I'm always running ssh with the -i parameter and it's a hassle to always type in the correct key for whatever host I'm connecting to.

Is there a config file or something (on Mac) to define which private key to use when connecting to a particular host?

3 Answers 3


Yes, you want to create a ~/.ssh/config file. That lets you define a shortcut name for a host, the username you want to connect as, and which key to use. Here's part of mine, with hostnames obfuscated:

Host tabs
     HostName tabs.com
     User     me
     IdentityFile       ~/.ssh/new_rsa

Host scm.company.com
     User       cap
     IdentityFile       ~/.ssh/git_rsa

Host project-staging
     User     me
     IdentityFile       ~/.ssh/new_rsa

With this I can say, ssh tabs and get connected to host tabs.com as user me, with key new_rsa, as though I'd used ssh me@tabs.com -i ~/.ssh/new_rsa.

  • 1
    Also a good way to go if you don't want to use ssh-agent for whatever reason.
    – voretaq7
    Apr 22, 2011 at 19:28
  • 1
    I didn't know that was possible. +1
    – Safado
    Apr 22, 2011 at 19:48
  • Thanks. Maybe small addition it's worthwhile to menaion that private key files should have correct permissions like setuped like chmod 600 ~/.ssh/id_rsa Jul 23, 2021 at 16:10

SSH clients will typically use ~/.ssh/identity (ssh v1) or one of~/.ssh/id_rsa or ~/.ssh/id_dsa (v2) as the default private key. You can change this in ~/.ssh/config (the IdentityFile parameter - the -i option to SSH actually overrides this. See man ssh_config for details).

If you have multiple private keys to deal with using ssh-agent is probably a better choice.
See man ssh-agent for more details.

  • +1 for describing the defaults and citing the man page.
    – pjmorse
    Apr 22, 2011 at 19:42

If you use different keys for different servers I don't think there is.

If you use a single key for all servers, just save it as ~/.ssh/id_rsa, it will be used automatically.

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