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Programming language: Haskell
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Your developers are organized in GitHub teams, and GitHub has everyone's public key. Why are you still manually editing the authorized_keys file on your servers?


Experimental. This program has not yet been subjected to production testing. Feedback and pull requests are welcome.

Operating Details

Newer versions of OpenSSH have an option that allows you to pull a list of authorized keys for a user. This command pulls keys GitHub and OpenSSH allows login using the selected user accounts.


First, you need to install the openssh-github-keys tool:

$ curl -sSL https://get.haskellstack.org/ | sh
$ stack setup
$ stack install openssh-github-keys

This should install the binary openssh-github-keys under ~/.local/bin.

Generate an application token which has read-only organization access. This will let the application read your teams and members (SSH public keys added by users have always been public on GitHub).

The OpenSSH option AuthorizedKeysCommand cannot have any arguments specified following the command, and we need to pass options to specify which organization and team is used, as well as which user should be authenticated using keys in GitHub, so we will create a configuration file for openssh-github-keys. Additionally openssh-github-keys will need your GITHUB_TOKEN which must be specified inside the /etc/openssh-github-keys/github.creds file, or on the command line. Your configuration file may look like the one below, which you create as /etc/openssh-github-keys/settings.yaml:

organization: your-github-org
team: your-github-team

The openssh-github-keys script will need to know your GitHub token. You can specify this as a variable GITHUB_TOKEN in your /etc/openssh-github-keys/github.creds configuration file, the file format should contain a key, GITHUB_TOKEN and the value as follows:


Make sure this file is owned by the nobody user (chmod 600 /etc/openssh-github-keys/github.creds).

At this point you should be able to test that the command is properly configured. Invoke the command with the user you intend to log in as using keys on a GitHub team:

# Print list of keys, corresponding to the GitHub users on your team
openssh-github-keys mylocaluser

Note that if you pass any user that is not specified in the configuration as a user to log in using GitHub keys, the command will return immediately. This will allow other users to log in only using locally-configured keys, and without any delay induced by network communication to GitHub's API.

In your /etc/ssh/sshd_config, add the option for AuthorizedKeysCommand to point to your wrapper script. You will also need to specify the user to run the script:

AuthorizedKeysCommand openssh-github-keys
AuthorizedKeysCommandUser nobody

You should test the syntax of your sshd_config file by using sshd -t. Then, if all is well, restart the ssh service with service ssh restart.


The following troubleshooting steps are recommended if you have issues using openssh-github-keys:

  • Make sure that you can invoke openssh-github-keys-wrapper, passing the user to authenticate as the first argument. This should return a list of valid SSH public keys that can be used for authentication.
  • Check the output of /var/log/auth.log to see why login may be failing.
  • Change the sshd log level, by changing the line in sshd_config for LogLevel to DEBUG. Restart the sshd service with service ssh restart or the equivalent on your platform.

openssh-github-keys and GitHub Failure Conditions

openssh-github-keys takes precautions to ensure that you don't lose access to servers even if GitHub is unavailable or slow. Below we describe the different types of failure that we've anticipated at GitHub, and how openssh-github-keys should behave when these conditions are detected.

GitHub unreachable

It may be a concern that if GitHub goes down, certain users will not have access to your servers. To prevent this dependency, you may want certain users to be specified in the ~/.ssh/authorized_keys file. This file is used as a fallback if the AuthorizedKeysCommand does not succeed.

GitHub latency

openssh-github-keys will time out if keys are not able to be retrieved in five seconds. This allows other authentication mechanisms, such as the authorized_keys file to be consulted so that login can proceed for certain users even in the event of an unusual amount of latency while communicating with GitHub.


Using a tool such as openssh-github-keys this configuration means that your servers are only as secure as GitHub, and your GitHub organization. You should consider adding things like two-factor authentication for accounts which can modify your Github organization. If you cannot afford to have your servers compromised in the event of a major security breach at GitHub you should not use openssh-github-keys.

Precautionary Installation Suggestions

Since openssh-github-keys is just an experimental library, you may want to have a user account that relies on a standard authorized_keys file for a small group of primary users (e.g., system administrators) and give the rest of your team access through the GitHub authentication mechanism.




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*Note that all licence references and agreements mentioned in the openssh-github-keys README section above are relevant to that project's source code only.