You can execute a command on a remote server using

ssh user@host 'the command'

but is there a way to execute the command without quotes?

(I am on BSD and using OpenSSH)


It depends on the command. In general, when one is passing a command to a remote machine, it is necessary to escape any characters in that command that would normally be interpreted by the local shell. At the risk of overgeneralizing, if there are no characters that the local shell would try to interpret, then it is likely that quotes are not necessary. A corollary of this is that if shell characters are correctly escaped (so that the local shell won't interpret them), then a command that otherwise would require quotes can be re-written so that it doesn't require quotes.

Consider trying to capture the remote system's date into a file named date.out in the home directory of user user on the remote system host. One way to do that with quotes is:

ssh user@remote 'date > date.out'

An incorrect attempt to run that command without quotes might be:

ssh user@remote date > date.out

That results in the local shell processing > date.out leaving the remote ssh command as simply date. The date command is run remotely, but its output is saved locally. To avoid that, one needs to escape the > symbol:

ssh user@remote date \> date.out

Having run that command, we can follow up with a second example. Let's inspect the output file, using a quoted command to ls the file and cat its contents:

ssh user@remote 'ls -l date.out; cat date.out'

The unquoted command:

ssh user@remote date ls -l date.out; cat date.out

runs only the ls command remotely. The cat command is executed locally, because the local shell interpreted the semicolon character as a separator between two commands.

To run the command correctly without quotes, one uses:

ssh user@remote date ls -l date.out\; cat date.out

Similar rules apply when one wants to utilize variable or parameter expansions in a command. If the variable is defined in the local environment, quotes (or escapes) are often not necessary. If the local user alex issues the command:

ssh user@remote echo $USER

The output will be alex, because the local value of $USER was expanded into the ssh command before it was sent to the remote host. If instead the command were double-quoted:

ssh user@remote "echo $USER"

The result would be the same, because the local shell will expand variables when enclosed in double quotes. However, either of the commands:

ssh user@remote 'echo $USER'


ssh user@remote echo \$USER

will print user, because the expansion of the string $USER is done by the remote host, not the local shell.


Yes, there is:

$ ssh host.example.com echo this is a test
this is a test
  • i am on bash on MacOS, might be different ssh command? May 13 '19 at 22:15
  • 1
    So am I, for what it's worth.
    – DopeGhoti
    May 14 '19 at 16:12

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.