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Allowing SSH access to ESXi/ESX hosts with public/private key authentication (1002866)

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This article provides steps to allow SSH access to ESXi/ESX hosts with public/private key authentication rather than with username/password authentication.


To allow SSH access to ESXi/ESX hosts with public/private key authentication:

  1. Generate public/private keys. For more information, see the OpenBSD Reference Manual section in the OpenBSD.

    Note: The preceding link was valid as of June 22, 2016. If you find the link to be broken, provide feedback on the article and a VMware employee will update the article as necessary.

    • These instructions generate two files in ~/.ssh: id_rsa and
    • In ESXi 5.x, the ssh-keygen command is located at /usr/lib/vmware/openssh/bin.

  2. On the remote host, store the public key content, id_rsa.pubin ~/.ssh/authorized_keys.


    • For ESXi 5.x, 6.0 and 6.5, the authorized_keys is located at: /etc/ssh/keys-<username>/authorized_keys
    • More than one key can be stored in this file.

  3. To allow root access, change PermitRootLogin no to PermitRootLogin yes in the /etc/ssh/sshd_config file.
  4. To disable password login, ensure that the ChallengeResponseAuthentication and PasswordAuthentication are set to no.
  5. Reload the service:

    • For ESXi, run the command:

      /etc/init.d/SSH restart

    • For ESX, run the command:

      service sshd reload
For more information on SSH, see Uploading an SSH Key to Your ESXi Host section in the VMware vSphere 5.5 documentation Center.

Additional Information

For translated versions of this article, see:

Update History

09/05/2012 - Added location of authorized_keys for ESXi5.0 03/20/2013 - Added location path for ssh-keygen command in 5.x 07/11/2013 - Added ESXi command to reload the service

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  • 59 Ratings