Developer(s)The OpenBSD Project
Written inC
Operating systemUnix, Unix-like, Microsoft Windows
LicenseBSD, ISC, public domain

ssh-keygen is a standard component of the Secure Shell (SSH) protocol suite found on Unix, Unix-like and Microsoft Windows computer systems used to establish secure shell sessions between remote computers over insecure networks, through the use of various cryptographic techniques. The ssh-keygen utility is used to generate, manage, and convert authentication keys.


ssh-keygen is able to generate a key using one of three different digital signature algorithms. With the help of the ssh-keygen tool, a user can create passphrase keys for any of these key types. To provide for unattended operation, the passphrase can be left empty, albeit at increased risk. These keys differ from keys used by the related tool GNU Privacy Guard.

OpenSSH-based client and server programs have been included in Windows 10 since version 1803. The SSH client and key agent are enabled and available by default and the SSH server is an optional Feature-on-Demand.[1][2]

Key formats supported

Protocol Generation
ed25519 4

Originally, with SSH protocol version 1 (now deprecated) only the RSA algorithm was supported. As of 2016, RSA is still considered strong, but the recommended key length has increased over time.

The SSH protocol version 2 additionally introduced support for the DSA algorithm. DSA is now considered weak and was disabled in OpenSSH 7.0.

Subsequently, OpenSSH added support for a third digital signature algorithm, ECDSA (this key format no longer uses the previous PEM file format for private keys, nor does it depend upon the OpenSSL library to provide the cryptographic implementation).

A fourth format is supported using ed25519, originally developed by independent cryptography researcher Daniel J. Bernstein.

Command syntax

The syntax of the ssh-keygen command is as follows:

ssh-keygen [options]

Some important options of the ssh-keygen command are as follows:

ssh-keygen command options description
-b bits Specifies the number of bits in the key to create. The default length is 3072 bits (RSA) or 256 bits (ECDSA).
-C comment Provides custom key comment (which will be appended at the end of the public key).
-p Requests changing the passphrase of a private key file instead of creating a new private key.
-t Specifies the type of key to create (e.g., rsa).
-o Use the new OpenSSH format.
-q quiets ssh-keygen. It is used by the /etc/rc file while creating a new key.
-N Provides a new Passphrase.
-B Dumps the key's fingerprint in Bubble Babble format.
-l Dumps the key's fingerprint in SHA-2 (or MD5) format.

Files used by the ssh-keygen utility

The ssh-keygen utility uses various files for storing public and private keys. The files used by ssh-keygen utility are as follows:


  1. ^ "What's new for the Command Line in Windows 10 version 1803". 8 March 2018.
  2. ^ "Using the OpenSSH Beta in Windows 10 Fall Creators Update and Windows Server 1709". 15 December 2017.