Manage Multiple SSH Private Keys

Last updated on October 11, 2018

If you have multiple ssh keys, it is sometimes hard to manage. This was written before, but mostly they are handling using different keys with different host. What if you have two or more GitHub or BitBucket accounts requiring different keys? As a result, I created skm to provide a more general solution. Here I’ll give a brief introduction of how to manage multiple SSH private keys with skm.


Since skm is written in Ruby, you need to install ruby first. Ruby is shipped with Mac OS X, and for most Linux distributions, you can install them quite easily:

# Debian/ubuntu
sudo apt-get install ruby

# Fedora
sudo yum install ruby

Then install RubyGems if gems command does not exist.

Alternatively, you could use rvm to install Ruby and RubyGems.

Finally install skm:

gem install skm     # You may need root privilege by prepending sudo

Use skm

Create Keys

If you want to create new keys with skm, simply use the following command:

skm create key_name

Or use the following command to add a comment to the key (you may prefer it your email address):

skm create key_name -C ""

Then you should find your new keys stored in a directory named key_name located at ~/.skm/keys:

$ ls ~/.skm/keys/key_name

Import Keys

To import keys to skm, simply create a new directory in ~/.skm/keys and copy id_rsa and (or id_dsa and into that directory:

mkdir -p ~/.skm/keys/key_name
cp /path/to/id_rsa /path/to/ ~/.skm/keys/key_name

Switch Keys

Suppose you already have several keys either created or imported. list command will list them all:

$ skm list

Say now we want to use key1. Simply run skm use key1, then the keys in ~/.skm/keys/key1 will be copied to ~/.ssh to make the keys valid. After doing some works, if you run skm use key2, the keys in ~/.skm/keys/key2 will be copied to ~/.ssh, which makes key2 valid.


OK, suppose you have two accounts hare and tortoise on some website, which requires different keys for each account. Then you need two keys:

skm create hare
skm create tortoise

Let’s list them:

$ skm list

Then you could switch them by skm use hare or skm use tortoise.

Different Hosts with Different Keys

Besides all I’ve written above, if you still need to connect to some hosts with some specific keys, you can still take advantage of ~/.ssh/config. For example, you could have something like this in ~/.ssh/config (the example is taken from this post with slight modifications):

    User git
    PreferredAuthentications publickey
    IdentityFile ~/.skm/keys/git/id_rsa
    PreferredAuthentications publickey
    IdentityFile ~/.skm/keys/fedoraproject/id_rsa
    PreferredAuthentications publickey
    IdentityFile ~/.skm/keys/fedoraproject/id_rsa

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