I have configured ssh-agent on many older Ubuntu installations, but today, on my new Ubuntu 16.04 setup, I realized that ssh-add has been working, but I never configured my system to run ssh-agent!

Edit: It's not just that I haven't configured it, it is not even running:

ps aux | grep ssh
root       976  0.0  0.0  65520  5384 ?        Ss   16:04   0:00 /usr/sbin/sshd -D
user123+  6121  0.0  0.0  21292  1016 pts/1    S+   16:50   0:00 grep --color=auto ssh

How is ssh-add working without ssh-agent? What is this magic? I see there is a gnome-keyring-daemon running on my system, but open-ssh isn't integrated with gnome is it?

  • Some, but not all, systems come with ssh-agent configured by default. Look at ps aux | grep ssh and env | grep SSH.
    – fkraiem
    Oct 9, 2016 at 20:46
  • I should have mentioned that ssh-agent is not running at all!
    – Dave
    Oct 9, 2016 at 20:47
  • What makes you say this? It very probably is.
    – fkraiem
    Oct 9, 2016 at 20:48
  • It does not appear in ps
    – Dave
    Oct 9, 2016 at 20:52

2 Answers 2


Ubuntu uses the gnome-keyring-daemon as an alternative (compatible) implementation of an SSH agent.

It is installed through the package gnome-keyring and started automatically through /etc/xdg/autostart/gnome-keyring-ssh.desktop.

You can see that which process is your SSH agent with sudo lsof $SSH_AUTH_SOCK.


The environment variable SSH_AGENT_LAUNCHER expands to the process that launches the ssh-agent.

On my 14.04, by default, after start:


while after killing, and unset-ing the variable(s), and then spawning ssh-agent again:

## Nothing, not being set

So at the startup the init process spawns ssh-agent directly or indirectly, and the environment variable SSH_AGENT_LAUNCHER is set accordingly.

  • I don't have that env variable set. I do have SSH_AUTH_SOCK=/run/user/1000/keyring/ssh, but that is it.
    – Dave
    Oct 9, 2016 at 21:10
  • @HDave Did you kill ssh-agent afterwards? Also whats the output of printenv | grep SSH?
    – heemayl
    Oct 9, 2016 at 21:11
  • On this machine ssh-agent has never run, and I have never killed it. printenv | grep SSH SSH_AUTH_SOCK=/run/user/1000/keyring/ssh
    – Dave
    Oct 9, 2016 at 21:14
  • @HDave You should also at least have SSH_AGENT_PID, strange!
    – heemayl
    Oct 9, 2016 at 21:15
  • IKR! WTH! I don't get it...
    – Dave
    Oct 9, 2016 at 21:16

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