Switch the Git Clone Protocol from HTTPS to SSH

Gitlab offers several options for interacting with remote repositories: git, http, https and ssh. The first option – git – is the native transport protocol and does not encrypt the traffic. The same applies for http, rendering https and ssh the only feasible protocols if you commit and retrieve data via insecure networks. Ssh and https are also both available via the web interfaces of Github and Gitlab. In both systems you can simply copy and paste the clone URLs including the protocol. The following screenshot shows the Github version.


The simplest way to fetch the repository is to just copy the default HTTPS URL and clone it to the local drive. Git will ask you for the Github credentials.

You will be asked for the credentials every time you interact with the Github remote repository. Per default, git stores credentials for 5 minutes. Instead of waiting so long, we can just drop the credentials and proceed with an empty cache again.

To make our live a little easier, we can store the username. In this example, we store this information only locally, valid for this cloned repository only. The same settings can also be applied globally.

Git will store that information locally (i.e. inside the repository) in the config file:

For storing the password temporarily, you can re-activate the cache again and set a timeout.

Git will now store the password for your Github account for one hour. Although this is convenient, this is not an optimal solution. SSH keys are more secure and more convenient, as they do not expose your personal password and can be set individually for your repositories. In addition you can protect your keys with a password and add a second factor.


The Github documentation is great, you can find details how to create on how to create SSH keys here. All you need to do is to associate your public key with your remote repository on Github or Gitlab, as explained for instance here. Some general tips for working with keys in a secure way can be found here. As git stores information about how you access your repositories in the local repository config file, you can easily modify this information to fit your needs. For automating SSH access to specific repositories, you can also modify the SSH configuration of your local user account ~/.ssh/config .

For instance if we cloned the repository using the HTTPS method and would rather switch to SSH for the reasons mentioned above, there are two steps necessary:

  1. Add a SSH configuration for the host
  2. Adapt the git config

So first, we add a new entry for the SSH authentication with Github in the file ~/.ssh/config.

We define a hostname  github-test-project for the individual repository, define which SSH key to use and specify that we only want to authenticate with the key. Now that this is settled, we need to tell git to use this connection information. This is done in the local git repository configuration ~/Projects/test-project/.git/config . The file initially looks like this:

All we need to do is change the remote repository data to incorporate the SSH connection we defined in the SSH config. Just replace the url target to the SSH connection definition:

Note the semicolon and that we omitted the username before the SSH host. This information will be read from the SSH config. Also note that the repository needs to be initialited so that we have a master branch.

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