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Thomas H Jones II
Thomas H Jones II

Posted on • Originally published at on

Sometimes The (Workable) Answer Is Too Simple to See

One of the tasks I was asked to tackle was helping the team I'm working with move their (Python and Ansible-based) automation-development efforts from a Windows environment to a couple of Linux servers.

Were the problem to only require addressing how I tend to work, the solution would have been very straight-forward. Since I work across a bunch of contracts, I tend to select tooling that is reliably available: pretty much just git + vi ...and maybe some linting-containers.

However, on this new contract, much of my team doesn't work that way. While they've used git before, it was mostly within the context of VSCode. So, required me to solve two problems – one relevant to the team I'm enabling and one possibly relevant only to me: making it so the team could use VSCode without Windows; making it so that wouldn't be endlessly prompted for passwords.

The easy "VSCode without Windows" problem was actually the easier problem. It boiled down to:

  1. Install the VSCode server/agent on the would be (Linux-based) dev servers
  2. Update the Linux-based dev servers' /etc/ssh/sshd\_config file's AllowTcpForwarding setting (this one probably shouldn't have been necessary: the VSCode documentation indicates that one should be able to use UNIX domain-sockets on the remote host; however, the setting for doing so didn't appear to be available in my VSCode client)
  3. Point my laptop's VSCode to the Linux-based dev servers

Because I'm lazy, I hate having to enter passwords over and over. This means that, to the greatest degree possible, I make use of things like keyrings. In most of my prior environments, things were PuTTY-based. So, my routine, upon logging in to my workstation each morning, included "fire up Pageant and load my keys": whether then using the PuTTY or MobaXterm ssh-client, this meant no need to enter passwords (the rest of the day) beyond having entered them as part of Pageant's key-loading.

According to the documentation, VSCode isn't compatible with PuTTY – and, by extension, not compatible with Pageant. So, I dutifully Googled around for how to solve the problem. Most of the hits I found seem to rely on having a greater level of access to our customer-issued laptops than what we're afforded: I don't have enough permissions to even check if our PowerShell installations have the OpenSSH-related bits.

Ultimately, I turned to my employer's internal Slack channel for our automation team and posed the question. I was initially met with links to the same pages my Google searches had turned up. Since our customer-issued laptops do come with Git-BASH installed, someone suggested setting up its keyring and then firing-up VSCode from within that application. Being so used to accessing Windows apps via clicky-clicky, it totally hadn't occurred to me to try that. It actually worked (surprising both me and the person who suggested it).

That said, it means I have an all-but-unused Git-BASH session taunting me from the task-bar. Fortunately, I have the taskbar set to auto-hide. But still: "not tidy".

Also: because everybody uses VSCode on this project, nobody really uses Git-BASH. So, any solution I propose that uses it will require further change-accommodation by the incumbent staff.

Fortunately, most of the incumbent staff already uses MobaXterm when they need CLI-based access to remote systems. Since MobaXterm integrates with Pageant, it's a small skip-and-a-jump to have VSCode use MobaXterm's keyring service ...which pulls from Pageant. Biggest change will be telling them "Once you've opened Moba, invoke VSCode from within it rather than going clicky-clicky on the pretty desktop icon".

I'm sure there's other paths to a solution. Mostly comes down to: A) time available to research and validate them; and, B) how much expertise is needed to use them, since I'll have to write any setup-documentation appropriate to the audience it's meant to serve

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