How to Use Multiple GitHub Accounts on the Same Computer

Posted on Oct 23, 2021 by Nate in Uncategorized

Like many of you, I have a GitHub account that I use for work, and a separate one for my personal projects. But I had the hardest time getting both of them set up on the same computer. I’m going to point you to all of the articles that helped me, but I’ll also walk you through the process and explain what gave me so much trouble.

By the way, while I use Windows, most of these steps seem applicable across most operating systems.

Intro

With the benefit of hindsight, I now realize that a lot of my problem came from not really understanding some of the details around git. While I use git everyday, I rarely get outside of the clone, add, commit, push, and pull commands. I certainly didn’t understand the ins and outs of how git accounts work and all of that. And because articles that deal with this are talking about sensitive data (logins, SSH keys, repo URLs, etc), it can be hard to tell which parts of the examples are literal and which are placeholders.

I’m going to walk you through the steps, and I’ll be as explicit as possible about the parts that you literally need to type verbatim and which parts you can edit for your own needs. And I was only able to figure this out by putting together points from the following resources:

Step 1: Understand Your Need

Hopefully it will help you figure out how to solve your specific need by understanding what I was trying to do. I work full time for a company that we’ll call XYZ, and I have a company email address — let’s say it’s nowens@xyzideas.com for the sake of our example. I have a GitHub account tied to that email address and that company, and the username is nate-owens.

I also have a GitHub account for my personal projects and side work. That account is nate-78, and it’s tied to the nathan@owensdev.com email address. I’ve always used SVN to manage my OwensDev projects, but because I use git everyday for work, I’ve been wanting to move my personal stuff over to that as well.

On my computer, I store my work projects at C:\xyz-git. I’d like for my personal projects to be stored at C:\owensdev-git.

Now that you understand what I was trying to accomplish, let’s walk through the steps for how to make it happen.

Step 2: Create SSH Keys

You can use an SSH key to let GitHub know who you are when your computer makes calls against git. Because I wanted to talk to two different accounts, I needed two different SSH keys. If you’re already a git user, it’s likely that you already have an SSH key set up for your main account. I was setting up a new laptop, so I needed to create both keys.

Note: even though I needed two keys, I completed all the steps for one key before starting with the second one. I recommend doing it that way if you need both.

Open a terminal (I used Git Bash) and execute the following:

ssh-keygen -t rsa -C "your-email-address"

I decided to create my work account first, so I used my nowens@xyzideas.com email address.

The following message will show in the terminal:

Generating public/private rsa key pair.
Enter file in which to save the key (/c/Users/your_username/.ssh/id_rsa):

I highly recommend naming your file after the account you’ll use the key for. For instance, I decided to name mine after my email address and company, so I typed in:

/c/Users/Nathan/.ssh/id_rsa_nowens_xyz

You’ll be asked to enter a passphrase, but I recommend leaving this blank. Otherwise, you’ll have to enter that passphrase every time you interact with GitHub. The only reason you might want to use one is if you’re sharing your computer with other people.

Step 3: Attach the Key to GitHub

You now need to let GitHub know about your new key. Log in to your GitHub account, click your profile image in the top right, and select “Settings.” On the following page, click “SSH and GPG keys” in the left sidebar.

You’ll see a list of SSH keys, if you’ve already set any up. Click the “New SSH Key” button, and you’ll see this:

For the title, it’s smart to be machine specific so you can easily recognize it in the future (and delete it if you stop using that computer). I named mine “Nathan’s Dell XPS.”

There are two ways to get the value of the key. One way is by using the terminal:

vim ~/.ssh/<the-name-you-gave-your-file>.pub

For my example, I’d type in:

vim ~/.ssh/id_rsa_nowens_xyz.pub

This will display the value of your key at the top of your console:

I don’t actually use this key for anything. It’s already been deleted.

Copy that value, including both the “ssh-rsa ” at the beginning and the email address at the end, and paste that into the textarea on GitHub.

If you don’t like vim and don’t want to use the terminal, you can actually navigate to the C:/Users/<your-account>/.ssh folder and open the .pub folder in a text editor. That will also give you the value you need.

Step 4: Tell SSH About the Key

This step was surprising to me, because I would have assumed that SSH on my machine would already be aware of the key I just created, but apparently it doesn’t work that way.

First, make sure the ssh-agent is running by using the following command:

eval "$(ssh-agent -s)"

That command should return an agent ID, which means you’re good to go. Add your new key:

ssh-add ~/.ssh/id_rsa_<your-suffix>

For me, the command was:

ssh-add ~/.ssh/id_rsa_nowens_xyz

Step 5: Repeat Steps if You Need Other Keys

I also needed a key for my personal account, so I repeated the above steps and created a key with the name “id_rsa_owensdev”.

A Quick Aside: How to List Your Current SSH Keys

If you forget exactly what you named certain keys, there’s a handy command that can help you out.

ls -al ~/.ssh

“ls” means “list.” The “a” tells the terminal to list all of the files, even hidden ones. And the “l” says that you want to see them in long format. You’ll get a list like this:

$ ls -al ~/.ssh
total 35
drwxr-xr-x 1 Nathan 197121    0 Oct 23 10:38 ./
drwxr-xr-x 1 Nathan 197121    0 Oct 23 10:38 ../
-rw-r--r-- 1 Nathan 197121  224 Oct 22 18:10 config
-rw-r--r-- 1 Nathan 197121 2610 Oct 22 16:55 id_rsa_owensdev
-rw-r--r-- 1 Nathan 197121  573 Oct 22 16:55 id_rsa_owensdev.pub
-rw-r--r-- 1 Nathan 197121 2602 Oct 23 10:17 id_rsa_nowens_xyz
-rw-r--r-- 1 Nathan 197121  573 Oct 23 10:17 id_rsa_nowens_xyz.pub
-rw-r--r-- 1 Nathan 197121 1446 Oct 22 19:50 known_hosts
-rw-r--r-- 1 Nathan 197121  392 Oct 22 18:14 known_hosts.old

Step 6: Create a Config File

This is where the magic really happens. This is how you tell git on your machine which accounts you’re trying to talk to.

In your /.ssh directory (C:/Users/<your-account>/.ssh), create a config file. No extension — just a file called “config” (you can see it listed in the previous step). This is how my config file looks:

#Default GitHub
Host github.com
  HostName github.com
  User git
  IdentityFile ~/.ssh/id_rsa_nowens_xyz
#Second GitHub
Host github.com-owensdev
  HostName github.com
  User git
  IdentityFile ~/.ssh/id_rda_owensdev

Let’s talk about the different parts of these entries:

  • Host
    • When talking to a repo, this is the value that goes after the @ symbol. For instance, git clone https://git@<Host>...
  • HostName
    • This should remain “github.com”
  • User
    • This is NOT your GitHub username — this should remain “git”
  • IdentifyFile
    • And this should be the path to your new SSH key
    • “~/.ssh” is not being used as a placeholder. You do not need the full actual path here — it should be written out exactly as my example shows.

Maybe You’re Done?

Different people have different setups with GitHub, so it’s possible that you’re already in good shape now.

One of the things you can do to see if the SSH keys are setup correctly is to use this command in your terminal:

ssh -T git@github.com

If everything’s been setup correctly, you should get a message like this:

Hi nate-owens! You've successfully authenticated, but GitHub does not provide shell access.

It’s also good to test your second connection by using the Host that you specified in your config file. For instance:

ssh -T git@github.com-owensdev

Once you’ve tested these, you can try to work with your repos (step 8) and see if you have success. If you’re having trouble accessing one or both of the repos, try step 7.

Step 7: Update gitconfig

At this point, my work account was working fine, but I was having trouble with my personal one. I couldn’t clone any of my repos. I now realize that part of my issue was that I didn’t understand how the Host settings in the config file really worked when working with GitHub URLs. So it’s possible that I didn’t need to make the following changes to my gitconfig, but I did, and maybe you’ll find them helpful.

In my default gitconfig (C:/Users/<user-name>/gitconfig), I left my default user information the same (for my work account). But I added a conditional to load a different gitconfig file when using my owensdev-git directory:

[user]
    name = nate-owens
    email = nowens@xyzideas.com
[includeIf "gitdir:~/owensdev-git/"]
    path = ~/owensdev-git/.gitconfig

I also added a line to the [core] section that specifies the SSH key I’m using for my default account:

[core]
    sshCommand = ssh -i ~/.ssh/id_rsa_nowens_ccg

Then, inside my owensdev-git directory, I created the following .gitconfig file:

[user]
    email = nathan@owensdev.com
    name = nate-78
[core]
    sshCommand = ssh -i ~/.ssh/id_rda_owensdev

Full disclosure, I just noticed that my default gitconfig file does not have a period in front of it, while my owensdev-git/.gitconfig file does. I don’t know if that’s relevant or not, and it took me so long to get everything working that I’m not brave enough to test changing it right now, lol.

Step 8: Working with Repos

Your main repo (in my case, my work repo) should work as it normally would. You should be able to clone a repo from your main account by using a command like :

git clone https://github.com/XYZ-Company/Some-Repo.git

When working with your secondary repo (my personal one, in my case), the URL needs to be structured a little differently. It needs to use a structure like this:

git clone https://git@<Host-from-ssh-config>:<username>/Repo.git

So in my case, a call looks like this:

git clone https://git@github.com-owensdev:nate-78/My-Repo.git

THIS was the thing I had the hardest time with. So many of the examples I had looked at named their host after their username, which makes sense in a lot of ways, but it’s not how I did it. So when they gave their examples, it looked like they were using the Host they defined in their SSH config file on both sides of the “:”. And because there are so many steps in this process, I had no idea where things were going wrong for me.

Conclusion

I hope all of my pain and frustration pays off for you in some way. If you’re experiencing trouble, check out all the links I listed at the top of this post. Specifically, if you can clone repos, but are having trouble working with repos you already had on your machine, you might want to read step 7 on this post.


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