Copy SSH Keys to A New Computer

Posted on with tags: software utility

I followed Miguel Grinberg’s tutorial setting up an SSH key on my desktop using ssh-keygen. I thought I could simply copy the private key id_rsa and public key to ~/.ssh directory on a new computer and SSH would work as on the first computer.

It does not work. I googled and found a Q&A on There are many answers to the question but only the answer by Victor Timoftil is related to what I am looking for. The simple answer is that,

Move ~/.ssh to the new machine and run ssh-add. DONE!

The long answer is that,

  1. In the old machine, take the folder ~/.ssh to an USB drive, or to any other storage you like.
  2. On the new machine, put the folder under ~ aka /home/$USER.
  3. Run ssh-add, on the new machine done.

I copy the two SSH keys files vie a flash drive that is formatted as ntfs format. The key files are having new permission 777. The ssh-add command will show an error for that. I have to use chmod 500 command to change file permissions. Also the ssh-add will ask a passphrase which is entered when you create the keys. It seems to be a safety feature to prevent someone stealing the two key files.

Update (6/28/2020): I find the above method is not a good practice of handling SSH keys. It is better to generate new private and public keys in a new computer and copy the new public key to the server according to a Q&A post. The server will have two public keys for the same user.

Update 2 (7/21/2020): In order to add a second public key to the github, an additional step “add your SSH key to the ssh-agent” is needed when generating the key. Follow instructions on those two github web pages.

Update 3 (11/10/2020): You can run ssh-agent automatically when you open bash shell by adding lines of code (on the linked page below) into .bashrc file.