protocol documentation.


You can build and install remctl with the standard commands:

    make install

If you are building from a Git clone, first run ./bootstrap in the source directory to generate the build files. make install will probably have to be done as root. Building outside of the source directory is also supported, if you wish, by creating an empty directory and then running configure with the correct relative path.

Solaris users should look at examples/remctld.xml, an SMF manifest for running the remctld daemon.

To also build the Perl bindings for the libremctl client library, pass the --enable-perl option to configure. The Perl module build is handled by the normal Perl extension build system, and therefore will be built with compiler flags defined by your Perl installation and installed into your local Perl module directory regardless of the --prefix argument to configure. To change this, you will need to run perl Makefile.PL in the perl subdirectory of the build tree with appropriate options and rebuild the module after running make and before running make install.

To also build the remctl PECL extension for PHP, pass the --enable-php option to configure. The PHP PECL module build is handled by the normal PHP extension build system and therefore will be installed into your local PHP module directory. The configure script will look for phpize on your PATH by default; if it's in some other directory, set the PHPIZE environment variable to the full path or set it on the configure command line. The configure script for the PECL extension will be run during the build instead of during configure. This is unfortunately apparently unavoidable given how the PECL build system works.

To also build the Python bindings for the libremctl client library, pass the --enable-python option to configure. The Python module build is handled by the normal Python extension build system, and therefore will be installed into your local Python module directory regardless of the --prefix argument to configure. To change this, you will need to run python install by hand in the python directory with whatever options you want to use.

To also build the Ruby bindings for the libremctl client library, pass the --enable-ruby option to configure. The Ruby module build is handled by the normal Ruby module build system, and therefore will be installed into your local Ruby module directory regardless of the --prefix argument to configure. To change this, override the sitedir variable on the make install command line, as in:

    make install sitedir=/opt/ruby

The remctl build system also supports a few other environment variables that can be set to control aspects of the Perl, Python, and Ruby binding build systems. These are primarily only of use when packaging the software. For more information, a list of the variables, and their effects, see the comment at the start of

The Java client and server aren't integrated with the regular build system. For information on building and installing them, see java/README.

remctl will use pkg-config if it's available to find the build flags for libevent. You can control which pkg-config binary and paths are used with the normal pkg-config environment variables of PKG_CONFIG, PKG_CONFIG_PATH, and PKG_CONFIG_LIBDIR, and you can override the pkg-config results with LIBEVENT_CFLAGS and LIBEVENT_LIBS. Alternately, you can bypass pkg-config by passing one or more of --with-libevent, --with-libevent-include, and --with-libevent-lib to indicate the install prefix, include directory, or library directory.

remctl will automatically build with PCRE support if PCRE2 or PCRE1 are found. As with libevent, remctl will use pkg-config if it's available to find the build flags for PCRE2. Use the same variables as documented by libevent to control which pkg-config is used, and override its results with PCRE2_CFLAGS and PCRE2_LIBS. For PCRE1, the pcre-config script will be used. You can set PCRE_CONFIG to point to a different pcre-config script, or do similar things as with PATH_KRB5_CONFIG described below. Alternately, you can bypass pkg-config by passing one or more of --with-pcre2, --with-pcre2-include, --with-pcre2-lib, --with-pcre, --with-pcre-include, or --with-pcre-lib to indicate the install prefix, include directory, or library directory.

remctl will automatically build with GPUT support if the GPUT header and library are found. You can pass --with-gput to configure to specify the root directory where GPUT is installed, or set the include and library directories separately with --with-gput-include and --with-gput-lib.

Normally, configure will use krb5-config to determine the flags to use to compile with your Kerberos libraries. To specify a particular krb5-config script to use, either set the PATH_KRB5_CONFIG environment variable or pass it to configure like:

    ./configure PATH_KRB5_CONFIG=/path/to/krb5-config

If krb5-config isn't found, configure will look for the standard Kerberos libraries in locations already searched by your compiler. If the the krb5-config script first in your path is not the one corresponding to the Kerberos libraries you want to use, or if your Kerberos libraries and includes aren't in a location searched by default by your compiler, you need to specify a different Kerberos installation root via --with-krb5=PATH. For example:

    ./configure --with-krb5=/usr/pubsw

You can also individually set the paths to the include directory and the library directory with --with-krb5-include and --with-krb5-lib. You may need to do this if Autoconf can't figure out whether to use lib, lib32, or lib64 on your platform.

To not use krb5-config and force library probing even if there is a krb5-config script on your path, set PATH_KRB5_CONFIG to a nonexistent path:

    ./configure PATH_KRB5_CONFIG=/nonexistent

krb5-config is not used and library probing is always done if either --with-krb5-include or --with-krb5-lib are given.

GSS-API libraries are found the same way: with krb5-config by default if it is found, and a --with-gssapi=PATH flag to specify the installation root. PATH_KRB5_CONFIG is similarly used to find krb5-config for the GSS-API libraries, and --with-gssapi-include and --with-gssapi-lib can be used to specify the exact paths, overriding any krb5-config results.

Pass --enable-silent-rules to configure for a quieter build (similar to the Linux kernel). Use make warnings instead of make to build with full compiler warnings (requires either GCC or Clang and may require a relatively current version of the compiler).

You can pass the --enable-reduced-depends flag to configure to try to minimize the shared library dependencies encoded in the binaries. This omits from the link line all the libraries included solely because other libraries depend on them and instead links the programs only against libraries whose APIs are called directly. This will only work with shared libraries and will only work on platforms where shared libraries properly encode their own dependencies (this includes most modern platforms such as all Linux). It is intended primarily for building packages for Linux distributions to avoid encoding unnecessary shared library dependencies that make shared library migrations more difficult. If none of the above made any sense to you, don't bother with this flag.


remctl comes with a comprehensive test suite, but it requires some configuration in order to test anything other than low-level utility functions. For the full test suite, you will need to have a keytab that can authenticate to a running KDC. Using a test KDC environment, if you have one, is recommended.

Follow the instructions in tests/config/README to configure the test suite.

Now, you can run the test suite with:

    make check

If a test fails, you can run a single test with verbose output via:

    tests/runtests -o <name-of-test>

Do this instead of running the test program directly since it will ensure that necessary environment variables are set up.

On particularly slow or loaded systems, you may see intermittant failures from the server/streaming test because it's timing-sensitive.

The test suite will also need to be able to bind to on port 11119 and 14373 to run test network server programs.

To test anonymous authentication, the KDC configured in the test suite needs to support service tickets for the anonymous identity (not a standard configuration). This test will be skipped if the KDC does not support this.

To test user handling in remctld, you will need the fakeroot command (available in the fakeroot package in Debian and Ubuntu). This test will be skipped if fakeroot isn't available.

The following additional Perl modules will be used by the test suite for the main package and the Perl bindings if installed:

All are available on CPAN. Those tests will be skipped if the modules are not available.

To enable tests that don't detect functionality problems but are used to sanity-check the release, set the environment variable RELEASE_TESTING to a true value. To enable tests that may be sensitive to the local environment or that produce a lot of false positives without uncovering many problems, set the environment variable AUTHOR_TESTING to a true value.


(These instructions are not tested by the author and are now dated. Updated instructions via a pull request, issue, or email are very welcome.)

First, install the Microsoft Windows SDK for Windows Vista if you have not already. This is a free download from Microsoft for users of "Genuine Microsoft Windows." The vcvars32.bat environment provided by Visual Studio may work as an alternative, but has not been tested.

Next, install the MIT Kerberos for Windows SDK [1]. remctl has been tested with version 3.2.1 but should hopefully work with later versions.


Then, follow these steps:

  1. Run the InitEnv.cmd script included with the Windows SDK with parameters "/xp /release".

  2. Run the configure.bat script, giving it as an argument the location of the Kerberos for Windows SDK. For example, if you installed the KfW SDK in "c:\KfW SDK", you should run:

        configure "c:\KfW SDK"
  3. Run nmake to start compiling. You can ignore the warnings.

If all goes well, you will have remctl.exe and remctl.dll. The latter is a shared library used by the client program. It exports the same interface as the UNIX libremctl library.


The remctl web page at:

will always have the current version of this package, the current documentation, and pointers to any additional resources.

For bug tracking, use the issue tracker on GitHub:

However, please be aware that I tend to be extremely busy and work projects often take priority. I'll save your report and get to it as soon as I can, but it may take me a couple of months.


remctl is maintained using Git. You can access the current source on GitHub at:

or by cloning the repository at:

or view the repository via the web at:

The repository is the canonical one, maintained by the author, but using GitHub is probably more convenient for most purposes. Pull requests are gratefully reviewed and normally accepted.


The remctl package as a whole is covered by the following copyright statement and license:

  Copyright 2015-2022 Russ Allbery <>
  Copyright 2002-2014
      The Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
  Permission is hereby granted, free of charge, to any person obtaining
  a copy of this software and associated documentation files (the
  "Software"), to deal in the Software without restriction, including
  without limitation the rights to use, copy, modify, merge, publish,
  distribute, sublicense, and/or sell copies of the Software, and to
  permit persons to whom the Software is furnished to do so, subject to
  the following conditions:
  The above copyright notice and this permission notice shall be
  included in all copies or substantial portions of the Software.

Some files in this distribution are individually released under different licenses, all of which are compatible with the above general package license but which may require preservation of additional notices. All required notices, and detailed information about the licensing of each file, are recorded in the LICENSE file.

Files covered by a license with an assigned SPDX License Identifier include SPDX-License-Identifier tags to enable automated processing of license information. See for more information.

For any copyright range specified by files in this package as YYYY-ZZZZ, the range specifies every single year in that closed interval.

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