Is there a command (or a one-liner) to remove a ssh key on a server? Something like the opposite of ssh-copy-id?

  • 2
    Some SSH server software support the RFC 4819 protocol for managing authorized SSH keys, but it's so rare it's almost nonexistent on Linux :(
    – user1686
    May 29, 2012 at 7:38
  • 3
    Excellent question, this is really missing functionality to ssh-copy-id to facilitate key rotation.
    – Zabuzzman
    Mar 27, 2015 at 22:33
  • 3
    Its worth noting that ssh-keygen does provide the -R option for removing keys from known_hosts, but sadly ssh-keygen -R <HOSTNAME> -f ~/.ssh/authorized_keys doesn't work. I would use the sed option below, instead. Mar 23, 2018 at 18:27

4 Answers 4


As Ignatio suggested this can be done with grep -v.

Here is a example which removes the key containing some unique string or just deletes the authorized_keys file when no other key remains.

if test -f $HOME/.ssh/authorized_keys; then
  if grep -v "some unique string" $HOME/.ssh/authorized_keys > $HOME/.ssh/tmp; then
    cat $HOME/.ssh/tmp > $HOME/.ssh/authorized_keys && rm $HOME/.ssh/tmp;
    rm $HOME/.ssh/authorized_keys && rm $HOME/.ssh/tmp;

Replace some unique string with something that only exists in the key you wish to remove.

As a oneliner over ssh this becomes

ssh hostname 'if test -f $HOME/.ssh/authorized_keys; then if grep -v "some unique string" $HOME/.ssh/authorized_keys > $HOME/.ssh/tmp; then cat $HOME/.ssh/tmp > $HOME/.ssh/authorized_keys && rm $HOME/.ssh/tmp; else rm $HOME/.ssh/authorized_keys && rm $HOME/.ssh/tmp; fi; fi'

Tested on Linux (SLES) and HP-UX.

  • 2
    see below answer: sed is better at doing this Jul 12, 2016 at 1:31

sed provides a compact solution:

sed -i.bak '/REGEX_MATCHING_KEY/d' ~/.ssh/authorized_keys

This will save the original authorized_keys in authorized_keys.bak. If you don't want the backup then just change -i.bak to -i.

You can even remove multiple keys:

sed -i.bak '/REGEX1/d; /REGEX2/d' ~/.ssh/authorized_keys

The only tricky bit here is special characters in the regex need to be escaped.

  • 1
    If you only use the base64 characters in the public keyfile (e.g., awk '{print $2}' ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub), then you don't need to worry about escaping any special characters.
    – Juan
    Mar 22, 2018 at 23:30
  • @Juan The important special character in base64 is "/" that must be escaped by "\/" for sed regexp. (Also a character "+" is possible in the output of base64, but it is not a special character if extended POSIX regular expressions that are not enabled by -E option in sed.) It is usually easier to use the comment field, especially if the default form user@host is used.
    – hynekcer
    Mar 3, 2021 at 9:50

Nope. You'll need to SSH in and use sed or grep to remove the key from the file.

  • Thank you. I will keep the question open a little longer to see if someone also can provide a script that does the opposite of ssh-copy-id
    – grm
    May 30, 2012 at 11:56
  • 3
    @grm : I'd suggest you keep the question open forever, or at least until a ssh-undo-copy-id is implemented ! ;-)
    – Max L.
    Jul 30, 2015 at 18:28

Phil already answered this question but I want to do addition and make it easier for you. And since you are asking reverse of ssh-copy-id, I am assuming you want to run it on authorized machine.

ssh keys only contains base64 characters. So you can use a char as sed delimiter that not in that list. Let us use '#'.

ssh root@<hostname> -o PasswordAuthentication=no "sed -i.bak 's#`cat ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub`##' ~/.ssh/authorized_keys"

Replace hostname with the server IP.

PasswordAuthentication option will cause ssh fail if it ask password

  • 2
    The 'comment' in the pub key might not have base64 characters. If it has a "#", then your example breaks. Maybe use awk '{print $2}' ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub with some sed or grep -v instead.
    – Juan
    Mar 22, 2018 at 23:24

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