Replace traditional command to install ssh-keys

cat ~/.ssh/ | ssh usr@host’cat >> .ssh/authorized_keys’

With a single command:
ssh-copy-id -i ~/.ssh/ user@host

SSH-COPY-ID(1) BSD General Commands Manual SSH-COPY-ID(1)

ssh-copy-id — use locally available keys to authorise logins on a remote


ssh-copy-id [-n] [-i [identity_file]] [-p port] [-o ssh_option]
ssh-copy-id -h | -?


ssh-copy-id is a script that uses ssh(1) to log into a remote machine
(presumably using a login password, so password authentication should be
enabled, unless you’ve done some clever use of multiple identities). It
assembles a list of one or more fingerprints (as described below) and
tries to log in with each key, to see if any of them are already installed
(of course, if you are not using ssh-agent(1) this may result in you being
repeatedly prompted for pass-phrases). It then assembles a list of those
that failed to log in, and using ssh, enables logins with those keys on
the remote server. By default it adds the keys by appending them to the
remote user’s ~/.ssh/authorized_keys (creating the file, and directory, if
necessary). It is also capable of detecting if the remote system is a
NetScreen, and using its ‘set ssh pka-dsa key …’ command instead.

The options are as follows:

-i identity_file

Use only the key(s) contained in identity_file (rather than looking for identities via ssh-add(1) or in the default_ID_file). If the filename does not end in .pub this is added. If the filename is omitted, the default_ID_file is used. Note that this can be used to ensure that the keys copied have the comment one prefers and/or extra options applied, by ensuring that the key file has these set as preferred before the copy is

-n do a dry-run. Instead of installing keys on the remote system
simply prints the key(s) that would have been installed.

-h, -? Print Usage summary

-p port, -o ssh_option

These two options are simply passed through untouched, along with
their argument, to allow one to set the port or other ssh(1)
options, respectively. Rather than specifying these as command line options, it is often better to use (per-host) settings in ssh(1)’s configuration file:

Default behaviour without -i, is to check if ‘ssh-add -L’ provides any
output, and if so those keys are used. Note that this results in the com‐
ment on the key being the filename that was given to ssh-add(1) when the
key was loaded into your ssh-agent(1) rather than the comment contained in
that file, which is a bit of a shame. Otherwise, if ssh-add(1) provides
no keys contents of the default_ID_file will be used.
The default_ID_file is the most recent file that matches: ~/.ssh/id*.pub,
(excluding those that match ~/.ssh/* so if you create a key that
is not the one you want ssh-copy-id to use, just use touch(1) on your pre‐
ferred key’s .pub file to reinstate it as the most recent.


If you have already installed keys from one system on a lot of remote
hosts, and you then create a new key, on a new client machine, say, it can
be difficult to keep track of which systems on which you’ve installed the
new key. One way of dealing with this is to load both the new key and old
key(s) into your ssh-agent(1). Load the new key first, without the -c
option, then load one or more old keys into the agent, possibly by ssh-ing
to the client machine that has that old key, using the -A option to allow
agent forwarding:

user@newclient$ ssh-add

user@newclient$ ssh -A old.client

user@oldl$ ssh-add -c

… prompt for pass-phrase …

user@old$ logoff

user@newclient$ ssh someserver

now, if the new key is installed on the server, you’ll be allowed in
unprompted, whereas if you only have the old key(s) enabled, you’ll be
asked for confirmation, which is your cue to log back out and run
user@newclient$ ssh-copy-id -i someserver
The reason you might want to specify the -i option in this case is to
ensure that the comment on the installed key is the one from the .pub
file, rather than just the filename that was loaded into you agent. It
also ensures that only the id you intended is installed, rather than all
the keys that you have in your ssh-agent(1). Of course, you can specify
another id, or use the contents of the ssh-agent(1) as you prefer.
Having mentioned ssh-add(1)’s -c option, you might consider using this
whenever using agent forwarding to avoid your key being hijacked, but it
is much better to instead use ssh(1)’s ProxyCommand and -W option, to
bounce through remote servers while always doing direct end-to-end authen‐
tication. This way the middle hop(s) don’t get access to your
ssh-agent(1). A web search for ‘ssh proxycommand nc’ should prove
enlightening (N.B. the modern approach is to use the -W option, rather
than nc(1)).

SEE ALSO ssh(1), ssh-agent(1), sshd(8)

BSD February 15, 2015 BSD


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