I just bought a Yubikey 5 NFC and have set it up per their instructions on Ubuntu 19.04. But my preferred use case is to use the key as passwordless option (if it's plugged in; allow access - if it's not; enter password).

I've found some topics on this here and here but both are either not for a Yubikey or not for Ubuntu. And I'm too inexperienced with these things to blindly fiddle with settings as there is a good chance I'd get locked out forever if I do something wrong.

So I know the Yubikey 5 supports passwordless login for Windows, I figure it must be available on Ubuntu somehow, right? Does anyone have a tip for me?

Edit: To give some context to the valid point made below that this setup wouldn't increase security, matter of fact, would lower it: Yes, I know, very true indeed. However in my case I work mostly from my own (secured) home, but am a stickler for very complicated passwords. However it is slowing me down I have to enter a very long password each time my laptop idles too long, so for when I'm at home, I'd like to be able to use just the key, and if I'm away, leave the key at home and just use a password.

Edit2: Thanks to hackerb9's answer and running through the Yubico install steps again I got it to work. Essentially all I did different was to add auth sufficient pam_u2f.so to both /etc/pam.d/gdm-password and /etc/pam.d/sudo instead of @include common-u2f (which would result in auth sufficient pam_u2f.so authfile=/etc/u2f_mappings cue). So essentially just removed authfile=/etc/u2f_mappings cue did the trick. I'm not 100% sure but I think this is due a 'setup conflict' as I set up the key before attempting this.


You're right to be worried about locking yourself out. If your home directory is encrypted and you keep a Two-Factor Authentication authorization mapping file there, you will not be able to log in! That's why I always use a central authfile (/etc/u2f_mappings).

I suggest creating a second account while testing so you don't lock yourself out of your main account. Also, be sure to get a second 2FA key and register it as a backup in case you lose the first one.

How to enable passwordless login

Although you should be careful, the process is easy and straightforward. To make it even easier, I've written this so you can simply cut and paste the following commands into a terminal:

  1. sudo apt install libpam-u2f

  2. pamu2fcfg | sudo tee /etc/u2f_mappings

    # (At this point, press the button. You should see a long string of numbers. If you don't, make sure you have udev setup correctly.)

  3. sudo -i

  4. cd /etc/pam.d

  5. echo 'auth sufficient pam_u2f.so authfile=/etc/u2f_mappings cue' > common-u2f

  6. for f in gdm-password lightdm sudo login; do

    mv $f $f~

    awk '/@include common-auth/ {print "@include common-u2f"}; {print}' $f~ > $f


  7. exit


  • When logging in, you'll be prompted to touch your device if it is detected Otherwise, you'll be asked to type in a password.

  • We use the term "sufficient" above so that either the password or the U2F key are sufficient to login (as requested in the question). For a more typical Two-factor Authentication login, "sufficient" would be replaced by the word "required" so that both would always be needed.

  • The u2f line in the pam.d files must come before @include common-auth, otherwise you'll be required to type in a password before the U2F key is checked.

  • I would be remiss if I didn't point out that using a "2FA" key in this way, while convenient, does not increase your security. In fact, you've only opened a second way to get into your account. But, that's not necessarily bad; not everybody needs high-security and a dongle like this can save you from having an easy to type, short, and vulnerable password.

And so much more!

By the way, these instructions aren't just for devices from Yubico. I'm using a key from Solokeys and it works great. Additionally, the setup works for both USB and NFC keys.

If you need more information, Yubico's instructions — as mentioned in the original question — are fairly informative. Also, see the man pages for pam_u2f and pamu2fcfg.

  • Thanks for the abundant answer! Pasting your commands and following along went fine until the last step where I'm not to sure if the formatting of the copy/paste was the issue but I got this back a couple of tries; mv: cannot stat 'lightdm': No such file or directory awk: cannot open lightdm~ (No such file or directory) Which would make sense because i'm on ubuntu 19.04 and that uses gdm as far as I know. Do you have any clues for that one as well? Sep 9 '19 at 15:31
  • Just go ahead and ignore that error. I just put that in in case someone with an old version of Ubuntu comes across this answer.
    – hackerb9
    Sep 10 '19 at 3:51
  • OK! Well then, I followed everything else and rebooted, but no difference. If I leave the key out and just enter my password; it fails. If I just press the key, it fails. It only still logs in with a combination of both. In your notes you state "The u2f line in the pam.d files must come before @include common-auth, otherwise you'll be required to type in a password before the U2F key is checked. ". In what files should that line be? I have the random string of numbers in /etc/u2f_mappings and /etc/pam.d/common-u2f is empty except for that line from command #5. Am I missing something? Sep 10 '19 at 7:38
  • 1
    As you correctly noticed, this rather decreases security (just adds one more way of logging in). What should I do to make key(s) the only way of logging in? Shall I omit "@include common-auth"?
    – DimanNe
    Jan 3 at 22:34
  • 1
    Just for reference, I tried this on Ubuntu 20.04 and OnlyKey, and it worked wonderfully. Obviously there was no need to add or edit /etc/pam.d/lightdm, since lightdm is not used any more on Ubuntu.
    – gerlos
    Mar 18 at 23:19

Here is my approach:

To enable a passwordless sudo with the yubikey do the following

  • Open Terminal.
  • Insert your U2F Key.
  • Run: mkdir -p ~/.config/Yubico
  • Run: pamu2fcfg > ~/.config/Yubico/u2f_keys
  • When your device begins flashing, touch the metal contact to confirm the association.

Now configure sudo to use the key when available (password otherwise) by editing the following file

sudo nano /etc/pam.d/sudo

Add the auth line before the @include

auth sufficient pam_u2f.so
@include common-auth

To use the yubikey as a second factor additionally to your password edit /etc/pam.d/sudo in the following way

@include common-auth
auth       required   pam_u2f.so

Where the auth line is after the @include


I know that this has been here for a while but I wanted to chime in here to make sure that this is complete. So that if someone else comes along they know how to get it working.

I do want to say that is awesome and I've been looking for this for a while and came across this a few days ago and haven't seen a way to do this besides this one. I'm sure that it's out there.

The one thing that I believe was missed is...

pamu2fcfg outputs to the file /etc/u2f_mappings via pamu2fcfg | tee /etc/u2f_mappings under the current user, which in this case is root. If you are attempting to use it for another user besides root it won't work.

The file would need to be updated to reflect the correct username in that case.

sudo nano /etc/u2f_mappings

Change root in the line to the desired username.

So from something like root:xxxxxxx..... to USERNAMEHERE:xxxxxxxx..... or whatever the username is going to be.


Another way, probably better way, to approach it is to

change pamu2fcfg | tee /etc/u2f_mappings


pamu2fcfg -u USERNAME | tee /etc/u2f_mappings

or change it to

pamu2fcfg -u USERNAME >> /etc/u2f_mappings

where USERNAME is the name of the user who is going to be using it. With the >> it creates or appends to the end of the file which allows for multiple users.

I'm going to pull the majority of this over and a few other items from other pages and drop it into git so that I don't loose this in the abyss that is the internet. It's not fully setup but here's the link https://github.com/vanderblugen/yubico_password_less_ubuntu. If I can tag you in there shoot me a message and I will do that.

This part took me a while. Each user in the file should be on it's own line. If multiple keys for a single user put a : between each of the keys.

  • Thanks for your contribution! It's a good thing some data on this is being collected and preserved as there aren't too many topics on this, good work! Jan 17 '20 at 12:52
  • I did find that when attempts to authenticate a line in the /etc/u2f_mappings file for a user it will look at ONLY one line, so if there are multiple for a particular user it doesn't seem to work. So if looking to setup multiple keys for one user it tends to not work. Have you found that as well?
    – 57947738
    Jan 18 '20 at 4:47
  • Nevermind I got it....
    – 57947738
    Jan 18 '20 at 5:12
  • tee -a will append, similar to using >>. By using tee, we can see the data zip by. After initial setup, a user could run pamu2fcfg | sudo tee -a /etc/u2f_mappings to add themselves to the list.
    – spazm
    Sep 22 '20 at 21:13
  • Thank you for pointing out my mistake with the root user in u2f_mappings. I have fixed it in my instructions. By the way, I would have appreciated a comment to my answer as I don't get notified otherwise. Thanks!
    – hackerb9
    Jan 5 at 11:09

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