Every day, after several hours of use, anything using SSH will just randomly stop working. The only solution is for me to restart my machine, which fixes it until it randomly occurs again.

> git push
Could not create directory '/var/empty/.ssh'.
The authenticity of host 'github.com (' can't be established.
RSA key fingerprint is 16:27:ac:a5:76:28:2d:36:63:1b:56:4d:eb:df:a6:48.
Are you sure you want to continue connecting (yes/no)?

Here's more info with -v (shortened for brevity) after trying to ssh into a diff host:

debug1: Connection established.
Could not create directory '/var/empty/.ssh'.
debug1: identity file /var/empty/.ssh/id_rsa type -1
debug1: identity file /var/empty/.ssh/id_rsa-cert type -1
debug1: identity file /var/empty/.ssh/id_dsa type -1
debug1: identity file /var/empty/.ssh/id_dsa-cert type -1 

I'm logged into my main OSX user. ~/ and ~/.ssh are both fine and intact and I'm not doing anything to the permissions of my user when this happens. I'm certainly not messing around with anything in /etc when this happens.

Is there anything I can try to help troubleshoot this to figure out why it keeps happening?

  • What is the output of ls -l /var/empty?
    – 8bittree
    Feb 25, 2014 at 21:19
  • What happens when you manually create the .ssh directory in /var/empty. You can use chown -R USERNAME /var/empty/.ssh to change the ownership to your account.
    – kobaltz
    Feb 25, 2014 at 21:20
  • ls -l /var/empty returns nothing. @kobaltz It works until ssh needs my key and then it fails because it can't find them in /var/empty/.ssh. I could move them, but that doesn't tell me what the underlying issue is.
    – doremi
    Feb 25, 2014 at 21:52
  • Right, this would probably work better if I asked about the right command. What does stat -f "%Sp" /var/empty say?
    – 8bittree
    Feb 25, 2014 at 22:07
  • 3
    drwxr-xr-x, but I think /var/empty is red herring for the root issue which is why does ssh stop using my home dir's .ssh and begin looking in a different place.
    – doremi
    Feb 25, 2014 at 22:13

3 Answers 3


Are you using an LDAP-backed login? It's possible your machine has lost connection to the ldap and somehow lost your HOME attribute. A coworker 'got around' this by disconnecting and reconnecting his network, instead of a reboot.

Annoying, but perhaps a step closer to the root cause of the issue..

  • 1
    Disconnecting/reconnecting to the network fixed this problem for me.
    – erran
    Mar 14, 2018 at 16:35

You should perhaps change the $HOME enviroment variable from /var/empty to /Users/username.

export HOME="/Users/your-username"

should do the trick.


I don't know why this happens, but I got around it with:

sudo ln -s ~/.ssh /var/empty/.ssh

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.