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I'm trying to ssh into a machine (let's call it B) from a machine (let's call it A), and then run a command on that machine (B) that would usually require entering an ssh passphrase (if you're interested, I'm trying to git pull from a private repository on BitBucket).

I can ssh into B from A (without entering a passphrase), and can run commands on that machine, like this:

A > ssh B 'ls'

I can also ssh into B from A, and run my git pull, and it asks for a passphrase:

A > ssh B
B > git pull
Enter passphrase for key '/home/username/.ssh/id_rsa': 

However, if I try a git pull (which would require a passphrase), this happens:

A > ssh cbc 'git pull'
Permission denied (publickey).
fatal: The remote end hung up unexpectedly

Any idea how I can get git pull working without a passphrase from A on B?

share|improve this question
up vote 5 down vote accepted

Set up ssh-agent (or equivalent), then enable agent forwarding for SSH connections.

Enable ssh-agent on your local machine

"Local" being the one you're sitting at. You should not need to run the agent anywhere else.

If you're lucky, one will be already running; most Linux distributions start an instance for every X11 session. Run ssh-add to import your keys; ssh-add -l to list keys.

If using GNOME or Mac OS X, you will probably have their own agent implementation, which imports known keys on login. With the standard OpenSSH ssh-agent, though, you have to do this manually (although scripts and PAM modules exist to automate).

On Windows, PuTTY comes with Pageant, and Cygwin OpenSSH with the same ssh-agent (although much more complicated to use than in Unix).

Enable agent forwarding

Once you have the agent working and keys loaded, try to connect like this:

A> ssh-add -l

A> ssh -A B ssh-add -l

The -A option enables agent forwarding over the SSH connection, so if everything works right, both commands above should give identical output.

$ ssh-add -l
2048 06:b7:29:1e:6b:ea:c3:04:c4:33:fc:48:e0:62:2f:ef grawity@anywhere (old key) (RSA)
4096 19:3c:f0:79:32:00:fa:04:2f:15:5d:2a:e2:c9:a3:ad grawity@anywhere (2011-11-01) (RSA)

$ ssh panther ssh-add -l
Could not open a connection to your authentication agent.

$ ssh -A panther ssh-add -l
2048 06:b7:29:1e:6b:ea:c3:04:c4:33:fc:48:e0:62:2f:ef grawity@anywhere (old key) (RSA)
4096 19:3c:f0:79:32:00:fa:04:2f:15:5d:2a:e2:c9:a3:ad grawity@anywhere (2011-11-01) (RSA)

If it works, make it persistent by editing ~/.ssh/config – put this at the bottom:

Host *
    ForwardAgent yes

Instead of * you can give a list of trusted names; see manual page of ssh_config for exact syntax.

You can enable forwarding on all machines; there is no limit to how much you can chain.

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Fantastic - thanks! Everything worked first time (except when I typed ssh -A B without thinking to substitute the real hostname...). – Dominic Rodger Dec 30 '11 at 19:00

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