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Controlling headscale with remote CLI


  • A workstation to run headscale (could be Linux, macOS, other supported platforms)
  • A headscale server (version 0.13.0 or newer)
  • Access to create API keys (local access to the headscale server)
  • headscale must be served over TLS/HTTPS
  • Remote access does not support unencrypted traffic.
  • Port 50443 must be open in the firewall (or port overriden by grpc_listen_addr option)


This documentation has the goal of showing a user how-to set control a headscale instance from a remote machine with the headscale command line binary.

Create an API key

We need to create an API key to authenticate our remote headscale when using it from our workstation.

To create a API key, log into your headscale server and generate a key:

headscale apikeys create --expiration 90d

Copy the output of the command and save it for later. Please note that you can not retrieve a key again, if the key is lost, expire the old one, and create a new key.

To list the keys currently assosicated with the server:

headscale apikeys list

and to expire a key:

headscale apikeys expire --prefix "<PREFIX>"

Download and configure headscale

  1. Download the latest headscale binary from GitHub's release page:

  2. Put the binary somewhere in your PATH, e.g. /usr/local/bin/headscale

  3. Make headscale executable:

chmod +x /usr/local/bin/headscale
  1. Configure the CLI through Environment Variables

for example:

export HEADSCALE_CLI_API_KEY="abcde12345"

This will tell the headscale binary to connect to a remote instance, instead of looking for a local instance (which is what it does on the server).

The API key is needed to make sure that your are allowed to access the server. The key is not needed when running directly on the server, as the connection is local.

  1. Test the connection

Let us run the headscale command to verify that we can connect by listing our nodes:

headscale nodes list

You should now be able to see a list of your nodes from your workstation, and you can now control the headscale server from your workstation.

Behind a proxy

It is possible to run the gRPC remote endpoint behind a reverse proxy, like Nginx, and have it run on the same port as headscale.

While this is not a supported feature, an example on how this can be set up on NixOS is shown here.



  • Make sure you have the same headscale version on your server and workstation
  • Make sure you use version 0.13.0 or newer.
  • Verify that your TLS certificate is valid and trusted
  • If you do not have access to a trusted certificate (e.g. from Let's Encrypt), add your self signed certificate to the trust store of your OS or
  • Set HEADSCALE_CLI_INSECURE to 0 in your environement