Bottom Line: Here’s how to change the SSH port with El Capitan’s new System Integrity Protection (SIP)

In previous versions of OS X, if you wanted to run SSHD on a custom SSH port, you could just edit /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/ssh.plist. For better or worse, in OS X 10.11 El Capitan, a new security measure prevents editing this file, even with root privileges.

As discussed in this Stack Overflow thread, there are a few workarounds, such as disabling SIP with csrutil disable. However, I prefer the method suggested here by Mark Nichols, which is to basically copy the ssh.plist file into /Library/LaunchDaemons/ and make a second SSH service that you can edit.

I took a few slightly different steps, so I thought I’d post my experience and perhaps see if I could help out a few others struggling with this problem.

Specifically, I followed the same steps of copying the plist and editing the Label (I used com.n8henrie.sshd) and SockServiceName (to my custom SSH port number), and afterward I found that I could sudo launchctl load /Library/LaunchDaemons/ssh.plist and sudo launchctl start com.n8henrie.sshd, and everything worked well. I could verify the port was open with nmap localhost -p $SSHPORT (obviously replacing $SSHPORT with the port number). For those without nmap installed, you can also use netstat -at | grep LISTEN as recommended by Nichols.

However, I found that after I rebooted, I couldn’t connect by SSH. I also found that my Sharing pane in System Preference kept having the Remote Login button checked (the default way to turn on SSH), even though I wasn’t checking it. So here’s what I ended up doing that seems to have things running how I want.

  1. Copy the file: sudo cp /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/ssh.plist /Library/LaunchDaemons/ssh.plist
  2. Edit the file with root privileges, e.g. sudo vim /Library/LaunchDaemons/ssh.plist to match the contents below, replacing 12345 with your SSH port of choice, and customizing the Label:
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE plist PUBLIC "-//Apple//DTD PLIST 1.0//EN" "">
<plist version="1.0">
  1. Enable the plist: sudo launchctl load /Library/LaunchDaemons/ssh.plist
    • Note that while normally you would need to do something like sudo launchctl start com.n8herie.sshd, I set the RunAtLoad key, so you shouldn’t have to manually start it.
  2. Verify that the plist ran: sudo launchctl list | grep sshd
    • If you see something like - 255 com.n8henrie.sshd, it worked. If you see `` instead of 255, it is loaded but not started, so it won’t work. If you don’t see anything, it didn’t even load, so make sure you’re correctly greping part of the Label that you put in the plist.
  3. Reboot, and run sudo launchctl start com.n8herie.sshd again to make sure it’s properly running at boot.

One other tip: if you’re going to edit the plist, make sure it is not loaded prior to editing. Just to be safe, sudo launchctl stop com.n8henrie.sshd and sudo launchctl unload /Library/LaunchDaemons/ssh.plist every time prior to editing, then load it again after you’re done.

Hopefully this should get you up and running. Let me know if you have other suggestions or modifications to this strategy!