From the Canyon Edge -- :-Dustin

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

ssh-import-id now supports Github!


As of ssh-import-id 3.0, you can now import SSH public keys from both Launchpad and Github using lp:$USER and gh:$USER like this:

$ ssh-import-id lp:kirkland gh:cmars
2013-02-05 17:54:15,638 INFO Authorized key ['4096', 'd3:dd:e4:72:25:18:f3:ea:93:10:1a:5b:9f:bc:ef:5e', 'kirkland@x220', '(RSA)']
2013-02-05 17:54:15,647 INFO Authorized key ['2048', '69:57:f9:b6:11:73:48:ae:11:10:b5:18:26:7c:15:9d', 'kirkland@mac', '(RSA)']
2013-02-05 17:54:22,125 INFO Authorized key ['2048', '84:df:01:9f:da:d3:ef:7d:a0:44:17:ff:ab:30:15:22', 'cmars@github/2114943', '(RSA)']
2013-02-05 17:54:22,134 INFO Authorized key ['2048', 'ab:6a:0c:99:09:49:0b:8f:2a:12:e2:f3:3d:c7:a9:79', 'cmars@github/3263683', '(RSA)']
2013-02-05 17:54:22,135 INFO Authorized [4] new SSH keys
This is now available in Ubuntu Raring 13.04, backported to all other supported Ubuntu releases in this PPA, in the upstream source tarballs, and now installable through pip from pypi!


It's been almost 3 years now since I introduced ssh-import-id here on this blog.  I have a Google Alert setup to watch ssh-import-id and I'm delighted to see that it seems to be quite popular and heavily used!

As a brief reintroduction, ssh-import-id is similar to the ssh-copy-id command.  Whereas ssh-copy-id pushes your public key into a remote ~/.ssh/authorized_keys file, ssh-import-id pulls a public key into the local ~/.ssh/authorized_keys.  Especially in cloud instances, it's a great way to securely, easily, and conveniently retrieve and install your own SSH public key, or perhaps that of a friend or colleague.

When I initially wrote it, it was really just a simple shell script wrapper around wget, with some error checking, that would pull public keys over an SSL connection from  All of my network friends and colleagues had active, authenticated accounts at, and everyone had to upload their public GPG keys and public SSH keys to Launchpad in order to get any work done.  This was really easy, since all keys are available as flat text at a very predictable URL pattern:

I have always wanted ssh-import-id to be able to pull keys from servers other than Launchpad.  The tool has long supported defining a $URL in your environment or in /etc/ssh/ssh_import_id at the system level.  There just aren't really any other good, authenticated SSH public key servers.


A few days ago, my friend and Gazzang colleague Casey Marshall noticed that Github had actually recently added support to their API which exposes public SSH keys!  This was just awesome :-)  It would take a bit of effort to support, though, as the output format differs between Launchpad (raw text) and Github (JSON).

So this past Saturday on a beautiful evening in Austin, TX (when neither of us should really have been hacking), we both independently initiated our own implementation adding support for Github keys in ssh-import-id :-)  A bit of duplicated effort?  Yeah, oh well...  But we both took a similar approach: let's port this puppy from shell to Python so that we can take advantage of JSON parsing (our alternative was awk!).


My approach was pretty elementary...  I basically implemented a line-by-line, function-by-function port from Shell to Python, since I knew, from a regression standpoint, this would be stable, solid code.  But Casey is undoubtedly the better programmer between the two of us :-)  He took a much more Pythonic approach, implementing each of the protocol handlers as sub commands.

Once we caught up with one another online around midnight Saturday night, we realized that we really duplicating efforts.  So we decided to team up on the problem!  Casey had a much more elegant design, complete with a and uploadable to  Meanwhile, I have maintained the source code and the package in Ubuntu for nearly 3 years and I understood the complex set of legacy compatibility I needed to preserve, as well as several years worth of gotchas and bugs-fixed.  So I took Casey's implementation, whole hog, and went to work on a bunch of little things to get it whipped into shape for upload to Ubuntu.


Given that Github is now supported in addition to Launchpad, there may actually be some interest in the tool beyond Ubuntu.  Non-Ubuntu users can now install ssh-import-id directly from!

$ sudo pip install ssh-import-id
Downloading/unpacking ssh-import-id
  Running egg_info for package ssh-import-id
Requirement already satisfied (use --upgrade to upgrade): argparse in /usr/lib/python2.7 (from ssh-import-id)
Downloading/unpacking Requests >=1.1.0 (from ssh-import-id)
  Running egg_info for package Requests
Installing collected packages: ssh-import-id, Requests
  Running install for ssh-import-id
    changing mode of /usr/local/bin/ssh-import-id-lp to 775
    changing mode of /usr/local/bin/ssh-import-id to 775
    changing mode of /usr/local/bin/ssh-import-id-gh to 775
  Running install for Requests
Successfully installed ssh-import-id Requests
Cleaning up...

Other New Features

We've added a few other new features in the 3.x series...
  1. We now detect duplicate keys by their size/fingerprint/type, and avoid adding duplicates
  2. We also now support a -r|--remove option, which you can use to prune keys from ~/.ssh/authorized_keys file that were added by ssh-import-id
Please report bugs as you find them here!  And please use StackExchange for questions!  Enjoy ;-)



  1. Please delete this software and tell people to use Monkeysphere instead! Trusting proprietary network services to deliver the right keys is a bad idea.

    1. In the case of ssh-import-id I would be much more worried about having to trust all and any CA I need to trust to fully rely on standard https.

  2. Hi foo, I'm well aware of Monkeysphere :-) But I don't feel that it solves this problem in a sufficient manner. Moreover, Launchpad's full source code is free software (AGPL). And many millions of people trust both Github and Launchpad with far more than just importing public SSH keys. Entire distributions and massive software projects rely on the stability and security of these two services. If they're malicious, we've already been screwed for a long, long time.



Please do not use blog comments for support requests! Blog comments do not scale well to this effect.

Instead, please use Launchpad for Bugs and StackExchange for Questions.