So I was running apt-get upgrade on a server when the router decided it had been too long since it last made me angry: It dropped all connection. Moral of the story is to use screen a lot when you're on a bum router.

Anyway, I logged back in and found in htop that the process was still hanging there, still waiting for my Y/n to upgrade (hadn't hit it yet, luckily). Is there any way I can reattach to a session that had been broken off? I ended up just killing it since it wasn't in the middle of package management but it would be great to know for future reference.

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    I'm surprised the apt-get process was still running. It should have died along with the whole process chain up to SSH. I've noticed that do-dist-upgrade automatically starts in a screen/byobu session: maybe in some circumstances, apt-get does the same? – nfirvine Oct 2 '12 at 17:41

The answer to your proper question is: you can't. I think the main problem is that the authentication procedures will be out of sync. It Just Doesn't Work Like That.

As you have yourself noticed, the solution is to use screen when possible (by the way, tmux is an alternative to screen).

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    But what if you have passwordless ssh? Can you do it then? – Sridhar Sarnobat Aug 3 '13 at 17:17
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    byobu is a nice, easier to use front end to screen (or tmux) - definitely worth a look (: – drevicko Feb 15 '15 at 22:35
  • Sridhar-Samobol, authentication still needs to take place. Attaching to a running session has no way to do the initial handshake again, so it's invariants would be broken if we introduced a new session into an existing one. Answer: no. – kevr Apr 17 '19 at 2:05

While you can't reattach to a broken SSH session, you can reparent the process running inside SSH – functionally equivalent to what you want.


In your case, you would take over the apt-get process to be controlled from a new SSH session, screen session or the like. My favourite for this is the reptyr command:

$ sudo apt-get install reptyr
$ ps ax | grep apt-get
10626 pts/8   R+     0:32 apt-get upgrade

Then, with the pid you found for your process:

$ sudo reptyr -T 10626

Or if that does not work, try:

$ reptyr 10626

After this stage, all your keyboard input goes to the program you took over. Unfortunately you will not see old output of the SSH session, such as the apt-get output asking you for confirmation.


There are multiple other tools that basically work the same as reptyr (that is, via ptrace debug attachment). See the following questions and answers where they are discussed:

In the instructions above, the reptyr 10626 uses ptrace debug attachment while the sudo reptyr -T 10626 command uses TTY stealing and is preferable (details).

Finally, the reason why you can't take over a SSH session this way is because a sshd process is not controlled by a host terminal, instead it provides the slave part of a terminal – a pts device – while the master part controlling it resides on the client machine, here with a broken-down SSH session in between. When you force taking over such a sshd process with reptyr -s <pid>, your keyboard input goes to that process, not its active child process. So a "Ctrl+Z" will simply kill off that sshd.

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    Can you explain how you can install reptyr using apt-get in order to connect to an apt-get process that is still running? Doesn't the running process lock dpkg to prevent reptyr from being installed? – Mike Allen Aug 27 '20 at 19:29
  • @MikeAllen Good point. I believe I used it to attach to a process that was not apt-get but then wrote the answer for this specific question without noticing the point you raised. – tanius Aug 29 '20 at 11:36

For running long lasting processes, I use screen, or byobu if you want a more friendly interface.

For screen, you can use:

screen [program] [args]

This will run [program] and its [args] inside a screen session. Once the program is finished, the session is automatically closed. If you wish to keep the session after your program runs, just run screen without any arguments and a new prompt will appear inside the session. CTRL+A+D detaches the terminal from the current session.

To re-attach to a previous session:

screen -r

If there is only one session open, it will reattach immediately. If multiple sessions are ongoing, it will ask you which one you want to attach to. If you know the session name, you can just add it as an argument to this command line.

Byobu is a nice improvement. It's based on screen, but provides a bar at the bottom that shows all current sessions as tabs and gives easier shortcuts to move around those. You can:

  • F2 start a new session
  • F3 move to the next session tab on the left
  • F4 move to the next session tab on the right
  • F8 give a friendly name to the current session tab
  • F9 opens a options menu
  • CTRL+A+D detaches all sessions from the terminal.

WORD OF ADVICE: avoid leaving a session opened with the user root. If anyone gains access to your terminal (locally or remotely), they can easily re-attach to an ongoing session and use your system as root. If needed, it's best to start a session using a common user and sudo indivudual command lines as necessary.

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    May I quote the OP: "Moral of the story is to use screen a lot". Apparently that was not the question here. – January Sep 28 '12 at 12:13
  • Thanks for the writeup but January was correct. – user6658 Sep 28 '12 at 16:53
  • Use sudo screen <command> to setup a screen as root, which needs sudo access to reconnect to it. Far better than starting a screen normally, then changing to root within it. – djsmiley2kStaysInside Aug 15 '13 at 11:31

I was doing do-dist-upgrade via ssh from a laptop which went into suspend, hence Broken pipe. Upon going back into the machine I was seeing the upgrade-related processes still running, among which a whiptail asking me for input (which display manager to choose) and, relevantly, a root-owned SCREEN. I was able to do sudo su - and screen -r to attach to the session and, lo and behold, I have the whiptail dialog in front of me able to take input. I was able to resume the upgrade seamlessly.

Note: this was an upgrade from Ubuntu 14.04 to 16.04.

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