SSH-AGENT(1) BSD General Commands Manual SSH-AGENT(1)
ssh-agent - authentication agent
ssh-agent [-a bind_address] [-c | -s] [-t life] [-d] [command [args ...]]
ssh-agent [-c | -s] -k
ssh-agent is a program to hold private keys used for public key authenti
cation (RSA, DSA). The idea is that ssh-agent is started in the begin
ning of an X-session or a login session, and all other windows or pro
grams are started as clients to the ssh-agent program. Through use of
environment variables the agent can be located and automatically used for
authentication when logging in to other machines using ssh(1).
The options are as follows:
Bind the agent to the unix-domain socket bind_address. The
default is /tmp/ssh-XXXXXXXXXX/agent..
-c Generate C-shell commands on stdout. This is the default if
SHELL looks like its a csh style of shell.
-s Generate Bourne shell commands on stdout. This is the default if
SHELL does not look like its a csh style of shell.
-k Kill the current agent (given by the SSH_AGENT_PID environment
Set a default value for the maximum lifetime of identities added
to the agent. The lifetime may be specified in seconds or in a
time format specified in sshd_config(5). A lifetime specified
for an identity with ssh-add(1) overrides this value. Without
this option the default maximum lifetime is forever.
-d Debug mode. When this option is specified ssh-agent will not
If a commandline is given, this is executed as a subprocess of the agent.
When the command dies, so does the agent.
The agent initially does not have any private keys. Keys are added using
ssh-add(1). When executed without arguments, ssh-add(1) adds the files
~/.ssh/id_rsa, ~/.ssh/id_dsa and ~/.ssh/identity. If the identity has a
passphrase, ssh-add(1) asks for the passphrase (using a small X11 appli
cation if running under X11, or from the terminal if running without X).
It then sends the identity to the agent. Several identities can be
stored in the agent; the agent can automatically use any of these identi
ties. ssh-add -l displays the identities currently held by the agent.
The idea is that the agent is run in the users local PC, laptop, or ter
minal. Authentication data need not be stored on any other machine, and
authentication passphrases never go over the network. However, the con
nection to the agent is forwarded over SSH remote logins, and the user
can thus use the privileges given by the identities anywhere in the net
work in a secure way.
There are two main ways to get an agent set up: The first is that the
agent starts a new subcommand into which some environment variables are
exported, eg ssh-agent xterm &. The second is that the agent prints the
needed shell commands (either sh(1) or csh(1) syntax can be generated)
which can be evalled in the calling shell, eg eval ssh-agent -s for
Bourne-type shells such as sh(1) or ksh(1) and eval ssh-agent -c for
csh(1) and derivatives.
Later ssh(1) looks at these variables and uses them to establish a con
nection to the agent.
The agent will never send a private key over its request channel.
Instead, operations that require a private key will be performed by the
agent, and the result will be returned to the requester. This way, pri
vate keys are not exposed to clients using the agent.
A unix-domain socket is created and the name of this socket is stored in
the SSH_AUTH_SOCK environment variable. The socket is made accessible
only to the current user. This method is easily abused by root or
another instance of the same user.
The SSH_AGENT_PID environment variable holds the agents process ID.
The agent exits automatically when the command given on the command line
Contains the protocol version 1 RSA authentication identity of
Contains the protocol version 2 DSA authentication identity of
Contains the protocol version 2 RSA authentication identity of
Unix-domain sockets used to contain the connection to the authen
tication agent. These sockets should only be readable by the
owner. The sockets should get automatically removed when the
ssh(1), ssh-add(1), ssh-keygen(1), sshd(8)
OpenSSH is a derivative of the original and free ssh 1.2.12 release by
Tatu Ylonen. Aaron Campbell, Bob Beck, Markus Friedl, Niels Provos, Theo
de Raadt and Dug Song removed many bugs, re-added newer features and cre
ated OpenSSH. Markus Friedl contributed the support for SSH protocol
versions 1.5 and 2.0.
BSD September 25, 1999 BSD