I use ssh-add to add my SSH keys to the SSH agent. By default, it adds them indefinitely. There's a command-line option to specify a timeout, but is there a configuration file option which will specify the default timeout?

What I want is to be able to run ssh-add without any command-line parameters and have it default to a given amount of time for a timeout (as if I had called ssh-add -t 1h).

3 Answers 3


If you're calling ssh-add on the command line, make a shell alias. Put the following line in your ~/.bashrc (if using bash) or ~/.zshrc (if using zsh) or other applicable shell initialization file:

alias ssh-add='ssh-add -t 1h'

If you want to add a non-expiring key, use \ssh-add /path/to/key or ssh-add -t 0 /path/to/key.

If ssh-add is being called from other program, see if they can be configured to take arguments. Failing that, create a file early on your $PATH (~/bin is a common choice of directory, make sure it's at the beginning of your PATH and create it if it doesn't exist) called ssh-add containing

exec /usr/bin/ssh-add -t 1h "$@"

(Replace /usr/bin/ssh-add by the path to the ssh-add binary as necessary.)

  • A shell alias would probably be the right course of action. Apr 2, 2014 at 1:24

The default timeout is forever. It is however possible to set the default timeout for a specific agent through the -t option of ssh-agent.

from man ssh-agent:

-t life
        Set a default value for the maximum lifetime of identities added
        to the agent.  The lifetime may be specified in seconds or in a
        time format specified in sshd_config(5).  A lifetime specified
        for an identity with ssh-add(1) overrides this value.  Without
        this option the default maximum lifetime is forever.
  • 1
    Is there a way to configure ssh-add so that the default is something other than forever? If I just run ssh-add without any parameters, I'd like it to time out after an hour. Apr 1, 2014 at 7:06
  • How to launch the ssh-agent ?
    – Ouki
    Apr 1, 2014 at 7:18

AFAIK, there is no configuration in sshd_config or ssh_config to specify the time out for ssh-agent. From openssh source code, file ssh-agent.c:

/* removes expired keys and returns number of seconds until the next expiry */  
static time_t                                                                   
    time_t deadline = 0, now = monotime();                                      
    Identity *id, *nxt;                                                         
    int version;                                                                
    Idtab *tab;                                                                 

    for (version = 1; version < 3; version++) {                                 
        tab = idtab_lookup(version);                                            
        for (id = TAILQ_FIRST(&tab->idlist); id; id = nxt) {                    
            nxt = TAILQ_NEXT(id, next);                                         
            if (id->death == 0)                                                 
            if (now >= id->death) {                                             
                debug("expiring key '%s'", id->comment);                        
                TAILQ_REMOVE(&tab->idlist, id, next);                           
            } else                                                              
                deadline = (deadline == 0) ? id->death :                        
                    MIN(deadline, id->death);                                   
    if (deadline == 0 || deadline <= now)                                       
        return 0;                                                               
        return (deadline - now);                                                

And in process_add_identity function:

process_add_identity(SocketEntry *e, int version)                               
if (lifetime && !death)                                                     
        death = monotime() + lifetime;

lifetime is a global variable and only change value when parsing argument:

/* Default lifetime in seconds (0 == forever) */                                
static long lifetime = 0;

main(int ac, char **av)                                                         
    case 't':                                                               
        if ((lifetime = convtime(optarg)) == -1) {                          
            fprintf(stderr, "Invalid lifetime\n");                          

If you use Ubuntu, you can set default options for ssh-agent in /etc/X11/Xsession.d/90x11-common_ssh-agent:


if has_option use-ssh-agent; then
  if [ -x "$SSHAGENT" ] && [ -z "$SSH_AUTH_SOCK" ] \
     && [ -z "$SSH2_AUTH_SOCK" ]; then
    if [ -f /usr/bin/ssh-add1 ] && cmp -s $SSHAGENT /usr/bin/ssh-agent2; then
      # use ssh-agent2's ssh-agent1 compatibility mode

if [ -n "$STARTSSH" ]; then
  • Funny thing. I tried SSHAGENTARGS="-s -t 3600" and it halts with no error, blank screen. But just a curiosity, because your answer is correct and doesn't halt or anything.
    – DrBeco
    Nov 25, 2017 at 23:22

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