Thursday, 12 March 2009

HowTo SSH/SCP without a password

HowTo SSH/SCP without a password.

This small HowTo will explain how to setup key-based authentication for password-less SSH and SCP usage.

This HowTo does assume the reader has some basic knowledge of ssh and a terminal, and is using an operating system that implements SSH. If you're using a Windows OS and want to use SSH, try PuTTY. For Putty, see key-based auth with Putty.

In the examples that follow please substitute 'servername' , 'ipaddress' and 'username' with the proper information for your setup. I have included a list of weblinks for the words in italic at the end of this document.

Step 1. Verify that you can connect normally (using a password) to the server you intend to setup keys for:

#### Examples ####

user@homebox ~ $ ssh username@'servername'

# Or:

user@homebox ~ $ ssh username@'ipaddress'

# If your username is the same on both the client ('homebox') and the server ('servername'):

user@homebox ~ $ ssh 'servername'

# Or:

user@homebox ~ $ ssh 'ipaddress'

# If this is your first time connecting to 'servername' (or 'ipaddress'), upon establishing a connection with the
# server you'll be asked if you want to add the servers fingerprint to the known_hosts file on your computer.
# Press 'enter' to add the fingerprint.

Step 2. Now that you're connected to the server and verified that you have everything you need for access (hopefully), disconnect by typing 'exit' .

#### Examples ####

user@servername ~ $ exit

# You should be back at:

user@homebox ~ $

Step 3. The next step is to copy a unique key generated on your 'homebox' to the server you are connecting too. First, before you generate a new key, check to see if you already have a key:

#### Example ####

user@homebox ~ $ ls -l ~/.ssh
total 20
-rwx--xr-x 1 user user 601 Feb 2 01:58 authorized_keys
-rwx--xr-x 1 user user 668 Jan 1 19:26 id_dsa
-rwx--xr-x 1 user user 599 Jan 1 19:26
-rwx--xr-x 1 user user 6257 Feb 2 21:04 known_hosts

# The file we need to copy to the server is named As you can see above, the file needed exists. You may or may not have other files in ~/.ssh as I do. If the key doesn't exist, however, you can make one as follows:

#### Example ####

user@homebox ~ $ ssh-keygen -t dsa
Generating public/private dsa key pair.
Enter file in which to save the key (/home/user/.ssh/id_dsa): # Press 'enter' here
Enter passphrase (empty for no passphrase): # Press 'enter' here
Enter same passphrase again: # Press 'enter' here
Your identification has been saved in /home/user/.ssh/id_dsa.
Your public key has been saved in /home/user/.ssh/
The key fingerprint is:
6f:c3:cb:50:e6:e9:90:f0:0f:68:d2:10:56:eb:1d:91 user@host

# Entering a password when asked during the key generation processes when prompted would require you to enter a password each time you SSH/SCP to the server which defeats the purpose of this document.

Step 4. Regardless whether you had a key ready to go or if you had to generate a new key, the next step is the same in either case. Now you're ready to copy the key to the server. Do so like this:

#### Example ####

user@homebox ~ $ ssh-copy-id -i ~/.ssh/ user@'servername' (or 'ipaddress')

# If you are asked weather or not you wish to continue, say yes.

Step 5. Now it's time to test the setup. To do that, try to ssh to the server:

#### Example ####

user@homebox ~ $ ssh 'servername' (or 'ipaddress')

# You should log in to the remote host without being asked for a password.

Step 6. You can now SSH or SCP to the remote host without having to enter a password at each connection. To make sure your public key stays secure from prying eyes, do the following to change permissions and restrict access on 'homebox' and also on 'servername' to ~/.ssh:

#### Example ####

user@homebox ~ $ chmod 600 ~/.ssh/id_dsa ~/.ssh/

# Verify the permissions on the files:

#### Example ####

user@homebox ~ $ ls -l ~/.ssh
-rw------- 1 user user 668 Feb 4 19:26 id_dsa
-rw------- 1 user user 599 Feb 4 19:26


1. OpenSSH

2. known_hosts

3. fingerprint

Nice post!

I've noticed that I don't have the command ssh-copy-id on my OS X machine (I didn't even know one existed!). To achieve the same effect I usually do the following:
user@homebox ~ $ scp ~/.ssh/ user@'servername':.ssh/authorized_keysThis is assuming you've already created a .ssh directory on your server 'servername' (just ssh in as normal and `mkdir .ssh`). This also assumes that you don't already have an `authorized_keys` file in the .ssh directory on your server. If you do just copy (scp) the file to a temporary file in your server's home directory and then
user@homebox ~ $ scp .ssh/ user@servername:homebox_dsa.pubuser@homebox ~ $ ssh user@servernameuser@servername ~ $ cat >> .ssh/authorized_keysuser@servername ~ $ rm If you've got it, the ssh-copy-id way is clearly a lot easier!

~ Mark

Hi Mark. Thanks for adding that bit. I don't have access to a Mac (new one anyway) so that's very nice to know.


Seth, I liked this post a lot, but felt the formatting and wording can be improved. I've made a few changes to the introduction.

(I wish I had used my name for my username now!)


I found an elegant way of creating a new, or adding to an existing authorized_keys file with a single command:

ssh -n "echo `cat ~/.ssh/` >> ~/.ssh/authorized_keys"-

I think it *is* a good practice to use pass phrases when using ssh keys. You can use ssh-agent on Linux and SSH Agent or SSHKeychain on Mac OS X, to avoid you to type your pass phrase everytime you access a remote host. Also, you can forward your keys using 'ssh -A' if you need to hop onto some host in the middle.

-- Igor

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