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ssh has the -i option to tell which private key file to use when authenticating:

-i identity_file
     Selects a file from which the identity (private key) for RSA or DSA
     authentication is read.  The default is ~/.ssh/identity for protocol ver-
     sion 1, and ~/.ssh/id_rsa and ~/.ssh/id_dsa for protocol version 2.  Iden-
     tity files may also be specified on a per-host basis in the configuration
     file.  It is possible to have multiple -i options (and multiple identities
     specified in configuration files).

Is there a similar way to tell git which private key file to use on a system with multiple private keys in the .ssh directory?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 139 down vote accepted

In ~/.ssh/config, add:

Host gh
        Hostname github.com
        User git
        IdentityFile ~/.ssh/somekey

Now you can do git clone ssh://gh/username/repo.git.

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What if you need to connect to the same host with different keys? –  Valentin Klinghammer Nov 30 '12 at 11:24
@Quelltextfabrik - you can add another section with a different Host: nerderati.com/2011/03/… –  Ben Challenor Dec 4 '12 at 14:17
I'm using this trick in my github-keygen tool that I built to manage SSH keys and settings for Github. –  dolmen Sep 20 '13 at 10:10
@Grissiom You've got that backwards. Host can be anything, even wildcards and patterns; Hostname must have the hostname or IP address. Source: ssh_config manpage. –  Cliff Jan 5 at 21:41
@Cliff Nop, in my manpage: "HostName: Specifies the real host name to log into. This can be used to specify nicknames or abbreviations for hosts." My ssh version is openssh-6.7p1. –  Grissiom Jan 7 at 2:17

Write a script that calls ssh with the arguments you want, and put the filename of the script in $GIT_SSH. Or just put your configuration in ~/.ssh/config.

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That's a handy trick –  Bryan Agee May 30 '12 at 17:13
Another explanation of how to do this. –  Sithsu May 12 '14 at 19:44

You can just use ssh-ident instead of creating your own wrapper.

You can read more at: https://github.com/ccontavalli/ssh-ident

It loads ssh keys on demand when first needed, once, even with multiple login sessions, xterms or NFS shared homes.

With a tiny config file, it can automatically load different keys and keep them separated in different agents (for agent forwarding) depending on what you need to do.

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There is no direct way to tell git which private key to use, because it rely on ssh for repository authentication.

However you can use ssh-agent to temporary authorize your private key. In example:

ssh-agent sh -c 'ssh-add ~/.ssh/rsa_key; git fetch user@host'

Or you can pass the ssh arguments by using GIT_SSH variable and the script, in example:

$ echo 'ssh -i ~/.ssh/rsa_key -o UserKnownHostsFile=/dev/null -o StrictHostKeyChecking=no $*' > ssh
$ chmod +x ssh
$ GIT_TRACE=1 GIT_SSH='./ssh' git clone user@host

Note: Above lines are terminal command-lines which you should paste into your terminal. It'll create a file ssh, make it executable and executes it.

Alternatively use ~/.ssh/config file as suggested in other answers in order to specify your location of your private key.

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