After performing a macOS upgrade ssh asked for my ssh passphrase. I have completely forgotten the passphrase since keychain has been managing it.

This answer shows how to configure keychain to reconnect and remove my need to enter the passphrase when connecting to a host. After following those steps I can ssh successfully without knowing the private key passphrase, which suggests that the passphrase is stored in keychain.

However, I can't find the ssh passphrase in keychain. Is there a way to recover the ssh key passphrase from keychain?

This question/answer says that keychain keeps passphrases as regular keychain items, but I can only find one item after searching for ssh and that is an older item for my original id_rsa key which is no longer is use.

  • If the passphrase is not in the keychain, there is no way to recover it.
    – Jakuje
    Commented Dec 16, 2016 at 17:58
  • @Jakuje, I clarified the question to make it clear that keychain has the password because I can log in without knowing the passphrase.
    – Josh
    Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 15:27

3 Answers 3


Open Keychain Access and enable the option View > Show Invisible Items.

Than you must search for id_rsa or ‘ssh’.

  • If you lost the SSH-passphrases after installing a clean mac from a time machine backup, this needs to be done on the old machine.
    – arve0
    Commented Apr 2, 2020 at 9:39
  • Thanks - this saved me so much trouble! This should be public knowledge: if you don't remember your GPG's passphrase, you can check it under Keychain 👌🏻 Commented Jul 18, 2022 at 16:39

Short answer: Yes, choose "Show Invisible Items" in Keychain Access

(Originally, this answer incorrectly said: "There doesn't currently seem to be a way to recover the passphrase." The rest of the answer comparing how SSH key passphrases are stored in keychains on older and newer versions of macOS is kept here for reference.)

In Mac OS X 10.11 and earlier, SSH key passphrases were stored by ssh and ssh-add in the user's login keychain, using the following properties (pseudocode adapted from Apple OpenSSH-195.40.1):

    kSecClass: kSecClassGenericPassword,
    kSecAttrAccount: pathToPrivateKey,
    kSecAttrLabel: "SSH: " + pathToPrivateKey,
    kSecAttrService: "SSH"

As of macOS 10.12, the passphrase is queried and stored with properties that force it to be stored in the "syncable" keychain (the database-backed "Local Items", also called "iCloud Keychain" if that is enabled), with access controlled by an "Access Group"; ssh will ignore the old items in your login keychain. From Apple OpenSSH 209:

    kSecClass: kSecClassGenericPassword,
    kSecAttrAccount: pathToPrivateKey,
    kSecAttrLabel: "SSH: " + pathToPrivateKey,
    kSecAttrService: "OpenSSH",
    kSecAttrNoLegacy: TRUE,
    kSecAttrAccessGroup: "com.apple.ssh.passphrases"

Apple has not enabled the security command-line tool to access the contents of the syncable keychain, and by default (unless you select "Show Invisible Items") Keychain Access doesn't show the complete contents of it either, even though the ssh keychain item is not explicitly marked as invisible.

If you wanted to try to obtain the password without using Keychain Access, I don't think it would be straightforward or maybe even possible to write a program that fetches the passphrase from the keychain, since access to it is controlled by Apple's code signing.

You can see some limited details about the passphrases stored in your syncable keychain using the sqlite3 command, but most of the interesting fields like the item labels are encrypted.

$ sqlite3 Library/Keychains/*/keychain-2.db "select rowid, datetime(mdat+978307200, 'unixepoch', 'localtime'), agrp from genp where agrp = 'com.apple.ssh.passphrases' order by mdat asc"  
45|2017-01-07 13:53:13|com.apple.ssh.passphrases
46|2017-01-08 23:59:25|com.apple.ssh.passphrases
  • Wow great answer. It is curious that I am now in a situation where I relied on my password manager (keychain) to manage my passwords and now have no way to get my password out. Which understandably makes me nervous as a future change to macOS could lock me out of these systems. Going forward I will keep the passphrase in a keychain comment.
    – Josh
    Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 18:47

MacOS 10.13.3:

Open Keychain Access and enable the option View > Show Invisible Items.

Then you must search for id_rsa or ‘ssh’.

Click to reveal passhrase. You may need to provide your Mac login password at that point.

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