SSH Permission Denied (publickey): Troubleshooting and Solutions :

Hello readers! Welcome to this comprehensive journal article addressing the common error “SSH Permission Denied (publickey)” that you may encounter while trying to establish a secure shell (SSH) connection. In this article, we will delve into the root causes of this issue and provide you with a step-by-step guide to resolve it. Whether you are a system administrator, developer, or simply an SSH user, this article will provide valuable insights to help you overcome this obstacle efficiently. Without further ado, let’s explore the world of SSH permission denied errors!

Understanding the SSH Protocol

Before we delve into the details of SSH permission denied errors, it is crucial to have a solid understanding of the SSH protocol itself. SSH, short for Secure Shell, is a network protocol that enables secure communication between two devices over an insecure network. It is widely used for remote login and executing commands on remote machines securely.

The SSH protocol relies on a pair of cryptographic keys: a private key, stored on the client-side, and a public key, stored on the server-side. These keys are used during the SSH handshake process to establish a secure connection. The error message “SSH Permission Denied (publickey)” usually indicates a failure in this authentication process.

SSH Permission Denied: Common Causes

There are several common causes for the SSH permission denied (publickey) error. By understanding these causes, you can effectively troubleshoot and resolve the issue:

  • Incorrect key pair: One of the most common causes is using an incorrect key pair for authentication. Make sure you are using the correct private key file that matches the public key stored on the server.
  • Incorrect file permissions: SSH requires specific file permissions for the private key file. Ensure that the file has the correct permissions set (e.g., 600) to prevent access issues.
  • Missing public key on the server: If the server does not have the corresponding public key, it will deny access. Make sure the public key is stored in the authorized_keys file on the server.
  • Incorrect username or hostname: Verify that you are using the correct username and hostname to connect to the server. Typos or incorrect information can lead to permission denied errors.
  • Firewall or network issues: Sometimes, firewall rules or network connectivity problems can prevent successful SSH connections. Ensure that the necessary ports (usually port 22 for SSH) are open and accessible.

Now that we have identified common causes, let’s proceed to troubleshoot and resolve the SSH permission denied (publickey) error systematically.

Troubleshooting SSH Permission Denied Errors

Troubleshooting SSH permission denied errors requires a methodical approach. In this section, we will guide you through a step-by-step process to identify and resolve the issue effectively.

Step 1: Verifying Key Pair Authenticity

The first step in troubleshooting SSH permission denied errors is to verify the authenticity of your key pair. Follow these steps:

  1. Locate the private key file on your local machine. It is typically named id_rsa or id_dsa.
  2. Check the permissions of the private key file by running the following command:
    ls -l ~/.ssh/id_rsa
  3. The output should display the file permissions. Ensure that the file has the correct permissions set (e.g., 600). If the permissions are incorrect, fix them using the following command:
    chmod 600 ~/.ssh/id_rsa
  4. Confirm that the public key is stored on the server by accessing the authorized_keys file:
    ssh username@hostname "cat ~/.ssh/authorized_keys"
  5. Compare the public key on the server with your local public key. Ensure they match exactly. If not, you may need to update the authorized_keys file with the correct public key.

Step 2: Checking Username and Hostname

If the key pair authentication is verified and you still encounter the permission denied error, double-check the username and hostname you are using to connect to the server. Typos or incorrect information can lead to authentication failures. Follow these steps:

  1. Verify the username by running the following command:
  2. Ensure that the username matches the one you are using while connecting via SSH. If not, update your SSH command with the correct username.
  3. Double-check the hostname or IP address of the server. Confirm that it is accurate and accessible from your network. Issues with DNS resolution or firewall rules can prevent successful connections.

Step 3: Reviewing Server Configuration

If the previous steps do not resolve the issue, it may be necessary to review the server-side configuration. Follow these steps to review the server configuration:

  1. Log in to the server using an alternative method, such as password-based authentication or a different SSH key that works.
  2. Locate the SSH configuration file on the server. It is typically located at /etc/ssh/sshd_config.
  3. Open the SSH configuration file using a text editor:
    sudo nano /etc/ssh/sshd_config
  4. Review the configuration file for any misconfigurations or restrictions that could cause permission denied errors. Common settings to check include:
    • PubkeyAuthentication: Ensure it is set to yes.
    • AuthorizedKeysFile: Confirm that the path specified matches the location of the authorized_keys file (usually ~/.ssh/authorized_keys).
    • PasswordAuthentication: If set to no, password-based authentication is disabled. Ensure it is set according to your requirements.
  5. If any changes are made, save the file and restart the SSH service to apply the new configuration:
    sudo service ssh restart

Step 4: Checking Firewall and Network Connectivity

If the previous steps do not resolve the issue, it is essential to check for any firewall or network connectivity problems that could prevent successful SSH connections. Follow these steps:

  1. Ensure that the necessary ports (usually port 22 for SSH) are open on the server’s firewall. Consult your firewall documentation or system administrator for specific instructions.
  2. Check if any network devices, such as routers or firewalls, are blocking SSH traffic. Temporarily disable or reconfigure these devices, if possible, to eliminate them as potential causes.
  3. If you are connecting from a network with a dynamic IP address, verify that your IP address has not changed. Some servers restrict access based on IP addresses. You may need to update your authorized IP address if it has changed.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q1: Why am I getting “Permission Denied (publickey)” error while using SSH?

A1: The “Permission Denied (publickey)” error typically occurs when the SSH authentication process fails. It could be due to incorrect key pair usage, file permission issues, missing public key on the server, incorrect username or hostname, or firewall/network problems. This article provides a step-by-step guide to troubleshoot and resolve this error effectively.

Q2: How do I fix the “Permission Denied (publickey)” error on SSH?

A2: To fix the “Permission Denied (publickey)” error, follow these steps:

  1. Verify the authenticity of your key pair
  2. Check the username and hostname being used for SSH connection
  3. Review the server-side configuration
  4. Check for firewall and network connectivity issues

If the issue persists after following these steps, you may need to seek further assistance or consult system administrators.

Q3: Can I use password-based authentication instead of SSH key pairs?

A3: Yes, SSH supports password-based authentication. However, it is generally considered less secure than SSH key pair authentication. If you choose to use password-based authentication, ensure that you use strong, unique passwords and take additional security measures to protect your account.

Q4: What are the recommended file permissions for SSH private keys?

A4: The recommended file permissions for SSH private keys are 600, which only allows the owner to read and write. Restricting access to the private key ensures that it cannot be compromised or misused by unauthorized users. Set the correct permissions using the chmod command (e.g., chmod 600 ~/.ssh/id_rsa).

Q5: Can I use SSH key pairs for multiple servers?

A5: Yes, SSH key pairs can be used for multiple servers. You can reuse the same key pair across different servers, but it is generally recommended to create separate key pairs for each server to enhance security and minimize the impact in case one key pair is compromised.


In conclusion, the “SSH Permission Denied (publickey)” error is a common issue encountered while establishing SSH connections. By understanding the root causes and following the troubleshooting steps outlined in this article, you can efficiently resolve this error and regain access to your remote servers. Remember to ensure key pair authenticity, verify usernames and hostnames, review server configurations, and check for any firewall or network issues. SSH is a powerful and secure protocol, and with the knowledge gained from this article, you are now equipped to tackle permission denied errors confidently. Happy SSHing!

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