Generate SSH Private and Public Keys in macOS Big Sur

This guide goes through setting up SSH keys on macOS Big Sur 11 and olfer macos’es back to Mac OSX 10.11 and also a secure password-less SSH connection between a local macOS workstation and a remote server also running a Linux variant operating system.

The process requires generating a public and private key on the local computer and then adding the public key to the remote servers authorized list. What is great about this is that it allows a password prompt free session, handy for a lot of uses.

Ssh Keys


First thing that you need to do on your macOS machine is to create a directory that will store your SSH keys. Then you will generate a public and private key for your account, launch the Terminal and punch in some commands:

Create a .ssh Directory

Change to the home directory

cd ~/

Create a SSH directory name .ssh and move into it

mkdir .ssh ; cd .ssh

Make sure that the file permissions are set to read/write/execute only for the user

chmod go-rwx .ssh

Create your private and public key, the blank quotes at the end of the command gives the private key no password, so allowing for passwordless logins!

ssh-keygen -b 1024 -t rsa -f id_rsa -P ""

Mac0s Bigsur Ssh Keys

Change into the .ssh directory and list the contents of that .ssh directory

cd .ssh ; ls -la
 -rw-------   1 username  staff   887B Jun  1 11:35 id_rsa 
 -rw-r--r--   1 username  staff   239B Jun  1 11:35

Thats your SSH keys created, the private key is the id_rsa and the public one is the, don’t give out the private one always keep that one only on your local machine.

Sharing the Public Key

Create an authorized_keys in the .ssh directory of the remote computer that you want to connect to.

touch authorized_keys

You can create automatic logins by adding the contents of your public key to the authorized_keys file on the remote device.

To see and copy your public key use the cat command and copy the contents:

RVw29p V7mxW16wd/q9z7n+xytqdp4wsAc/7+24ZVikMhhRetEGr3LSBz5gm9980oTPEy61+pDP2y
jafShe5xcszIUnQ rN1ohCuF7Y/a/TG6G6gaJGcLexUiwfTRtCAbpuzfU= [email protected]

On the remote computer if needed, change the permssions on the authorized_keys file to write to add the public key, on a new line paste in your public key, and change permissions back to read only after for security.

Allow write on authorised_keys

chmod u+w authorized_keys

Paste the entire content with vi or nano into the authorized_keys file, if using nano use the -w flag to not use incorrect line breaks.

If the remote host does not have an “authorized_keys” file simply create one and after the public key is pasted in don’t forget to takeaway write permissions.

chmod u-w authorized_keys

Going Both Ways

So now when you connect via SSH no password is prompted as the remote computer has your public key which is only decrypted by your private key held in your local .ssh/ directory. If you want the communications to be bilateral then repeat the process in the opposite order between the two.

Now the two computers can securely connect with no password prompting, making it ideal to script between the two for file copies or back ups.

Doing it Quicker

Now instead of typing in

ssh [email protected]

Make an alias in your Zsh shell you could alias it to

alias now='ssh [email protected]'

Reload the the shell

source ~/.zshrc

Then all you have to type in is the alias


macOS Big Sur Issue

Some users have reported issues with connections to Linux boxes that have a default shell other than bash, with errors citing LOCALE variables.

One solution is to edit the ssh_config file and comment out a line:

nano /etc/ssh/ssh_config

Comment out:

#SendEnv LANG LC_*