I would like to make an automated script that calls ssh-keygen and creates some pub/private keypairs that I will use later on. In principle everything works fine with....
ssh-keygen -b 2048 -t rsa -f /tmp/sshkey -q
...except that it asks me for the passphrase that would encrypt the keys. This make -at present- the automatisation difficult.

I could provide a passphrase via the command line argument -N thepassphrase, so to keep the prompt from appearing. Still I do not even desire to have the keys -additionally secured by encryption- and want the keypairs to be plaintext.

What is a (the best) solution to this problem?

The -q option which supposedly means "quiet/silent" does still not avoid the passphrase interaction. Also I have not found something like this
ssh-keygen ...... -q --no-passphrase

Please do not start preaching about or lecture me to the pro and cons of the "missing passphrase", I am aware of that. In the interactive form (not as a script) the user can simply hit [ENTER] twice and the key will be saved as plaintext. This is what I want to achieve in a script like this:



# this should not stop the script and ask for password
ssh-kegen -b 2048 -t rsa -f /tmp/sshkey -q


This will prevent the passphrase prompt from appearing and set the key-pair to be stored in plaintext (which of course carries all the disadvantages and risks of that):

ssh-keygen -b 2048 -t rsa -f /tmp/sshkey -q -N ""
  • 3
    This works. In case /tmp/sshkey already exists one gets an overwrite prompt, though. This can be prevented via redirecting/closing stdin - e.g. via adding 0>&-. – maxschlepzig Feb 4 '18 at 19:05
  • So bad practice to generate a clear pair of keys in /tmp ;) – tisc0 12 hours ago

The simplest way I found to do what you want is this (example using default filename)

    cat /dev/zero | ssh-keygen -q -N ""

If the ~/.ssh/id_rsa file already exists, the command will exit without modifying anything.

If not, you get a brand new key, in that filename.

Either way, you haven't overwritten anything, and you know at the end you have a key.

  • confirmed: on lubuntu 14.04.2 – user77115 Mar 15 '15 at 11:40
  • If you really want it quiet, pipe the output to /dev/null: cat /dev/zero | ssh-keygen -q -N "" > /dev/null – Chris Gregg Feb 5 '16 at 14:53
  • On (admittedly antique) SLES 11 the above command fail to produce a key. yes "" | ssh-keygen -N "" >&- 2>&- works just fine however and does not output anything (whether or not a keyfile already exists), and does not overwrite a previously existing keyfile. – zrajm May 16 '16 at 14:41
  • Verified on Ubuntu trusty (14.04) – Binita Bharati Dec 9 '16 at 18:27
  • 4
    Why do you cat /dev/zero? – maxschlepzig Feb 4 '18 at 18:59

This worked for me:

ssh-keygen -t rsa -f /home/oracle/.ssh/id_rsa -q -P ""

The -P is the passphrase option, and "" is the empty passphrase.


You can use expect to send the "enter" for you

cat test.sh
set -x
XYZ=$(expect -c "
spawn ssh-keygen -b 2048 -t rsa -f /tmp/sshkey -q
expect \"Enter passphrase (empty for no passphrase):\"
send \"\r\"
expect \"Enter same passphrase again:\"
send \"\r\"

But be aware, that if the file /tmp/sshkey already exists it will fail because the output of the command will be different.

  • 1
    thank you for the contribution. the expect seems even a more versatile for problems in the same kind.... well those where scripting and user-interaction would conflict. I will be aware of the potential conflicht that /tmp/sshkey already exists and check for it prior to using your command. – humanityANDpeace Mar 27 '13 at 14:26

I did a simple echo before ssh-keygen. So su - <user> -c "echo |ssh-keygen -t rsa"

This was tested on Redhat 6

  • I don't think this is the best answer around, but I think there isn't any reason to downvote either, guys. – cubuspl42 Nov 1 '16 at 15:05

For another user, tested on Ubuntu 18.04:

sudo -u username bash -c "ssh-keygen -f /tmp/sshkey -N ''"

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