Connecting from UNIX-like environment (Linux, Mac OS X, Cygwin/MingW)

This short tutorial shows how to connect to a CÉCI cluster from a terminal, such ax XTerm, iTerm, Cygwin, etc.

Using the CÉCI key

Once you have received your private key by email, store it in a safe location. The most rational place to store it is in your .ssh folder in your home directory, along with other SSH keys you may have.


Invited users (who typically are not part of a CÉCI university) have to generate their SSH key by themselves. In that case, the name of the file is the one that was chosen during the key generation procedure, and not necessarily id_rsa.ceci. It might be a good idea to rename it that way though so as to remember which private key corresponds to the public key that is setup on the CECI clusters.

Change the permissions of the file so that only you can read it. Otherwise, your SSH client will refuse to use it.

chmod 600 ~/.ssh/id_rsa.ceci

Then, you have to choose a CÉCI cluster to try connect to, among the ones listed here. In this tutorial, we will use Hmem.

ssh -i ~/.ssh/id_rsa.ceci

Make sure to replace mylogin with your actual login. You are then asked to type in your passphrase (the one you chose while filing in the account creation request form), and if everything worked properly, you should be greeted with the cluster’s Message Of The Day:

Welcome to
        __  __     __    __     ______     __    __
       /\ \_\ \   /\ "-./  \   /\  ___\   /\ "-./  \
       \ \  __ \  \ \ \-./\ \  \ \  __\   \ \ \-./\ \
        \ \_\ \_\  \ \_\ \ \_\  \ \_____\  \ \_\ \ \_\
         \/_/\/_/   \/_/  \/_/   \/_____/   \/_/  \/_/
                 HighMemory CISM-CECI cluster

The very first time...

Upon your very first connection to a cluster, you will be greeted by a warning such as :

The authenticity of host ' (' can't be established.
RSA key fingerprint is 06:54:39:a0:5c:b5:56:b3:29:9e:96:67:a0:4a:c1:ff.
Are you sure you want to continue connecting (yes/no)? yes
Warning: Permanently added ',' (RSA) to the list of known hosts.

This warning is normal: your SSH program warns you that it is the first time it sees that new computer. To make sure you are actually connecting to the right machine, you should compare the RSA key fingerprint shown in the message with the fingerprint announced on the cluster page. Fingerprint can be based on hash function MD5 or SHA-256.

If they match, you can proceed and type ‘yes’. Your SSH program will then store that key and check, for every subsequent SSH connection, that the server to which you connect is indeed Hmem.

Tailoring your configuration

You can dramatically shorten the length of the command line used to connect to the clusters by setting your ssh configuration file properly. Assuming your login is mylogin and you are working with the Hmem cluster, add the following to your configuration file ~/.ssh/config (create it if it does not exist):

Host hmem
    User mylogin
    ForwardX11 yes
    ForwardAgent yes
    IdentityFile ~/.ssh/id_rsa.ceci

From now on, you will be able to connect to the cluster simply by issuing the following command:

ssh hmem

You can do the same for each cluster you will connect to. Type man ssh_config for a detailed list of options you can set in your configuration file. A script wizard is available to generate the config file.

The FowardX11 option is needed to open any host program in the client display.

With ForwardAgent the connection to the agent is automatically forwarded to the remote side. Note that, as explained in the SSH manpage, Agent forwarding should be enabled only for trusted remote hosts. It is perfectly safe to use it for the CÉCI clusters, but be cautious with other computers.

Using an SSH agent

You can further ease the process by using an SSH agent which will remember the passphrase so you do not have to type it in each time you issue the SSH command. First, make sure you have an agent running: if

ssh-add -l

responds with “Could not open a connection to your authentication agent.”, start an agent with

eval $(ssh-agent)

Then, load the key with the command

ssh-add ~/.ssh/id_rsa.ceci

and enter your passphrase. From now on, in the current terminal, all ssh commands will be handled by the agent and you won’t have to type your passphrase again.

Once you have an agent running, you can use the -A option of ssh to forward your agent from one computer to another. This allows you to connect, or copy files, from one cluster to another effortlessly.

You can have an ssh-agent started automatically at login by using password managing software such as Mac OS Keychain, KDE KWallet, Gnome Keyring, etc.


Some software such as GnomeKeyring require the public key to be present in the .ssh directory.

You can generate the public SSH key from the private key (the one you received from the CÉCI with the following command:

ssh-keygen -yf ~/.ssh/id_rsa.ceci > ~/.ssh/

Going through a gateway or VPN

As the clusters are not accessible from outside the university networks, you will need to either use a VPN or an SSH gateway. Going through an SSH gateway can be entirely transparent provided your client is correctly configured. The CÉCI does not offer a gateway service so you need to refer to your local support team for more information:

  • UCL: you can use as SSH gateway using a CECI account. See the CISM documentation
  • ULB: you can use hydra as a gateway if you have a VSC login.
  • UMons: contact the local support team.
  • UNamur: you can use using you UNamur identity or use the VPN (see UNamur intranet)
  • ULg: you need to use the VPN service.

Note that you can use any Linux computer that is connected to your university network to which you have SSH access from your home or abroad to act as gateway.

To use a gateway you need to do a proxy connection with ssh’s ProxyCommand option:

ssh -o 'ProxyCommand ssh -W %h:%p'

Replace by your university login name and gateway, myCECIlogin by your CÉCI login and by any CÉCI cluster you want to connect.

You can add a shortcut in your configuration file ~/.ssh/config:

Host gwceci
    User mylogin1
    ForwardX11 yes
    ForwardAgent yes

Host hmem_via_proxy
    User myCECIlogin
    ForwardX11 yes
    ForwardAgent yes
    IdentityFile ~/.ssh/id_rsa.ceci
    ProxyCommand ssh gwceci -W %h:%p 2> /dev/null

To connect just type:

ssh hmem_via_proxy


Step 1. Make sure that your key file has the correct permissions:

ls -l ~/.ssh/id_rsa.ceci

should output something that starts with


Step 2. Make sure your key and your passphrase match by issuing the following command:

ssh-keygen -yf ~/.ssh/id_rsa.ceci

If the output is ‘load failed’ you either have a wrong passphrase or your key file has been corrupted.

Step 3. Make sure you are connected to your university network: the following command

curl -I -k

should return something starting with

HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Status: 200 OK

Step 4. Make sure the ssh client is asking for a passphrase and not a password. Otherwise, it means you are not correctly instructing your ssh client to use the private key.

Run the ssh command with the -v option. You should find a line stating

debug1: Offering RSA public key: .ssh/id_rsa.ceci

The line immediately following line should be something like:

debug1: Server accepts key: pkalg ssh-rsa blen 277

otherwise it means the key your are using does not correspond to the one stored on the cluster. If this happens while you just updated or renewed your account, it may indicate that your new key is not fully propagated yet. Try again later.

Frequent mistakes

Here are some frequent errors you should avoid.

The permissions on your key file are not correct

If, after running ssh hmem, for instance, you see something like:

Permissions 0644 for '/home/dfr/.ssh/id_rsa.ceci' are too open.
It is recommended that your private key files are NOT accessible by others.
This private key will be ignored.
bad permissions: ignore key: /home/dfr/.ssh/id_rsa.ceci's password:

it means that Permissions 0644 for ‘/home/dfr/.ssh/id_rsa.ceci’ are too open. Change them to 600 as explained in the first section of this document.

You did not specify the correct path to your SSH private key

If, after running ssh, you are being asked for a password directly,

$ ssh hmem's password:

it means that your SSH client did not try to use the SSH key. Make sure you either used the -i option or that your .ssh/config is properly configured and contains no typos.

You used a wrong username or tried to connect before your keys are synchronised

If, after running ssh, you are being asked for a passphrase, then a password,

$ ssh hmem
Enter passphrase for key '/home/dfr/.ssh/id_rsa.ceci':'s password:

it often means that the user name you are using is not the correct one. If you just requested or renewed your account, it could also mean that you are trying to connect with the new private key while it has not been synchronized to the cluster yet (keep in mind that the clusters are not synchronized simultaneously.)

You have too many SSH keys lying around

If the server responds with

$ ssh hmem
Received disconnect from host: 2: Too many authentication failures for dfr

that means that your client offered the server too many keys to try and access it. To make sure the client uses only the correct key (i.e. the one specified by the IdentityFile option,) you will need to add IdentitiesOnly yes to your configuration file, or pass it in argument:

$ ssh -o 'IdentitiesOnly yes' hmem

Note that for the SSH-agent to continue working properly when this option is added, you will need the public SSH key to be present in the .ssh directory.

You can generate the public SSH key from the private key (the one you received from the CÉCI with the following command:

ssh-keygen -yf ~/.ssh/id_rsa.ceci > ~/.ssh/