SSH is great and secure… Unless you need to automate it. Then it sucks because your only options are to create a passwordless key, or login add your key to ssh-agent, stay logged in forever. Here’s a quick guide to having the best of both worlds. A Secure SSH Connection that can be used in automated scripts. ( with the single catch, that upon reboot you need to re-enter your key’s password ) Create and Distribute your Key

First create an SSH key like so:

ssh-keygen -t rsa

When prompted for a password use something long varied and secure

When ssh-keygen is done you should see a message like:

Your identification has been saved in /home/yourusername/.ssh/id_rsa.
Your public key has been saved in /home/yourusername/.ssh/

Our public key needs to be moved to the web server. SSH is the best way to do this, and here is a neat 1 liner that can do it all from the machine you are currently on. Please substitute your username and server

cat ~/.ssh/ | ssh [username]@[server] 'cat >> .ssh/authorized_keys'

Make sure the following files and directories have the right settings (assuming your username is ‘foo’)

  File or Directory          User   Group   Permissions
  -------------------------- ------ ------- -------------
  ~/.ssh                    foo    users   700
  ~/.ssh/authorized_keys   foo    users   644
  ~/.ssh/        foo    users   644
  ~/.ssh/id_rsa            foo    users   600

or just use this all purpose one liner. It copies the key over and sets permissions correctly and symlinks authorized_keys2 to authorized_keys (sometimes SSHD is configured that way.

cat ~/.ssh/ | ssh [username]@[server] 'cat >> .ssh/authorized_keys; chmod 644 $HOME/.ssh/authorized_keys; ln -s $HOME/.ssh/authorized_keys $HOME/.ssh/authorized_keys2; chmod 700 $HOME/.ssh; chmod 644 $HOME/.ssh/; chmod 600 $HOME/.ssh/id_rsa'

Great, now we have substituted one password for another one. But at least we are still secure.

Automating your password with KeyChain and SSH-Agent

You likely already have SSH-Agent, since it is distributed with SSH, but you need Keychain. Keychain was developed by the founder of the Gentoo Linux distribution and is an elegant solution to this problem. Keychain is a better solution than the alternatives because it only requires you setup one ssh-agent per user, rather than one per session. This makes it acceptable for use in automated scripts.

Installing keychain

Keychain can be found here . There are links to may different packages, so it should be easily installable on your distro. Since I use SuSE, i grabbed the rpm and installed it with

# wget
# rpm -Uvh keychain-2.6.8-1.noarch.rpm

Setting up keychain

Now that we have keychain installed we need to add it to our ~/.bash_profile.
Here’s a good standard keychain-enabled ~/.bash_profile straight from the author himself, with a bit of an update to make it compatible with an updated version of keychain.

#on this next line, we start keychain and point it to the private keys that #we'd like it to cache
/usr/bin/keychain ~/.ssh/id_rsa ~/.ssh/id_dsa
source ~/.keychain/${HOSTNAME}-sh > /dev/null
#sourcing ~/.bashrc is a good thing
source ~/.bashrc

Now log out and log back in. Now keychain will run and will start ssh-agent for you. It will record what it needs to in a global way (not attached to your session but in ~/.keychain/), lastly it will prompt you for passphrases for any of your private keys (your ~/.ssh/id_rsa file).

The whole process will look like this…

KeyChain 2.6.8;
Copyright 2002-2004 Gentoo Foundation; Distributed under the GPL

 * Found existing ssh-agent (29526)
 * Warning: can't find /root/.ssh/id_dsa; skipping
 * Adding 1 ssh key(s)...
Enter passphrase for /root/.ssh/id_rsa:
Identity added: /root/.ssh/id_rsa (/root/.ssh/id_rsa)

Now log out and log back in again.

KeyChain 2.6.8;
Copyright 2002-2004 Gentoo Foundation; Distributed under the GPL

 * Found existing ssh-agent (29526)
 * Warning: can't find /root/.ssh/id_dsa; skipping
 * Known ssh key: /root/.ssh/id_rsa

Notice how it didn’t prompt you for your password again. Pretty cool, huh… And you can use this in scripts run by cron as well.

Using keychain from cron

To use ssh or scp commands from your shell scripts and cron jobs, just make sure that they source your ~/.ssh-agent file first:

source ~/.keychain/${HOSTNAME}-sh

Then, any following ssh or scp commands will be able to find the currently-running ssh-agent and establish secure passwordless connections just like you can from the shell.