I am trying to setup a second access ssh key for a friend. He sent me his id_rsa.pub.

ssh-copy-id -i id_rsa.pub [email protected]
/usr/local/bin/ssh-copy-id: ERROR: failed to open ID file './id_rsa': No such file or directory

Do I need him to send me both files?

  • 1
    The .pub is sufficient. And keep in mind that you always keep your private key secrete (at all times!). To add a new key you can simple append the content of .pub to your authorized_keys.
    – deagh
    Feb 6, 2015 at 7:04
  • 2
    @deaghYou don't need to keep a private key secret, you need to keep it secure.
    – user35787
    Feb 6, 2015 at 7:20
  • The ssh-copy-id script here doesn't appear to emit that particular error message. I notice your ssh-copy-id script is in /usr/local/bin. It may be different from the commonly-used version of the command.
    – Kenster
    Feb 6, 2015 at 16:19

6 Answers 6


It's not necessary to have the private key file to authorize a key on a server. In fact, you should never ask a friend for their private key, it's called private because it should be kept to yourself.

However, the ssh-copy-id command from OpenSSH might fail if there is no private key file with the same name available, because it tries to login with the specified key to check if it is already present on the remote server.

In recent versions you can override this behavior with the -f switch ("Forced mode").

From the man page:


    Forced mode: doesn't check if the keys are present on the remote server.  This means that it does not need the private key.  Of course, this can result in more than one copy of the key being installed on the remote system.

  • 12
    heads up, the ordering of parameters is strict. -f only works as expected if you pass it before the -i argument. ssh-copy-id -i mykey.pub -f otheruser@host just complains, until you move -f at the front.
    – init_js
    Jul 23, 2019 at 0:08
  • and the private key file must not have a file extension (e.g. key.ppk will not work)
    – TmTron
    Nov 5, 2020 at 13:27
  • 1
    @TmTron: not so; file extensions work fine. OTOH file contents in PPK (Putty Private Key) format do NOT work in OpenSSH, regardless of file name or extension, and many sensible people use extension .ppk to indicate PPK format. PPK format can be converted to/from an OpenSSH format using Puttygen, and there are many existing Qs covering this. Jan 9, 2021 at 8:45
  • @dave_thompson_085 This may depend on the version of the ssh-copy-id command. In my case, it does definitely not work when the private key file has an extension, in git-bash (mingw64 on Windows). Maybe that's helpful for someone that comes here...
    – TmTron
    Jan 9, 2021 at 9:55
  • 1
    @TmTron: okay, with the long weekend I downloaded 'Git for Windows 2.30.0' from git-scm.com and ran git-bash, and ssh -V identifies as OpenSSH 8.4p1 (with OpenSSL 1.1.1i). I created a valid key with ssh-keygen -t rsa -f filename.ppk and ssh-copy-id -i filename.ppk user@host works just fine. filename.otherext also works, as does a name with no extension. Will you please look at the first line of your whatever.ppk file and make sure it is actually a valid OpenSSH keyfile? Jan 20, 2021 at 9:10

The .pub is sufficient. You are not in the correct folder.

You can try this :

ssh-copy-id -i /root/.ssh/id_rsa.pub [email protected]

(for the root user : not recommended, it's just an example).

This file is under the .ssh folder on the user folder.

  • 6
    On mac it needs the -f if you don't have the private key as well, I think
    – tread
    Aug 6, 2016 at 9:54

This has been reported as OpenSSH bug #2110.


As mentioned here this is a bug.

Anyway you can simply create an empty file to make it work. In your case:

$ touch ./id_rsa
$ ssh-copy-id -i id_rsa.pub [email protected]

I had the same issue and this worked for me 👍


No, You only need his public key stored in ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub

Note that ssh-copy-id command uses the public key of the current user running the command which has the private key beside it.

You can either make a new key by running ssh-keygen and give your friend the key pair and delete the private one from your machine, or either add the private key of your friend manually to the remote server, by appending it at the end of the ~/.ssh/authorized_keys of the user that your friend will connect in the future.


Yes it needs both.. In theory though, it shouldn't need both,

but it checks that the private key form of the public key specified with -i, is there, as a "safety check". So that if a user were to ssh from that machine with the private key form of that public key, then that private key should be there for that ssh to work!

It won't use the private key form of the public key specified with -i, to log in. It logs in with the same key that ssh will use.

see this related question

By default, does ssh-copy-id -i blah.pub user@host, log in with the private key specified by -i, or does it log in with ~/.ssh/id_rsa?"

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