Deploy keys (FREE)

Use deploy keys to access repositories that are hosted in GitLab. In most cases, you use deploy keys to access a repository from an external host, like a build server or Continuous Integration (CI) server.

Depending on your needs, you might want to use a deploy token to access a repository instead.

Attribute Deploy key Deploy token
Sharing Shareable between multiple projects, even those in different groups. Belong to a project or group.
Source Public SSH key generated on an external host. Generated on your GitLab instance, and is provided to users only at creation time.
Validity Valid as long as it's registered and enabled. Can be given an expiration date.
Registry access Cannot access a package registry. Can read from and write to a package registry.

Scope

A deploy key has a defined scope when it is created:

  • Project deploy key: Access is limited to the selected project.
  • Public deploy key: Access can be granted to any project in a GitLab instance. Access to each project must be granted by a user with at least the Maintainer role.

You cannot change a deploy key's scope after creating it.

Permissions

A deploy key is given a permission level when it is created:

  • Read-only: A read-only deploy key can only read from the repository.
  • Read-write: A read-write deploy key can read from, and write to, the repository.

You can change a deploy key's permission level after creating it. Changing a project deploy key's permissions only applies for the current project.

When a read-write deploy key is used to push a commit, GitLab checks if the creator of the deploy key has permission to access the resource.

For example:

  • When a deploy key is used to push a commit to a protected branch, the creator of the deploy key must have access to the branch.
  • When a deploy key is used to push a commit that triggers a CI/CD pipeline, the creator of the deploy key must have access to the CI/CD resources, including protected environments and secret variables.

View deploy keys

To view the deploy keys available to a project:

  1. On the top bar, select Main menu > Projects and find your project.
  2. On the left sidebar, select Settings > Repository.
  3. Expand Deploy keys.

The deploy keys available are listed:

  • Enabled deploy keys: Deploy keys that have access to the project.
  • Privately accessible deploy keys: Project deploy keys that don't have access to the project.
  • Public accessible deploy keys: Public deploy keys that don't have access to the project.

Create a project deploy key

Prerequisites:

  • You must have at least the Maintainer role for the project.
  • Generate an SSH key pair. Put the private SSH key on the host that requires access to the repository.
  1. On the top bar, select Main menu > Projects and find your project.
  2. On the left sidebar, select Settings > Repository.
  3. Expand Deploy keys.
  4. Complete the fields.
  5. Optional. To grant read-write permission, select the Grant write permissions to this key checkbox.

A project deploy key is enabled when it is created. You can modify only a project deploy key's name and permissions.

Create a public deploy key (FREE SELF)

Prerequisites:

  • You must have administrator access.
  • Generate an SSH key pair. Put the private SSH key on the host that requires access to the repository.

To create a public deploy key:

  1. On the top bar, select Main menu > Admin.
  2. On the left sidebar, select Deploy Keys.
  3. Select New deploy key.
  4. Complete the fields.
    • Use a meaningful description for Name. For example, include the name of the external host or application that will use the public deploy key.

You can modify only a public deploy key's name.

Grant project access to a public deploy key

Prerequisites:

  • You must have at least the Maintainer role for the project.

To grant a public deploy key access to a project:

  1. On the top bar, select Main menu > Projects and find your project.
  2. On the left sidebar, select Settings > Repository.
  3. Expand Deploy keys.
  4. Select Publicly accessible deploy keys.
  5. In the key's row, select Enable.
  6. To grant read-write permission to the public deploy key:
    1. In the key's row, select Edit ({pencil}).
    2. Select the Grant write permissions to this key checkbox.

Revoke project access of a deploy key

To revoke a deploy key's access to a project, you can disable it. Any service that relies on a deploy key stops working when the key is disabled.

Prerequisites:

  • You must have at least the Maintainer role for the project.

To disable a deploy key:

  1. On the top bar, select Main menu > Projects and find your project.
  2. On the left sidebar, select Settings > Repository.
  3. Expand Deploy keys.
  4. Select Disable ({cancel}).

What happens to the deploy key when it is disabled depends on the following:

  • If the key is publicly accessible, it is removed from the project but still available in the Publicly accessible deploy keys tab.
  • If the key is privately accessible and only in use by this project, it is deleted.
  • If the key is privately accessible and also in use by other projects, it is removed from the project, but still available in the Privately accessible deploy keys tab.

Troubleshooting

Deploy key cannot push to a protected branch

There are a few scenarios where a deploy key will fail to push to a protected branch.

  • The owner associated to a deploy key does not have access to the protected branch.
  • The owner associated to a deploy key does not have membership to the project of the protected branch.
  • No one is selected in the Allowed to push section of the protected branch.

All deploy keys are associated to an account. Since the permissions for an account can change, this might lead to scenarios where a deploy key that was working is suddenly unable to push to a protected branch.

We recommend you create a service account, and associate a deploy key to the service account, for projects using deploy keys.

Identify deploy keys associated with non-member and blocked users

If you need to find the keys that belong to a non-member or blocked user, you can use the Rails console to identify unusable deploy keys using a script similar to the following:

ghost_user_id = User.ghost.id

DeployKeysProject.with_write_access.find_each do |deploy_key_mapping|
  project = deploy_key_mapping.project
  deploy_key = deploy_key_mapping.deploy_key
  user = deploy_key.user

  access_checker = Gitlab::DeployKeyAccess.new(deploy_key, container: project)

  # can_push_for_ref? tests if deploy_key can push to default branch, which is likely to be protected
  can_push = access_checker.can_do_action?(:push_code)
  can_push_to_default = access_checker.can_push_for_ref?(project.repository.root_ref)

  next if access_checker.allowed? && can_push && can_push_to_default

  if user.nil? || user.id == ghost_user_id
    username = 'none'
    state = '-'
  else
    username = user.username
    user_state = user.state
  end

  puts "Deploy key: #{deploy_key.id}, Project: #{project.full_path}, Can push?: " + (can_push ? 'YES' : 'NO') +
       ", Can push to default branch #{project.repository.root_ref}?: " + (can_push_to_default ? 'YES' : 'NO') +
       ", User: #{username}, User state: #{user_state}"
end