Connect to your target Linux system in Visual Studio

Linux support is available in Visual Studio 2017 and later.

You can configure a Linux project to target a remote machine or the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL). For both remote machines and for WSL, you need to set up a remote connection in Visual Studio 2017.

You can configure a Linux project to target a remote machine or the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL). For a remote machine, you need to set up a remote connection in Visual Studio. To connect to WSL, skip ahead to the Connect to WSL section.

When using a remote connection, Visual Studio builds C++ Linux projects on the remote machine. It doesn't matter if it's a physical machine, a VM in the cloud, or WSL. To build the project, Visual Studio copies the source code to your remote Linux computer. Then, the code gets compiled based on Visual Studio settings.


Visual Studio 2019 version 16.5 and later also supports secure, Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) 140-2 compliant cryptographic connections to Linux systems for remote development. To use a FIPS-compliant connection, follow the steps in Set up FIPS-compliant secure remote Linux development instead.

Set up the SSH server on the remote system

If ssh isn't already set up and running on your Linux system, follow these steps to install it. The examples in this article use Ubuntu 18.04 LTS with OpenSSH server version 7.6. However, the instructions should be the same for any distro using a moderately recent version of OpenSSH.

  1. On the Linux system, install and start the OpenSSH server:

    sudo apt install openssh-server
    sudo service ssh start
  2. If you’d like the ssh server to start automatically when the system boots, enable it using systemctl:

    sudo systemctl enable ssh

Set up the remote connection

  1. In Visual Studio, choose Tools > Options on the menu bar to open the Options dialog. Then select Cross Platform > Connection Manager to open the Connection Manager dialog.

    If you haven't set up a connection in Visual Studio before, when you build your project for the first time, Visual Studio opens the Connection Manager dialog for you.

  2. In the Connection Manager dialog, choose the Add button to add a new connection.

    Connection Manager

    In either scenario, the Connect to Remote System window is displayed.

    Connect to Remote System

  3. Enter the following information:

    Entry Description
    Host Name Name or IP address of your target device
    Port Port that the SSH service is running on, typically 22
    User name User to authenticate as
    Authentication type Password and Private Key are both supported
    Password Password for the entered user name
    Private key file Private key file created for ssh connection
    Passphrase Passphrase used with private key selected above

    You can use either a password or a key file and passphrase for authentication. For many development scenarios, password authentication is sufficient, but key files are more secure. If you already have a key pair, it's possible to reuse it. Currently Visual Studio only supports RSA and DSA keys for remote connections.

  4. Choose the Connect button to attempt a connection to the remote computer.

    If the connection succeeds, Visual Studio configures IntelliSense to use the remote headers. For more information, see IntelliSense for headers on remote systems.

    If the connection fails, the entry boxes that need to be changed are outlined in red.

    Connection Manager Error

    If you use key files for authentication, make sure the target machine's SSH server is running and configured properly.

Logging for remote connections

You can enable logging to help troubleshoot connection problems. On the menu bar, select Tools > Options. In the Options dialog, select Cross Platform > Logging:

Remote Logging

Logs include connections, all commands sent to the remote machine (their text, exit code and execution time), and all output from Visual Studio to the shell. Logging works for any cross-platform CMake project or MSBuild-based Linux project in Visual Studio.

You can configure the output to go to a file or to the Cross Platform Logging pane in the Output window. For MSBuild-based Linux projects, MSBuild commands sent to the remote machine aren't routed to the Output Window because they're emitted out-of-process. Instead, they're logged to a file, with a prefix of "msbuild_".

Command-line utility for the Connection Manager

Visual Studio 2019 version 16.5 or later: ConnectionManager.exe is a command-line utility to manage remote development connections outside of Visual Studio. It's useful for tasks such as provisioning a new development machine. Or, you can use it to set up Visual Studio for continuous integration. For examples and a complete reference to the ConnectionManager command, see ConnectionManager reference.

TCP Port Forwarding

Visual Studio's Linux support has a dependency on TCP port forwarding. Rsync and gdbserver are affected if TCP port forwarding is disabled on your remote system. If you're impacted by this dependency, you can upvote this suggestion ticket on Developer Community.

rsync is used by both MSBuild-based Linux projects and CMake projects to copy headers from your remote system to Windows for use by IntelliSense. When you can't enable TCP port forwarding, disable the automatic download of remote headers. To disable it, use Tools > Options > Cross Platform > Connection Manager > Remote Headers IntelliSense Manager. If the remote system doesn't have TCP port forwarding enabled, you'll see this error when the download of remote headers for IntelliSense begins:

Headers Error

rsync is also used by Visual Studio's CMake support to copy source files to the remote system. If you can't enable TCP port forwarding, you can use sftp as your remote copy sources method. sftp is often slower than rsync, but doesn't have a dependency on TCP port forwarding. You can manage your remote copy sources method with the remoteCopySourcesMethod property in the CMake Settings Editor. If TCP port forwarding is disabled on your remote system, you'll see an error in the CMake output window the first time it invokes rsync.

Rsync Error

gdbserver can be used for debugging on embedded devices. If you can't enable TCP port forwarding, then you must use gdb for all remote debugging scenarios. gdb is used by default when debugging projects on a remote system.

Connect to WSL

In Visual Studio 2017, you use the same steps to connect to WSL as you use for a remote Linux machine. Use localhost for the Host Name.

Visual Studio 2019 version 16.1 added native support for using C++ with the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL). That means you can build and debug on your local WSL installation directly. You no longer need to add a remote connection or configure SSH. You can find details on how to install WSL here.

To configure your WSL installation to work with Visual Studio, you need the following tools installed: gcc or clang, gdb, make, ninja-build (only required for CMake projects using Visual Studio 2019 version 16.6 or later), rsync, and zip. You can install them on distros that use apt by using this command, which also installs the g++ compiler:

sudo apt install g++ gdb make ninja-build rsync zip

For more information, see Download, install, and set up the Linux workload.

To configure an MSBuild project for WSL, see Configure a Linux project. To configure a CMake project for WSL, see Configure a Linux CMake project. To follow step-by-step instructions for creating a simple console application with WSL, check out this introductory blog post on C++ with Visual Studio 2019 and the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL).

See Also

Configure a Linux project
Configure a Linux CMake project
Deploy, run, and debug your Linux project
Configure CMake debugging sessions