Public-key authentication streamlines SSH server access by eliminating the need for passwords. To set this up, you'll need to add your SSH public key to the server's authorized_keys file, located within the user's ~/.ssh/ directory.

Once your public key is in place, you can use passwordless SSH login and even automate tasks like using remote command execution via scripts, provided your key pair doesn't require a passphrase.

You have two options for copying your public key: manually or using the ssh-copy-id tool. There's also an SSH tricks to facilitate the process.

Steps to copy SSH public key to remote server using ssh-copy-id:

  1. Open the terminal.
  2. Find your public SSH key.
     $ ls ~/.ssh/id*
    /home/user/.ssh/id_rsa           /home/user/.ssh/

    The public key is normally the one with the .pub extension.

  3. Make sure your public key is in OpenSSH format.
    $ file .ssh/ 
    .ssh/ OpenSSH RSA public key

    authorized_keys file accepts public keys in OpenSSH format.

  4. Use the ssh-copy-id command to add your SSH public key to the remote server user's authorized_keys file.
    $ ssh-copy-id user@remote-host
    The authenticity of host 'remote-host (' can't be established.
    ECDSA key fingerprint is SHA256:hXGpY0ALjXvDUDF1cDs2N8WRO9SuJZ/lfq+9q99BPV0.
    Are you sure you want to continue connecting (yes/no)? yes
    /usr/bin/ssh-copy-id: INFO: attempting to log in with the new key(s), to filter out any that are already installed
    /usr/bin/ssh-copy-id: INFO: 2 key(s) remain to be installed -- if you are prompted now it is to install the new keys
    user@remote-host's password:
    Number of key(s) added: 2
    Now try logging into the machine, with:   "ssh 'user@remote-host'"
    and check to make sure that only the key(s) you wanted were added.

    If you want to use other public key rather that then one in the default location, use the -i option.

    $ ssh-copy-id -i ~/.ssh/ user@remote-host
  5. Test your login using the key.
    $ ssh -i .ssh/id_rsa user@remote-host
    Welcome to Ubuntu 19.04 (GNU/Linux 5.0.0-20-generic x86_64)
     * Documentation:
     * Management:
     * Support:
      System information as of Sat Jun 29 11:31:23 UTC 2019
      System load:  0.16               Processes:            211
      Usage of /:   25.8% of 19.56GB   Users logged in:      1
      Memory usage: 13%                IP address for ens33:
      Swap usage:   0%
     * MicroK8s 1.15 is out! It has already been installed on more
       than 14 different distros. Guess which ones?
    0 updates can be installed immediately.
    0 of these updates are security updates.
    Last login: Sat Jun 29 11:08:20 2019 from

Alternative methods:

  • Manually append your public key to the remote SSH server's key to authorized_keys file. For example, copy the content of your ~/.ssh/ to the server's ~/.ssh/authorized_keys file.
  • Using the following command combination
    $ cat ~/.ssh/ | ssh user@remote-host 'cat >> ~/.ssh/authorized_keys' 
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