I have a PEM file which I add to a running ssh-agent:

$ file query.pem
query.pem: PEM RSA private key

$ ssh-add ./query.pem
Identity added: ./query.pem (./query.pem)

$ ssh-add -l | grep query
2048 ef:XX:XX:XX:XX:XX:XX:XX:XX:XX:XX:XX:XX:XX:XX:XX ./query.pem (RSA)

How can I get the key's fingerprint (which I see in ssh-agent) directly from the file? I know ssh-keygen -l -f some_key works for "normal" ssh keys, but not for PEM files.

If I try ssh-keygen on the .pem file, I get:

$ ssh-keygen -l -f ./query.pem                                             
key_read: uudecode PRIVATE KEY----- failed
key_read: uudecode PRIVATE KEY----- failed
./query.pem is not a public key file.

This key starts with:

MIIEp.... etc.

as opposed to a "regular" private key, which looks like:

Proc-Type: 4,ENCRYPTED
DEK-Info: AES-128-CBC,E15F2.... etc.
  • Why would you think that it doesn't work for PEM files? What error do you get when you try it? A .ssh/id_rsa file generated by OpenSSH using all the defaults IS a PEM file. The private keys are PEM encoded by default. In fact you can use RSA keys you generate with OpenSSL directly with OpenSSH.
    – Zoredache
    Commented Oct 28, 2013 at 7:53
  • updated description with output from ssh-keygen on the .pem
    – Unknown
    Commented Oct 28, 2013 at 7:56
  • (late but necroed) @Zoredache: Before 7.2 (in 2016, after this Q) ssh-keygen -l can't read a privatekey file, although other ssh-keygen (and ssh*) operations do. But when ssh-keygen generates a key it writes both the privatekey file e.g. id_rsa and a corresponding publickey file with .pub added e.g. id_rsa.pub. Older ssh-keygen -l will try adding .pub to the filename you specify and reading that publickey file. Commented May 18, 2019 at 12:03

4 Answers 4


If you want to retrieve the fingerprint of your lost public key file, you can recover it from the private key file:

$ ssh-keygen -yf path/to/private_key_file > path/to/store/public_key_file

Then you are able to ascertain the public fingerprint:

$ ssh-keygen -lf path/to/store/public_key_file

On some newer systems, this prints the SHA256 fingerprint of the key. You can print the MD5 fingerprint of the key (the colon form) using option -E:

$ ssh-keygen -E md5 -lf path/to/store/public_key_file
2048 MD5:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx user@host (RSA)

Or as one command line:

$ ssh-keygen -yf /etc/ssh/ssh_host_ecdsa_key | ssh-keygen -E md5 -lf -
2048 MD5:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx user@host (RSA)
  • @MikeD's answer is actually the "correct" answer for what the OP was looking for (and what I was looking for). AWS provides the fingerprint in the format he showed, with the pairs of digits separated by colons. His solution (taken from the provided AWS page) also generates the fingerprint in this same fashion, so that you can verify correctly. Commented Feb 2, 2018 at 1:01

AWS's "Verifying Your Key-Pair's Fingerprint" provides two one-liners that solves the problem, depending upon how your key was created.

If you created your key pair using AWS:

$ openssl pkcs8 -in query.pem -inform PEM -outform DER -topk8 -nocrypt | openssl sha1 -c

Or, if you created your key pair with a third-party tool:

$ openssl rsa -in query.pem -pubout -outform DER | openssl md5 -c
writing RSA key

(fingerprints redacted in output above)


Here is a one liner that should do what you want without requiring the creation of a public key file locally.

$ ssh-keygen -lf /dev/stdin <<< $( ssh-keygen -f ~/.ssh/keyname.pem -y )
2048 14:df:c7:b7:f1:26:7f:87:d5:e7:10:6c:ac:af:a2:03 /dev/stdin (RSA)

This uses the bash here string <<< in order to have stdin available as a regular file (/dev/stdin) rather than a pipe as ssh-keygen will only operate on a file.

As of Release 7.2 of openssh ssh-keygen supports fingerprinting from standard input:

  • ssh-keygen(1): allow fingerprinting from standard input, e.g. "ssh-keygen -lf -"

Note that this command will break with private keys that use a passphrase and are not using an agent. It should work with pem files generated by AWS or OpenStack which do not use passphrases.

See https://stackoverflow.com/questions/2635360/ssh-keygen-accepting-stdin for more info.

  • The release notes didn't say but according to the source as of 7.2 -l also supports reading a privatekey file (but not from stdin). Commented May 18, 2019 at 12:10

You don't get the fingerprint from the private key file but from the public key file.

In fact, ssh-keygen already told you this:

./query.pem is not a public key file.

Run it against the public half of the key and it should work.

More generally speaking

Think about it: the reason for the fingerprint to exists is that you can identify the public key. In fact, getting a hash of the private key is a potential security issue beside being useless to the server (which doesn't even HAVE the private key in question).

Once you have the public key, the process is to verify that client has a hold on the corresponding private half. Since you already know which keys aou're trying to verify, you don't need the fingerprint.

  • The problem is that I don't have a public key for this private one :( And another thing, ssh-keygen works on a RSA private key file that has the extra info at the start (see my initial post), but not on this one..
    – Unknown
    Commented Oct 28, 2013 at 8:41
  • Then there is nothing you can do about it. You can't get the public half of the key from the private part any more than you can do the reverse.
    – Stephane
    Commented Oct 28, 2013 at 9:30
  • 3
    That's incorrect. As @ominug pointed out above, ssh-keygen -yf does this. Commented Nov 19, 2014 at 22:54
  • 4
    @Stephane While correct on a pure RSA level, in practice the way keys are stored in the PKCS spec the format for private keys actually includes both keys. Compare specs for private vs public Commented Apr 27, 2016 at 6:07
  • "You can't get the public half of the key from the private part..." -- oh yes, you probably can. Take the modulus from the private key, and use 65537 as the public exponent, and chances are, you've found the public key.
    – Jim Flood
    Commented Jan 8, 2018 at 20:20

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