Frequently Asked/Answered Questions (FAQ)

These are some of the most commonly encountered problems or frequently asked questions which we receive from users. They aren’t intended as a substitute for reading the rest of the documentation, so please make sure you check it out if your question is not answered here.


Most API examples and links are for version 2 and up; FAQs specific to version 1 will typically be marked as such.


Many questions about shell command execution and task behavior are answered on Invoke’s FAQ page - please check there also!

Explicitly set env variables are not being set correctly on the remote end!

If your attempts to set environment variables for things like appear to silently fail, you’re almost certainly talking to an SSH server which is setting a highly restrictive AcceptEnv.

To fix, you can either modify the server’s configuration to allow the env vars you’re setting, or use the inline_ssh_env Connection parameter (or the global config option of the same name) to force Fabric to send env vars prefixed before your command strings instead.

The remote shell environment doesn’t match interactive shells!

You may find environment variables (or the behavior they trigger) differ interactively vs scripted via Fabric. For example, a program that’s on your $PATH when you manually ssh in might not be visible when using; or special per-program env vars such as those for Python, pip, Java etc are not taking effect; etc.

The root cause of this is typically because the SSH server runs non-interactive commands via a very limited shell call: /path/to/shell -c "command" (for example, OpenSSH). Most shells, when run this way, are not considered to be either interactive or login shells; and this then impacts which startup files get loaded.

Users typically only modify shell files related to interactive operation (such as ~/.bash_profile or /etc/zshrc); such changes do not take effect when the SSH server is running one-off commands.

To work around this, consult your shell’s documentation to see if it offers any non-login, non-interactive config files; for example, zsh lets you configure /etc/zshrc or ~/.zshenv for this purpose.


bash does not appear to offer standard non-login/non-interactive startup files, even in version 4. However, it may attempt to determine if it’s being run by a remote-execution daemon and will apparently source ~/.bashrc if so; check to see if this is the case on your target systems.


Another workaround for bash users is to reply on its $BASH_ENV functionality, which names a file path as the startup file to load:

  • configure your SSH server to AcceptEnv BASH_ENV, so that you can actually set that env var for the remote session at the top level (most SSH servers disallow this method by default).

  • decide which file this should be, though if you’re already modifying files like ~/.bash_profile or ~/.bashrc, you may want to just point at that exact path.

  • set the Fabric configuration value run.env to aim at the above path, e.g. {"BASH_ENV": "~/.bash_profile"}.

My (cd/workon/export/etc) calls don’t seem to work!

While Fabric can be used for many shell-script-like tasks, there’s a slightly unintuitive catch: each run or sudo call (or the run/sudo functions in v1) has its own distinct shell session. This is required in order for Fabric to reliably figure out, after your command has run, what its standard out/error and return codes were.

Unfortunately, it means that code like the following doesn’t behave as you might assume:

def deploy(c):"cd /path/to/application")"./")

If that were a shell script, the second run call would have executed with a current working directory of /path/to/application/ – but because both commands are run in their own distinct session over SSH, it actually tries to execute $HOME/ instead (since your remote home directory is the default working directory).

A simple workaround is to make use of shell logic operations such as &&, which link multiple expressions together (provided the left hand side executed without error) like so:

def deploy(c):"cd /path/to/application && ./")


You might also get away with an absolute path and skip directory changing altogether:

def deploy(c):"/path/to/application/")

However, this requires that the command in question makes no assumptions about your current working directory!

Why do I sometimes see err: stdin: is not a tty?

See Invoke’s FAQ for this; even for Fabric v1, which is not based on Invoke, the answer is the same.

Why can’t I run programs in the background with &? It makes Fabric hang.

Because SSH executes a new shell session on the remote end for each invocation of run or sudo (see also), backgrounded processes may prevent the calling shell from exiting until the processes stop running, which in turn prevents Fabric from continuing on with its own execution.

The key to fixing this is to ensure that your process’ standard pipes are all disassociated from the calling shell, which may be done in a number of ways (listed in order of robustness):

  • Use a pre-existing daemonization technique if one exists for the program at hand – for example, calling an init script instead of directly invoking a server binary.

    • Or leverage a process manager such as supervisord, upstart or systemd - such tools let you define what it means to “run” one of your background processes, then issue init-script-like start/stop/restart/status commands. They offer many advantages over classic init scripts as well.

  • Use tmux, screen or dtach to fully detach the process from the running shell; these tools have the benefit of allowing you to reattach to the process later on if needed (though they are more ad-hoc than supervisord-like tools).

  • Run the program under nohup or similar “in-shell” tools - note that this approach has seen limited success for most users.

I’m sometimes incorrectly asked for a passphrase instead of a password.

Due to a bug of sorts in our SSH layer, it’s not currently possible for Fabric to always accurately detect the type of authentication needed. We have to try and guess whether we’re being asked for a private key passphrase or a remote server password, and in some cases our guess ends up being wrong.

The most common such situation is where you, the local user, appear to have an SSH keychain agent running, but the remote server is not able to honor your SSH key, e.g. you haven’t yet transferred the public key over or are using an incorrect username. In this situation, Fabric will prompt you with “Please enter passphrase for private key”, but the text you enter is actually being sent to the remote end’s password authentication.

We hope to address this in future releases by contributing to the aforementioned SSH library.