Free SSH apps for iOS

A review of WebSSH, Server Auditor, and Mocha Telnet Lite

Summary: for logging in to *nix boxes, WebSSH wins.

Our sysadmin group was recently provided with some iPad Airs for emergency remote support when we're on call. We were also provied with the Belkin QODE Ultimate Keyboard Case. Their primary use is ssh access to various machines, and so I ook a look at the available free ssh clients to see if any were sufficient.

The first thing I came across is that the Belkin QODE case is not a good choice, because the Bluetooth keyboard includes no control key, and no escape key. Most of us are either vi or emacs users, and the shells like control keys, and various other utitlies rely heavily on control and escape so this was essential.

I already had an Adesso 3.0 Bluetooth keyboard that I use with my Galaxy S3 phone. It works fine (with ConnectBot, not available on iOS). It has both control and escape keys, and a more conventional keyboard layout.

Mocha Telnet Lite

The first thing I tried was Mocha Telnet Lite. This was nearly unusable, as there is no soft "escape" button on the screen. It doesn include a "control" button on the screen, so I could manage some things. I say "nearly", because it turns out you can generate an escape with ctrl-[, so I was able to get work done. In addition to no on-screen escape, the real escape key on my Adesso keyboard didn't work either (although the Control key did). Also, the up and down arrow keys didn't work either. And one more thing that annoyed me, after I'd type my password, it wouldn't accept it when I het the enter key, I had to touch the ok prompt on the screen.

Server Auditor

Server Auditor was a minor improvement. It has an on-screen escape key. And also the escape key on my Adesso bluetooth keyboard worked fine (as well as the control key). The arrow keys all worked. So we were clearly a step in the right direction. It still had that annoying thing with the password prompt where you had to touch the "OK" on the screen. But it had one new and significant annoyance: there's no obvious disconnect button. Couple this with the fact that when you exit the session it fails to detect the disconnect, and it was looking like a real pain to use for this reason.


The third try is the charm, right? In this case yes, as WebSSH was my third try, and everything worked. The onscreen control and escape buttons were there, and worked. The back arrow works as a disconnect session button, and when you exit it detects the disconnect anyway. All the keys on my Adesso keyboard worked properly.

It had a couple of other nice features, and I don't know if the others did or not because I didn't get that far. You could swipe up to see the scrollback in the terminal. And you could swipe the title bar left or right to get to multiple ssh connections.

It's still not quite perfect. The terminal size was off by one line. When I would start vi, there'd be an extra line at the top of the screen that was part of the scroll back history. Also, there was an odd mode where the bluetooth keyboard didn't work, but after fiddling a bit it came back. One of the other two had done this same thing. If I avoid hitting the keyboard icon it seems to avoid this issue.


First off, while the Belkin QODE case is a very nice case, with a solid and comfortable feel, it's poorly suited to our purpose where we need a traditional *nix keyboard in front of us. The Adesso is much better. Presumably any bluetooth keyboard with control and escape keys would work but I haven't tested others.

WebSSH is the clear winner of the three apps I looked at (for our usage). There are other free SSH apps out there that I didn't get around to checking, because WebSSH is good enough for me right now. Some apps (in particular non-free apps) say they can remap other bluetooth keys to escape and control if your keyboard doesn't have them (e.g. use the "option" key as a control key). This might also be a workable solution, but I didn't get that far and don't really need to.

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