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subtle changes in key format of key pairs generated with `ssh-keygen` on linux

I just came across an unexpected ssh key subtlety you might have to consider while creating a drone ci deployment pipeline using drone’s ansible plugin.

Part of the pipeline includes deploying code to a remote host via ssh. I generated a new key pair with ssh-keygen. This created a key with openssh new format starting with:


Apparently ansible does not like this format and on the “Gathering facts” step erred out with the message “Invalid key”. Googling that was not very successful, and I could not find that particular message in the ansible source, until i eventually found an unrelated closed issue on github which pointed me towards possible problems with key formats.

Eventually i generated a new key pair like so ssh-keygen -m PEM, the -m option setting the key format. The key then had the starting line


As far as i understand both keys are actually RSA keys, the latter’s PEM format being implied, whereas the former uses some new openssh format i was not previously aware of.

Earlier runs of ssh-keygen did produce keys in the PEM format and as i am running Archlinux with OpenSSH_8.0p1, OpenSSL 1.1.1c 28 May 2019

One of the rolling updates to my system probably brought along this unexpected change.

Hope that helps somebody.

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Andreas Wagner
Freelance System Administrator from Tallinn, Estonia.