regression --passphrase-file ignored in gnupg 2.1.2
Closed, ResolvedPublic


When trying to decrypt a file for a specific key and the passphrase present in a
file, gpg still asks for a passphrase via pinentry and refuses to accept the file.
strace suggests that the file is actually read but the content is ignored.
Using a non-existent passphrase-file will give an "File not found" error.
Typing in the passphrase by hand still works.

Using --batch --passphrase-file works in gpg (GnuPG) 1.4.16 on ubuntu.

Additional info:

  • arch linux package: core/gnupg 2.1.2-1

Steps to reproduce:
$ gpg --homedir . --gen-key
gpg: WARNING: unsafe permissions on homedir './'
gpg (GnuPG) 2.1.2; Copyright (C) 2015 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
This is free software: you are free to change and redistribute it.
There is NO WARRANTY, to the extent permitted by law.

Note: Use "gpg2 --full-gen-key" for a full featured key generation dialog.

GnuPG needs to construct a user ID to identify your key.

Real name: tester
Email address:
You selected this USER-ID:
"tester <>"

generate key with passphrase "123"

$ echo "123" > passphrase
$ echo "myfile" > file
$ gpg --homedir . --recipient --output file.gpg --encrypt file
$ gpg --homedir . --batch --passphrase-file passphrase --output file-2 file.gpg

Asks for the passphrase despite the --batch mode

gpg: encrypted with 2048-bit RSA key, ID 88B483A6, created 2015-03-17
"tester <>"
gpg: public key decryption failed: Operation cancelled
gpg: decryption failed: No secret key


External Link
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exi set Version to 2.1.2.
exi added a subscriber: exi.
werner lowered the priority of this task from High to Normal.Mar 19 2015, 4:13 PM
gniibe added a subscriber: gniibe.May 1 2015, 8:12 AM

In GnuPG 2.1.x, secret key is under control of gpg-agent. You can use
But, I think that --batch should imply --pinentry-mode=loopback.

exi added a comment.May 2 2015, 2:28 AM

When I try the following under gnupg 2.1.3 with arch linux:

$ gpg --homedir <gpg-dir> --batch --pinentry-mode=loopback --passphrase-file
<passfile> --decrypt myfile.gpg

I get the following error:

gpg: setting pinentry mode 'loopback' failed: Not supported
gpg: decryption failed: No secret key

Is the gnupg version of arch just missing some compile-time flag to support
--passphrase-file without manual pinentry? If this is the case, I could report
this back to the arch maintainer to get it fixed downstream.
Or is there still some work to be done on gnupg?

gniibe added a comment.May 7 2015, 5:14 AM

It seems that your gpg-agent doesn't support loopback mode.
Either, your gpg-agent is from 2.0 or the socket is hijacked by gnome-keyring.
For the latter, please see

gniibe claimed this task.May 7 2015, 5:14 AM
exi added a comment.May 7 2015, 10:51 AM

It seems that the gpg-agent needs to be started with --allow-loopback-pinentry
for this to work.
Because I let gpg autostart the daemon for me, this does not get passed to
gpg-agent and therefore does not work when setting --pinentry-mode=loopback in gpg.

I don't know what is to do here.
Should gpg with --pinentry-mode=loopback autostart the gpg-agent with
--allow-loopback-pinentry ?
Or should I just add some documentation to the manpages to describe what is
necessary for --pinentry-mode=loopback and --passphrase-file to work?

gniibe added a comment.May 8 2015, 3:34 AM

I checked the code and the behavior. It is confirmed that the default of
gpg-agent disables loopback-pinentry mode and user needs to enable it.

Now, we need some fixes/improvements:
(1) gpg should automatically work with gpg-agent with the option of --passphrase
(-file, -fd).
In GnuPG 2.1.x, the secret keys are under control of gpg-agent and gpg frontend
should pass the passphrase to gpg-agent in some way.
When --passphrase (-file, -fd) option is supplied, gpg frontend could use
gpg-agent feature of either loopback-pinentry mode _OR_ preset_passphrase .
The latter requires specific key identification, so, loopback-pinentry mode
would be the solution for general.
(2) Both of loopback-pinentry mode and preset_passphrase are disabled as
default. We need to fix this default of gpg-agent _AND_ we need to fix gpg
frontend error handling of this case of disabled feature of gpg-agent. Well, I
don't know the reason this features need to be disabled...
(3) When it is gpg frontend which invokes gpg-agent, it would be natural to
enable loopback-pinentry (or preset_passphrase). But, there will be existing
gpg-agent even with --batch option. I don't know how it should work in this case.

neal added a subscriber: neal.Jun 5 2015, 6:22 PM

As DKG noted on the mailing list, we --batch shouldn't imply
--pinentry-mode=loop. He provides the example of a graphical tool that fills in
many of the fields when generating a key, but should not have to worry about
securely managing the password.

This suggests that if a password is somehow provided on the command line, we
should prime (i.e., preset) gpg agent so that it doesn't request a password.

neal added a comment.Jun 5 2015, 7:52 PM

In another message (<>) DKG notes that we
shouldn't allow loopback mode or preseeding to prevent passphrase-guessing attacks.

exi added a comment.Jun 5 2015, 8:29 PM

How would the suggested method of programmatically using gpg be?

I'm maintaining a service that uses gpg as a streaming encryption/decryption
backend and we need to provide the passphrase for the keys somehow in a
convenient manner.

Priming the agent is not optimal too because it would force me to restart the
agent every time i add new keys.

Maybe give me the possibility to provide new passphrases to the agent via the
agent socket?

marcus added a subscriber: marcus.Jul 18 2017, 7:37 PM

In 3ef0938cfd8637e9801369f142eb8dd564f2ca61 --allow-loopback-pinentry became the default.

werner closed this task as Resolved.Sep 21 2017, 3:40 PM