I am planning to do a fresh install of ubuntu 11.10 in my system. Before that i have setuped key based ssh authentication in this machine. Is it possible to take backup of those ssh keys, so that i can use that in my new installation. Or else i must setup keybased ssh authentication again? If i can take backup, what are the files i need to copy? Can someone explain it in detail pls. Thanks in advance.

  • 1
    Are you talking about a server or a client machine?
    – enzotib
    Dec 18, 2011 at 16:07
  • Am talking about the Server Machine.
    – karthick87
    Dec 21, 2011 at 9:39

3 Answers 3


Responding to SSH only... yes, you can keep your keys.

I can't think of any topic on which to expound about that, though. It is straight forward: if your username is karthick, then the keys are located in a hidden directory here:




The id_rsa.pub file contains the public key used to authenticate. But there are other files to keep - all of them, really, such as known_hosts for example. The MOST IMPORTANT is id_rsa (note the lack of .pub) as this is your private key. Back up each user. For example, if you set up SSH for root, get /root/.ssh as well. And so on for as many accounts as you have for this reason.

  • 1
    that's why is always a good practice to have in a differente partition the /home directory; just in case you want to do a fresh instalation a d'ont want to loose any thing of your own configuration.
    – maniat1k
    Dec 18, 2011 at 18:38
  • 5
    This answer is misleading. SSH uses a private/public key pair. The private key is in id_rsa. This is the most import key to backup.
    – Jan
    Dec 18, 2011 at 19:52
  • 1
    You can recover the public key (id_rsa.pub) from the private key (id_rsa), but not vice versa. The .pub file contains one line which can be put in the servers ~/.ssh/authorized_keys and is not used at all when connecting with the server.
    – Lekensteyn
    Dec 18, 2011 at 20:50
  • 1
    @maniat1k I generally don't agree that you should have /home on a separate partition for OS, because one of the differences between distributions or dist versions is that config file formats can change, So things can break in unexpected ways. If you want to keep your configuration across OSs I think that you should explicitly do it for specific programs. Dec 22, 2011 at 21:28
  • 1
    @Lekensteyn Actually the .pub file is sometimes used when connecting to a server. If the secret key is encrypted the .pub file is used to send the public key to the server. If the server rejects the public key there is no need to prompt the user for password. Only if the server accepts the public key will the secret key be decrypted. And if you have many keys in an ssh-agent and want to instruct the ssh client on which of them to use, you can do so by asking it to use a specific .pub file for authentication.
    – kasperd
    Apr 17, 2015 at 22:55

Cryptographic keys which you may want to backup.

  • ~/.gnupg/*
  • ~/.pki/nssdb/*
  • ~/.gnome2/keyrings/*
  • ~/.ssh/*
  • /usr/local/apache2/conf/ssl.crt/server.crt
  • /usr/local/apache2/conf/ssl.key/server.key
  • /etc/ssh/*
  • /etc/ssl/private/*
  • /etc/cups/ssl/*
  • 3
    You missed the very one he asked about (~/.ssh) but a good list nonetheless :)
    – Caesium
    Dec 18, 2011 at 18:57
  • 1
    You also missed /etc/ssh
    – Jan
    Dec 18, 2011 at 19:51
  • Great list! It's harder to google for such a list than it should be. Thank you for providing it.
    – Christian
    Oct 10, 2012 at 7:26

Each user has a directoy ~/.ssh, which typically contains the following files:

1) id_dsa             private key of this user (different filename for rsa keys)
1) id_dsa.pub         public key of this user
2) authorized_keys    public key of other users (or same user on other machines)
   config             personal configuration
   known_hosts        host keys of other machines

Additionally, in /etc/ssh/, you will find:

3) ssh_host_dsa_key
3) ssh_host_dsa_key.pub
3) ssh_host_rsa_key
3) ssh_host_rsa_key.pub

Those are the host keys, keys identifying this computer.

You certainly want to backup all private and public keys. We call the machine in question home and the user user@home. Same person has an account user@remote and uses key-based login in both directions. What would happen if you loose any of the key files:

  1. You loose the identity of user@home. ssh user@remote from home will no longer work with key based auth.
  2. user@remote loose the right to login to home with his key. ssh user@home will no longer work from remote with key based auth.
  3. You loose the identity of the host. user@remote will see a warning that host keys have changed when trying ssh user@home. Depending on the configuration this will prevent him from logging in.
  • To answers to questions not asked... :)
    – user8290
    Dec 18, 2011 at 20:01

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