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I've been experiencing very strange behavior of SCP for some time: whenever I try to copy a file, the output of SCP contains a bunch of underscores and the file is not copied.

$ scp test.txt
job@'s password: 

When I create an SSH connection using Midnight Commander and copy files it does work.

Some info about my machine:

$ ssh -V
OpenSSH_5.8p1 Debian-1ubuntu3, OpenSSL 0.9.8o 01 Jun 2010

$ uname -a
Linux squatpc 2.6.38-10-generic #46-Ubuntu SMP Tue Jun 28 15:05:41 UTC 2011 i686 i686 i386 GNU/Linux

And I'm running Kubuntu 11.04.

Edit: Some more info as requested by the comments:

$ scp -v test.txt
Executing: program /usr/bin/ssh host, user (unspecified), command scp -v -t -- ~
OpenSSH_5.8p1 Debian-1ubuntu3, OpenSSL 0.9.8o 01 Jun 2010
debug1: Reading configuration data /etc/ssh/ssh_config
debug1: Applying options for *
debug1: Connecting to [] port 22.
debug1: Connection established.
debug1: identity file /home/job/.ssh/id_rsa type 1
debug1: Checking blacklist file /usr/share/ssh/blacklist.RSA-2048
debug1: Checking blacklist file /etc/ssh/blacklist.RSA-2048
debug1: identity file /home/job/.ssh/id_rsa-cert type -1
debug1: identity file /home/job/.ssh/id_dsa type -1
debug1: identity file /home/job/.ssh/id_dsa-cert type -1
debug1: identity file /home/job/.ssh/id_ecdsa type -1
debug1: identity file /home/job/.ssh/id_ecdsa-cert type -1
debug1: Remote protocol version 2.0, remote software version OpenSSH_5.8p1 Debian-1ubuntu3
debug1: match: OpenSSH_5.8p1 Debian-1ubuntu3 pat OpenSSH*
debug1: Enabling compatibility mode for protocol 2.0
debug1: Local version string SSH-2.0-OpenSSH_5.8p1 Debian-1ubuntu3
debug1: SSH2_MSG_KEXINIT sent
debug1: SSH2_MSG_KEXINIT received
debug1: kex: server->client aes128-ctr hmac-md5 none
debug1: kex: client->server aes128-ctr hmac-md5 none
debug1: sending SSH2_MSG_KEX_ECDH_INIT
debug1: expecting SSH2_MSG_KEX_ECDH_REPLY
debug1: Server host key: ECDSA 28:f3:2b:31:36:43:9b:07:d8:33:ca:43:4f:ca:6c:4c
debug1: Host '' is known and matches the ECDSA host key.
debug1: Found key in /home/job/.ssh/known_hosts:20
debug1: ssh_ecdsa_verify: signature correct
debug1: SSH2_MSG_NEWKEYS sent
debug1: expecting SSH2_MSG_NEWKEYS
debug1: SSH2_MSG_NEWKEYS received
debug1: Roaming not allowed by server
debug1: SSH2_MSG_SERVICE_ACCEPT received
debug1: Authentications that can continue: publickey,password
debug1: Next authentication method: publickey
debug1: Offering RSA public key: /home/job/.ssh/id_rsa
debug1: Authentications that can continue: publickey,password
debug1: Trying private key: /home/job/.ssh/id_dsa
debug1: Trying private key: /home/job/.ssh/id_ecdsa
debug1: Next authentication method: password
job@'s password: 
debug1: Authentication succeeded (password).
Authenticated to ([]:22).
debug1: channel 0: new [client-session]
debug1: Requesting no-more-sessions@openssh.com
debug1: Entering interactive session.
debug1: Sending environment.
debug1: Sending env LANG = en_US.UTF-8
debug1: Sending command: scp -v -t -- ~
debug1: client_input_channel_req: channel 0 rtype exit-status reply 0
debug1: channel 0: free: client-session, nchannels 1
debug1: fd 0 clearing O_NONBLOCK
debug1: fd 1 clearing O_NONBLOCK
Transferred: sent 2120, received 1872 bytes, in 0.3 seconds
Bytes per second: sent 7783.1, received 6872.6
debug1: Exit status 0


$ type scp
scp is hashed (/usr/bin/scp)
share|improve this question
Try with -v to get some debugging info during the copy. –  EightBitTony Aug 7 '11 at 12:35
Also, just in case... What is the output of type scp? –  rozcietrzewiacz Aug 7 '11 at 13:10
@EightBitTony: see my edits. –  Job Aug 7 '11 at 14:28
@rozcietrzewiacz: see my edits too:-) –  Job Aug 7 '11 at 14:29
If you do ssh echo hello, do you get any output other than hello? –  Gilles Aug 7 '11 at 19:48

2 Answers 2

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Ok LOL, I just figured out what the problem is.

Since I like cows so much, I've put fortune | cowsay at the top of my .bashrc file which produces output like the following when starting bash:

< You will lose an important disk file. >
        \   ^__^
         \  (oo)\_______
            (__)\       )\/\
                ||----w |
                ||     ||

This is all fine (and sometimes funny) when running bash interactively. However, bash reads ~/.bashrc when it is interactive and not a login shell, or when it is a login shell and its parent process is rshd or sshd. When you run scp, the server starts a shell which starts a remote scp instance. The output from .bashrc confuses scp because it is sent the same way the scp protocol data is sent. This is apparently a known bug, see here for more details.

Also note that the underscores I mentioned in the question are those in the top line of the text balloon.

So the solution was simple: I put the following at the top of .bashrc:

# If not running interactively, don't do anything
[[ $- == *i* ]] || return

This line is present in the default .bashrc but was put way down because of my many (apparently careless) edits.

share|improve this answer
echo "don't have a cow" | cowsay –  Stéphane Gimenez Aug 12 '11 at 17:22
I know this test for PS1 is mentioned in a lot of places, but it's not very accurate. A better test for interactive shells is the -i option: if [[ $- != *-* ]]; then return;; fi. –  Gilles Aug 12 '11 at 23:13
@Gilles: Bash mentions this method in its man page: "PS1 is set and $- includes i if bash is interactive, allowing a shell script or a startup file to test this state." So I guess it should be accurate. –  Job Aug 13 '11 at 14:37
@Job PS1 can be set even if the shell is not interactive. So no, it's not accurate, unlike $-. Even $- has false positives sometimes, because the shell is technically interactive but it's in fact talking through a terminal but to a program rather than a human. But at least $- accurately tells you whether the shell is talking to a terminal. –  Gilles Aug 13 '11 at 14:45
@Gilles: Ok I see. I edited my answer to make the test more accurate. –  Job Aug 13 '11 at 15:02

AFAIK, the right way to enable un-hindered scp is less about which conditional for stdout in your ~/.bashrc script, and more about simply restricting screen output to the ~/.bash_profile script. At least that is how it works for my distro (CentOS.)

Edit for clarity:

  1. Put only lines in your ~/.bashrc file as required by "all" remote conections (i.e. setting certain ENV vars is OK, but echoing human-readable text is not.)
  2. YMMV
share|improve this answer
mind expounding? i.e. how to restrict screen output to the .bash-profile ? –  javadba Jul 7 at 3:31
By screen output, I mean echo "Greetings, Master" or anything else that displays output to the terminal window. Don't put that in your ~/.bashrc --keep it in your ~/.bash_profile script. –  Mark Hudson Sep 9 at 4:31

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