Understanding “ssh Permission Denied Publickey”: Troubleshooting Guide


Greetings, readers! In today’s digitally-driven world, secure remote access to servers is crucial for individuals and organizations alike. One of the widely used methods to achieve this is through ssh (Secure Shell) connections. However, encountering a “ssh Permission Denied Publickey” error can be frustrating and hinder your progress. Fear not! This comprehensive guide aims to explain the reasons behind this error and provide troubleshooting techniques to overcome it.

What is “ssh Permission Denied Publickey”?

🔑 “ssh Permission Denied Publickey” is an error message that occurs when attempting to establish an ssh connection using public-key authentication. This error indicates that the server did not accept the public key provided by the client, preventing successful authentication and access.

Understanding Public-Key Authentication

Public-key authentication is a secure method that avoids the need for password-based authentication. It involves two keys: a public key, which is stored on the server, and a private key, which resides on the client. These keys work together, allowing the client to prove its identity to the server without transmitting a password over the network.

Causes of “ssh Permission Denied Publickey” Error

1. Incorrect Permissions: Improper permissions on the server’s authorized_keys file or the client’s private key file can lead to this error.2. Incorrect Key Pair: Mismatched or invalid key pair files on the client and server can cause the server to reject the connection.3. Incorrect Username: Providing an incorrect username during authentication can result in a “Permission Denied” error.4. Network Issues: Connectivity problems, such as firewall restrictions or network interruptions, can prevent successful authentication.5. Multiple Key Attempts: If multiple keys are configured on the server, the client needs to specify the correct key for authentication.

Troubleshooting “ssh Permission Denied Publickey” Error

1. Verify Key Permissions: Check the permissions of the server’s authorized_keys file (~/.ssh/authorized_keys) and the client’s private key file (~/.ssh/id_rsa). They should be readable and writable by their respective owners only.2. Verify Key Pair: Ensure that the public key on the server matches the private key on the client. Regenerate the key pair if necessary.3. Check Username: Double-check the username provided during ssh connection establishment. It should match the user on the server.4. Diagnose Network Issues: Test connectivity between the client and server. Verify that ports are open, firewalls allow ssh traffic, and there are no network interruptions.5. Specify Correct Key: If multiple keys are configured on the server, specify the correct key during authentication using the -i flag: ssh -i /path/to/private_key user@server.6. Utilize SSH Debugging: Enable debugging mode with the -v or -vvv flag to gain more insights into the error. Examine the debug output for potential clues.7. Contact System Administrator: If the error persists, seek assistance from your system administrator or the server administrator to investigate further.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Public-Key Authentication


1. Enhanced Security: Public-key authentication provides a highly secure method for authenticating ssh connections, as it eliminates the need for passwords.2. Convenience: With public-key authentication, users no longer need to remember complex passwords, simplifying the authentication process.3. Automation: Public-key authentication allows for automated access to remote systems, facilitating scripting and other automated processes.4. Key Management: Public-key authentication provides a better method for managing access to multiple servers, as users can use the same keypair for all servers.5. Two-Factor Authentication: Public-key authentication can be combined with a passphrase-protected private key to add an extra layer of security.


1. Initial Setup Process: The initial setup of public-key authentication involves generating and exchanging keys, which may be daunting for novice users.2. Key Management Complexity: Managing multiple key pairs and ensuring their security can be challenging, especially in large organizations.3. Lost or Compromised Key: If a private key is lost or compromised, it can be difficult to regain access to remote systems without alternate authentication methods in place.4. Lack of Universal Support: While public-key authentication is widely supported, certain legacy systems or devices may only support password-based authentication.

Error Possible Causes Error Resolution
Incorrect Key Permissions Ensure the correct permissions are set on key files.
Key Pair Mismatch Verify that the public key on the server matches the private key on the client.
Incorrect Username Double-check the provided username during ssh connection.
Network Connectivity Issues Diagnose network problems and ensure proper connectivity.
Specify Correct Key Use the correct key by specifying it during authentication.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What if I forgot the passphrase for my private key?

If you forget the passphrase for your private key, unfortunately, it cannot be recovered. You will need to generate a new keypair and update the public key on the server.

2. Can I use the same keypair for multiple servers?

Yes, you can use the same keypair for multiple servers. Simply copy the public key to the authorized_keys file on each server.

3. What if I suspect my private key has been compromised?

If you suspect your private key has been compromised, it is essential to generate a new keypair immediately. Revoke the compromised public key from all servers and replace it with the new public key.

4. Is it possible to disable password-based authentication entirely?

Yes, it is possible to disable password-based authentication and rely solely on public-key authentication. This can be configured in the server’s SSH configuration file (/etc/ssh/sshd_config). Ensure that you have successfully authenticated with public keys before disabling password-based authentication to prevent getting locked out.

5. How can I automate ssh connections using public-key authentication?

You can automate ssh connections using public-key authentication by utilizing SSH agent forwarding and tools like ssh-agent or Pageant to manage your keys securely.

6. Can I use public-key authentication with Windows servers?

Yes, you can use public-key authentication with Windows servers by installing an SSH server software like OpenSSH for Windows, Cygwin, or PowerShell Remoting.

7. What should I do if the “ssh Permission Denied Publickey” error persists?

If the error persists, ensure that you have checked all the potential causes mentioned in this guide. Contact your system administrator, provide them with detailed information about the issue and your troubleshooting steps, and seek further assistance.


In conclusion, understanding and troubleshooting the “ssh Permission Denied Publickey” error is essential for successful and secure remote access using SSH. By carefully following the steps outlined in this guide, you can resolve common issues, ensure correct key configurations, and mitigate potential connectivity obstacles. Embrace the advantages of public-key authentication while being aware of its limitations. Secure your digital interactions effectively and elevate your remote access experience.

Closing Disclaimer

The information provided in this article is intended for educational and troubleshooting purposes only. Every system and use case may have different configurations, so results may vary. It is recommended to consult with your system administrator or seek professional support to ensure the proper implementation and security of SSH connections.