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SSH client setup using keys

The following steps will set up your ssh keypairs on your local machine, copy the public key to your server, and configure your ssh client to use a specific private key with a server alias.

First, generate your keypair, I generally name the keys with my username-service, username-hostname, or username-device, sometimes even a combination of the three.

To generate keys for a new server at

ssh-keygen -t rsa -b 4096 -C ''

Things to keep in mind:

  • The email does not have to be the same domain as the service/server you are connecting to
  • The -t rsa -b 4096 options are safe and will work on most servers, you can also use -t ed25519 if you wish.

Once you're in the ssh-keygen prompt it will ask you to provide a name for your keys (you can also do this in the command itself using the -f <filename>)

Generating public/private rsa key pair. Enter file in which to save the key (/home/user/.ssh/id_rsa):

The ssh-keygen application will then, prompt you for a passphrase to secure your key. (You don't have to, but it is recommended). If you don't wish to use a passphrase just press ENTER twice.

Now, we need to copy our keys to the server, we do so by entering the following

ssh-copy-id -i .ssh/yourkeyfile [username@hostname](mailto:username@hostname)

This will effectively copy your keyfile over to the new server in a secure fashion. More reading on this here.

Next, you will want to add the key to your .ssh/config to be used automatically with the specified host it was created for; this saves the leg work of having to remember which key goes with which host, and also from having to type -i /path/to/key options with your ssh command.

To do this, first we need to edit our config, so open up .ssh/config in your preferred editor and enter the following:


# This will set up the use of example as an alias for the FQDN of the server you want to connect to
Host example
AddKeysToAgent yes
UseKeychain yes
IdentityFile ~/.ssh/securedomain_username

In this config the following are true:

  • Host is an alias to the server we wish to connect to, it does not have to match the domain name.
  • Hostname is the actual FQDN of the server we wish to connect to
  • AddKeysToAgent tells ssh to add the specified keyfiles to our existing s_sh-agent_
  • UseKeychain tells ssh to utilize the keychain, which either starts the ssh-agent, or connects to an already running instance saving the trouble of typing the passphrase for a given key if you're logging in and out of a server frequently.
  • IdentityFile is your keyfile you wish to use for the host you are configuring; probably the key you just generated.

Using this config and example; we can now use the following command

ssh [user@example](mailto:user@example)

Which using this config, in the background is expanded out to the following command

ssh -i ~/.ssh/securedomain_username

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