Stupid Emacs Tricks - Editing Remote Files Using Sudo (And Even Tor)

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I've recently learned how to edit files on a remote server using tramp and emacs and I really love how easy and powerful it is. Here are some of the tricks that I've learned that I'm now using every day.

Simple Remote File Editing

For example, let's say that you wanted to edit a remote file on server bart that has a path of /home/tom/foo. Here's how you would do that in emacs:

C-x C-f /ssh:tom@bart:/home/tom/foo

And viola - you can now edit the remote file locally using a tool that is built into Emacs. No more worrying about having all of your .emacs goodies on each server that you use - now just install it all in one place and be more awesome with Emacs!

Editing Remote Files That Require Sudo Access

Of course, this isn't all that amazing because lots of other text editors include this type of functionality by default (including my old standby Vim). What's cool about tramp mode (and unique as far as I know) is that you can actually open a file using the sudo command in a local emacs editor using a feature of tramp called proxies.

So for example, let's assume that you want to open a file that can only be edited by the root user on bart called /root/secret. Here's how you would open it in emacs:

C-x C-f /ssh:tom@bart|sudo:bart:/root/secret

Assuming that you can edit that file using your sudo access on the bart server you can now edit it on your local computer. Not only can you do that, but you can also now navigate directories as root using dired.

Chaining All Of This Together Using Tor

Finally, let's assume that you want to edit a file on a remote server that exposes the ssh server as a tor hidden service. Heck, maybe you even used this puppet module to set it up. Tramp doesn't care -it will just treat your .onion address as yet another ssh URL and it works really well. Opening and saving files is a bit slow, but everything else is very snappy.

There are however a few more things that you will need to do to make this work. Please see my tutorial on logging into an ssh hidden service for more information. Once you've made that work, just replace the host name with your tor host alias like this:

C-x C-f /ssh:tom@bart.onion:/home/tom/foo

Make sure that you also set the following environment variable in the shell that opens emacs:


For whatever reason tramp seems to choke on the SOCKS5 password prompt and for me it's always blank anyways. Of course if you are using a SOCKS password then change it as needed.

Finally, the sudo trick above also works with .onion URL's.


Tramp has really improved my workflow considerably when editing files with emacs. If you find yourself logging into lots of servers every day then I highly recommend checking it out

Last Updated 2015-10-06.