Here is my use case: I have a script that lists through hundreds of servers and tests whether or not they allow logins using public key authentication using a specific private key (in the ssh client's .ssh directory). Some of these servers were misconfigured, and I do not have control over the SSH service on any of these servers.

Here is what I have so far:

ssh -o ConnectTimeout=2 -o PasswordAuthentication=no -q $x exit

So this works so far for most servers (i.e., returns a non-zero return code when a server is unreachable, and 0 when the server can be logged-in to), until some troublesome server fails due to some SSH misconfiguration (ex. ~/.ssh on the remote server has an incorrect permission. Here is a related thread describing what can be done in such case.

But i don't want to fix the remote servers. I just want SSH to fail and exit with a non-zero return code if SSH key authentication fails.

Any ideas how to get around this?

Thanks in advance.

  • Try adding -o IdentitiesOnly=yes option
    – Tagwint
    Jan 29 '20 at 14:43
  • The title suggests that ssh (in some circumstances?) asks for password despite PasswordAuthentication=no and this is the problem. The question body suggests that ssh in some circumstances fails (returns non-zero exit status) despite the fact the key matches, and this is the problem. In the latter case no password is involved at all. Or do I get it wrong? For now I'm confused, I don't know which problem is the problem. Please edit and clarify. Jan 29 '20 at 15:41
  • Take a look at Ansible, seems perfect for this task
    – M_dk
    Jan 29 '20 at 16:09
  • 1
    There IS a -o batchmode=yes option to avoid ssh asking anything. (Esther confirming signature or asking password)
    – Archemar
    Jan 30 '20 at 9:32
  • @Archemar please post as an answer, it looks useful and would be a more decent approach IMO as it would not involve another command.
    – Lester
    Jan 30 '20 at 12:24

You can use timeout in addition to limit ssh's runtime:

timeout 10 ssh -o ConnectTimeout=2 -o PasswordAuthentication=no -q $x exit returncode=$?


timeout --preserve-status 10 ssh -o ConnectTimeout=2 -o PasswordAuthentication=no -q $x exit returncode=$?

Be sure to choose a good timeout. 2 seconds ConnectTimeout plus 8 seconds for running exit sould be enough; even on high load.

  • great, works perfectly.
    – Lester
    Jan 29 '20 at 15:46

As per suggestion,

ssh has a -o batchmode=yes option that will prevent any interaction.

  • no password asked

  • no confirmation for foreign signature

This will result in error code if no connection is make.

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