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

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    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 '12 at 7:38
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    Excellent question, this is really missing functionality to ssh-copy-id to facilitate key rotation. – Zabuzzman Mar 27 '15 at 22:33
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    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. – Digital Trauma Mar 23 '18 at 18:27

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.

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    see below answer: sed is better at doing this – woohoo Jul 12 '16 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.

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    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 '18 at 23:30

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

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  • 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 '12 at 11:56
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    @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 '15 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

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    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 '18 at 23:24

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