How to configure an SSH config file on MacOS

Erick McCollum | 22 Jun 2022

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An SSH configuration file allows the user to configure default SSH configuration values for their SSH client. This can include default server connection information, hostname aliases, identity file (key) preferences, credential storage preferences, and much more.

In this article, I will first cover the basic steps to create an SSH configuration file (or access it if one is already created). I will then demonstrate how to edit the SSH configuration file in order to simplify SSH connection commands via the terminal.

Please note, the examples in this article are for MacOS. The steps may be similar for the Linux or Windows operating systems (more similar for Linux than Windows). However, before attempting to set up an SSH config on your system, please first consult the documentation for your specific operating system.

Create/edit an SSH configuration file.

1. Check if the hidden SSH directory is present.

First, check if the hidden SSH directory is already present on your system by running the following command:

    ls -a ~

If you see a .ssh directory present in the output, then that is great! Skip ahead to step #3. If the .ssh directory is not present in the output, then continue to step #2.

2. Create the hidden SSH directory.

Run the following commands to create a hidden .ssh directory and set the appropriate permissions for the folder:

    mkdir ~/.ssh
    chmod 700 ~/.ssh

3. Check if the SSH config file is present. If not, create it.

Now, check if the SSH config file is already present by running the following command in your terminal:

    ls -a ~/.ssh

Please note, if you had to create the .ssh directory in step #2, then it is expected that this directory will be empty.

If the config file is not present after running the above-mentioned command, then run the following commands to create the config file and set the appropriate permissions:

    touch ~/.ssh/config
    chmod 700 ~/.ssh/config

4. Open the SSH config file for editing.

Now that we have confirmed the SSH config file is present, we can run the following command to open the file for editing:

    nano ~/.ssh/config

Please note, please feel free to use a different text editor to edit the config file, if preferred. In the above example, I have used nano because it is present on almost all MacOS systems.

5. Add SSH configuration properties.

With the SSH config file open, we can start adding our configuration properties. For example, we could add the following config values:

    Host linuxserver
    User exampleuser
    IdentityFile ~/.ssh/id_rsa

The above configuration values would allow us to connect to a server with the IP address using the following SSH command:

    ssh linuxserver

To connect to the same server without the above-mentioned config values, it would require us to run the following command:

    ssh -i "~/.ssh/id_rsa" exampleuser@ 

Additional resources.

The following resources may also be helpful to review:

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