ssh `Host` configuration

If you have found yourself committing to multiple git remotes, connecting to multiple remote servers with ssh, you may find typing all the necessary arguments tedious. In this post I will show how you can use ssh configuration to make these tasks fair less painful. After this you will be able to do the following:

Git clone using custom names for specific keys and repository urls:

git clone awesome-key:awesome/project.git

vs doing this manually with

GIT_SSH_COMMAND="ssh -i ~/.ssh/awesome_private_key" git clone
# Note GIT_SSH_COMMAND only works in from Git version 2.3.0 :(

Another example is to use ssh all with a pre-configured port, url and user in a single argument:

ssh awesome-server

vs manually specifying all this every time

ssh -i ~/.ssh/awesome_private_key -p 4443 fred@

To make these above commands possible, you first need to know where the ssh configuration is in the system. Ssh uses configuration files in a simple order of configuration specificity.

Firstly the global config:


Next the user specific config file:


Lets start off showing how to use different keys for different git remote hosts. Lets say you may want to contribute to sourcecode on gitlab and github and want to automatically use a different private key for each.

Append this to your ~/.ssh/config file:

Host gitlab
    User git
    IdentityFile ~/.ssh/gitlab

Host github
    User git
    IdentityFile ~/.ssh/github

The configuration is simple yml where you can specify options by each ssh Host you are connecting to. This Host name acts as an alias for your ssh commands, git will also use these alias'. For example, to clone a gitlab project you can now use this:

git clone gitlab:gitlab-org/gitlab-project.git

This can also help you with having ssh keys on the same git host. So if we had another gitlab account, just add another Host with a different alias.

Host gitlab-work
    User git
    IdentityFile ~/.ssh/gitlab-work

Host gitlab
    User git
    IdentityFile ~/.ssh/gitlab

You can also use patterns for Host like Host * that would apply configuration to all Hosts.

Now lets save more keystrokes with your ssh logins. A lot of ssh configurations may require a specific port, user and a specific private key. So in the same ssh config file you can add everything as further properties to the host:

Host myawesomeserver
    User alex
    IdentityFile ~/.ssh/myawesomeserver
    Port 233

You can now login in one line with:

ssh myawesomeserver

For more detailed info and more ssh config options, you can review the man for ssh_config - OpenSSH SSH client configuration files.

So thats about it, with custom Host names you can now configure your ssh connections with alias' that are easier to remember and type.