There are lots of ways to copy out an ssh key to a remote host. It can be done by hand. It can be done with existing tools like ssh-copy-id. It can be done using configuration management tools. So why use SSH Deploy Key?

Although ssh-deploy-key is not ideal for every scenario, its speed and simplicity make it a good choice in many situations. It is a tool that is tightly focused on one task only – moving ssh keys out to remote hosts as easily and as quickly as possible.

Here is a comparison of ssh-deploy-key with some other common ways to deploy a key.

Manual Deployment

Deploying ssh keys by hand is a time-honored technique that in general works pretty well. However, in almost all cases, using ssh-deploy-key is a better option. It’s faster, easier, more reliable, and more repeatable. When deploying to more than one host at a time, these advantages only multiply with ssh-deploy-key’s bulk deployment abilities.

There is one use case where deploying by hand is a better bet: when the remote host is on a different network, behind a jump box. ssh-deploy-key does not handle that scenario.


ssh-copy-id is a great tool, but it’s not the ideal solution for every scenario.

  • ssh-copy-id is not installed by default on all systems, notably on Mac OS.

  • ssh-copy-id has no concept of ‘smart append’. It will append a key to a remote host’s authorized keys file regardless of whether that key is already present.

  • Scripting the use of ssh-copy-id for deploying to multiple remote hosts can be challenging:

    • The password must be entered interactively for each host.
    • In the case where there are remote hosts that have not been seen before, users must interactively allow each host to be added to the known_hosts file.

Configuration Management Tools

Configuration management tools (like Puppet, Ansible, etc.) can do a terrific job deploying ssh key(s). But if you are not already set up to use them for key distribution, these general-purpose solutions can be overkill, especially when compared with a dedicated tool like ssh-deploy-key that is focused on doing a single task.