Craig Weber

Tips for working with multiple GitHub accounts

I use GitHub for my work and personal projects with different profiles for each. Because it’s a good security/privacy practice, each profile has its own distinct SSH key. However, this causes problems because the git CLI will always try to use the first SSH key that maps to the domain even if that key has no permissions for the target repository. The other more straightforward problem with multiple accounts is that the browser cookie asserts that you are only logged into one account at a time.

My solutions for these problems are direnv and Firefox Containers, respectively. These use cases are straightforward applications of these technologies, so I’m not claiming any innovation here, but rather it took me a long time to identify these solutions, and I hope this saves others some time. If you’re not familiar with these tools, read on for details.

Solution 1: Managing multiple GitHub SSH keys with direnv

The git CLI respects a GIT_SSH_COMMAND environment variable, and the ssh CLI takes a -i flag to specify an “identity file” or private key. If I run GIT_SSH_COMMAND=$HOME/.ssh/github-personal git push, it will try to push the current repo using my personal github token. However, I don’t want to have to manage setting and unsetting that variable as I switch between work and personal repositories; I want that setting to “stick” to each repository.

By-and-large, direnv serves this purpose. It looks for .envrc files in the shell’s current working directory and its ancestor directories and sources them automatically as the shell’s working directory changes or as the relevant .envrc files are changed. It’s widely supported and very easy to install (brew install direnv) and configure:

# Make sure to add .envrc to your .gitignore!
    echo 'GIT_SSH_COMMAND="ssh -i $HOME/.ssh/github-personal"' >> .envrc && \
    direnv allow`


This doesn’t work if you’re using git -C to run commands on a git repository outside that is not an ancestor of your current working directory, e.g., if you are in $HOME and your personal repo is $HOME/personal with a direnv envrc file at $HOME/personal/.envrc, running git -C $HOME/personal push will not trigger direnv to load your .envrc file because direnv hooks into your shell, not into the git CLI. To support the git -C usecase, you’ll need to pass the GIT_SSH_COMMAND env var to the git subprocess.

Solution 1 Alternative: the SSH config trick

For a while, I was using the SSH config trick which told ssh to use my personal SSH key for requests to the host github-personal while using my work key as the default for requests to This required me to change my git config for my private repos to use the github-personal host. This worked reasonably well until I wanted to write scripts that worked on my MacBook as well as in a CI environment–I didn’t want to parameterize the host because that’s a weird thing to do–it’s always going to GitHub, and any tool that wants to make authenticated requests to GitHub on my behalf would also have to support this kind of host parameterization.

Solution 2: Using Firefox Containers for multiple accounts

Firefox has a feature called “Containers” which are basically collections of tabs that share the same cookies, history, etc. Each container is sort of its own browser, in a sense–containers are isolated from each other, as the name implies. So I when I log into GitHub using my personal account in the “Personal” container, I can simultaneously be logged into my work GitHub account on the “Work” container (or rather, the default container, as appropriate) because the two containers don’t share cookie jars. When I open a new Personal container tab and navigate to, I’m already signed into my personal GH account, and vice versa for my work account in Work container tabs.


I use these tools for lots of other applications as well, including AWS (including using direnv to set AWS_DEFAULT_PROFILE and AWS_DEFAULT_REGION for the aws CLI) and the Google suite.

If you have other solutions that you’ve used for similar problems, or feedback or other suggestions, I’d love to hear them. Reach out via Twitter or email (weberc2 / gmail).