Re: Base-64 and key format in general

From: Simon Tatham (
Date: 02/26/02

From: Simon Tatham <>
Date: 26 Feb 2002 09:28:07 +0000 (GMT)

Scott W Reeve <> wrote:
> - Are all dsa and rsa keys in base64 format?

SSH2 ones typically are. SSH1 keys have a numeric format for their
public key and a binary format for their private key.

(SSH2 private key formats vary widely between clients. Public key
formats aren't completely uniform either.)

> - Can the type (dsa or rsa) be gleaned from the key itself,
> i.e. just from the base64 characters?

Do you mean you've got an SSH2 public key of the form

  ssh-rsa AAAAB3NzaC1yc2EAAAABJQAAAIBv+8lkrfkfP2OcwZx...

or perhaps one of the form

  Subject: simon
  Comment: "1024-bit rsa, simon@foo, Mon Aug 27 2001 17:59:18 +0100"
  ---- END SSH2 PUBLIC KEY ----

and you want to know if the information `ssh-rsa' is encoded inside
the base64 bit as well as outside it?

The answer is yes, it is. If you base64-decode the first bit of that
text (AAAAB3NzaC1yc2EA) you'll find that it starts with bytes 00 00
00 07 (indicating that a 7-character string follows) and then the
seven characters "ssh-rsa", which is the key type. DSA keys start
with the slightly different string `AAAAB3NzaC1kc3MA', which decodes
similarly to the string "ssh-dss".

> - What is this format:
> 1024 35 13346646368<snip many,many characters>055347 <>
> It can't be base64 because it's only digits...

This is an RSA public key in SSH1 format. 1024 is the number of bits
in the modulus; 35 is the modulus; and 1334<etc>5347 is the modulus
itself, in decimal.

Simon Tatham         "Selfless? I'm so selfless I
<>    don't even know who I am."

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