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gpgsm - Man Page

CMS encryption and signing tool


gpgsm [--homedir dir] [--options file] [options] command [args]


gpgsm is a tool similar to gpg to provide digital encryption and signing services on X.509 certificates and the CMS protocol.  It is mainly used as a backend for S/MIME mail processing. gpgsm includes a full featured certificate management and complies with all rules defined for the German Sphinx project.


Commands are not distinguished from options except for the fact that only one command is allowed.

Commands not specific to the function



Print the program version and licensing information.  Note that you cannot abbreviate this command.

--help,  -h

Print a usage message summarizing the most useful command-line options. Note that you cannot abbreviate this command.


Print warranty information.  Note that you cannot abbreviate this command.


Print a list of all available options and commands.  Note that you cannot abbreviate this command.

Commands to select the type of operation



Perform an encryption.  The keys the data is encrypted to must be set using the option --recipient.


Perform a decryption; the type of input is automatically determined.  It may either be in binary form or PEM encoded; automatic determination of base-64 encoding is not done.


Create a digital signature.  The key used is either the fist one found in the keybox or those set with the --local-user option.


Check a signature file for validity.  Depending on the arguments a detached signature may also be checked.


Run in server mode and wait for commands on the stdin.

--call-dirmngr command [args]

Behave as a Dirmngr client issuing the request command with the optional list of args.  The output of the Dirmngr is printed stdout.  Please note that file names given as arguments should have an absolute file name (i.e. commencing with /) because they are passed verbatim to the Dirmngr and the working directory of the Dirmngr might not be the same as the one of this client.  Currently it is not possible to pass data via stdin to the Dirmngr.  command should not contain spaces.

This is command is required for certain maintaining tasks of the dirmngr where a dirmngr must be able to call back to gpgsm.  See the Dirmngr manual for details.

--call-protect-tool arguments

Certain maintenance operations are done by an external program call gpg-protect-tool; this is usually not installed in a directory listed in the PATH variable.  This command provides a simple wrapper to access this tool.  arguments are passed verbatim to this command; use ‘--help’ to get a list of supported operations.

How to manage the certificates and keys



This command allows the creation of a certificate signing request or a self-signed certificate.  It is commonly used along with the --output option to save the created CSR or certificate into a file.  If used with the --batch a parameter file is used to create the CSR or certificate and it is further possible to create non-self-signed certificates.


List all available certificates stored in the local key database. Note that the displayed data might be reformatted for better human readability and illegal characters are replaced by safe substitutes.


List all available certificates for which a corresponding a secret key is available.

--list-external-keys pattern

List certificates matching pattern using an external server.  This utilizes the dirmngr service.


Same as --list-keys but also prints all keys making up the chain.


List all available certificates stored in the local key database using a format useful mainly for debugging.


Same as --dump-keys but also prints all keys making up the chain.


List all available certificates for which a corresponding a secret key is available using a format useful mainly for debugging.

--dump-external-keys pattern

List certificates matching pattern using an external server. This utilizes the dirmngr service.  It uses a format useful mainly for debugging.

--show-certs [files]

This command takes certificate files as input and prints information about them in the same format as --dump-cert does.  Each file may either contain a single binary certificate or several PEM encoded certificates.  If no files are given, the input is taken from stdin.

Please note that the listing format may be changed in future releases and that the option --with-colons has currently no effect.


This is a debugging aid to reset certain flags in the key database which are used to cache certain certificate statuses.  It is especially useful if a bad CRL or a weird running OCSP responder did accidentally revoke certificate.  There is no security issue with this command because gpgsm always make sure that the validity of a certificate is checked right before it is used.

--delete-keys pattern

Delete the keys matching pattern.  Note that there is no command to delete the secret part of the key directly.  In case you need to do this, you should run the command gpgsm --dump-secret-keys KEYID before you delete the key, copy the string of hex-digits in the “keygrip” line and delete the file consisting of these hex-digits and the suffix .key from the ‘private-keys-v1.d’ directory below our GnuPG home directory (usually ‘~/.gnupg’).

--export [pattern]

Export all certificates stored in the Keybox or those specified by the optional pattern. Those pattern consist of a list of user ids (see: [how-to-specify-a-user-id]).  When used along with the --armor option a few informational lines are prepended before each block.  There is one limitation: As there is no commonly agreed upon way to pack more than one certificate into an ASN.1 structure, the binary export (i.e. without using armor) works only for the export of one certificate.  Thus it is required to specify a pattern which yields exactly one certificate.  Ephemeral certificate are only exported if all pattern are given as fingerprints or keygrips.

--export-secret-key-p12 key-id

Export the private key and the certificate identified by key-id using the PKCS#12 format.  When used with the --armor option a few informational lines are prepended to the output.  Note, that the PKCS#12 format is not very secure and proper transport security should be used to convey the exported key.  (See: [option --p12-charset].)

--export-secret-key-p8 key-id
--export-secret-key-raw key-id

Export the private key of the certificate identified by key-id with any encryption stripped.  The ...-raw command exports in PKCS#1 format; the ...-p8 command exports in PKCS#8 format. When used with the --armor option a few informational lines are prepended to the output.  These commands are useful to prepare a key for use on a TLS server.

--import [files]

Import the certificates from the PEM or binary encoded files as well as from signed-only messages.  This command may also be used to import a secret key from a PKCS#12 file.


Read information about the private keys from the smartcard and import the certificates from there.  This command utilizes the gpg-agent and in turn the scdaemon.

--change-passphrase user_id
--passwd user_id

Change the passphrase of the private key belonging to the certificate specified as user_id.  Note, that changing the passphrase/PIN of a smartcard is not yet supported.


GPGSM features a bunch of options to control the exact behaviour and to change the default configuration.

How to change the configuration


These options are used to change the configuration and are usually found in the option file.

--options file

Reads configuration from file instead of from the default per-user configuration file.  The default configuration file is named ‘gpgsm.conf’ and expected in the ‘.gnupg’ directory directly below the home directory of the user.

--homedir dir

Set the name of the home directory to dir. If this option is not used, the home directory defaults to ‘~/.gnupg’.  It is only recognized when given on the command line.  It also overrides any home directory stated through the environment variable ‘GNUPGHOME’ or (on Windows systems) by means of the Registry entry HKCU\Software\GNU\GnuPG:HomeDir.

On Windows systems it is possible to install GnuPG as a portable application.  In this case only this command line option is considered, all other ways to set a home directory are ignored.


Outputs additional information while running. You can increase the verbosity by giving several verbose commands to gpgsm, such as ‘-vv’.

--keyserver string

This is a deprecated option.  It was used to add an LDAP server to use for X.509 certificate and CRL lookup.  The alias --ldapserver existed from version 2.2.28 to 2.2.33 and 2.3.2 to 2.3.4 but is now entirely ignored.

LDAP servers must be given in the configuration for dirmngr.

--policy-file filename

Change the default name of the policy file to filename.  The default name is ‘policies.txt’.

--agent-program file

Specify an agent program to be used for secret key operations.  The default value is determined by running the command gpgconf. Note that the pipe symbol (|) is used for a regression test suite hack and may thus not be used in the file name.

--dirmngr-program file

Specify a dirmngr program to be used for CRL checks.  The default value is ‘/usr/bin/dirmngr’.


This option is obsolete and ignored.


Entirely disable the use of the Dirmngr.


Do not start the gpg-agent or the dirmngr if it has not yet been started and its service is required.  This option is mostly useful on machines where the connection to gpg-agent has been redirected to another machines.  If dirmngr is required on the remote machine, it may be started manually using gpgconf --launch dirmngr.


Do not print a warning when the so called "secure memory" cannot be used.

--log-file file

When running in server mode, append all logging output to file. Use ‘socket://’ to log to socket.


Prefix all log output with a timestamp even if no log file is used.

Input and Output



Create PEM encoded output.  Default is binary output.


Create Base-64 encoded output; i.e. PEM without the header lines.


Assume the input data is PEM encoded.  Default is to autodetect the encoding but this is may fail.


Assume the input data is plain base-64 encoded.


Assume the input data is binary encoded.

--input-size-hint n

This option can be used to tell GPGSM the size of the input data in bytes.  n must be a positive base-10 number.  It is used by the --status-fd line “PROGRESS” to provide a value for “total” if that is not available by other means.

--p12-charset name

gpgsm uses the UTF-8 encoding when encoding passphrases for PKCS#12 files.  This option may be used to force the passphrase to be encoded in the specified encoding name.  This is useful if the application used to import the key uses a different encoding and thus will not be able to import a file generated by gpgsm.  Commonly used values for name are Latin1 and CP850.  Note that gpgsm itself automagically imports any file with a passphrase encoded to the most commonly used encodings.

--default-key user_id

Use user_id as the standard key for signing.  This key is used if no other key has been defined as a signing key.  Note, that the first --local-users option also sets this key if it has not yet been set; however --default-key always overrides this.

--local-user user_id
-u user_id

Set the user(s) to be used for signing.  The default is the first secret key found in the database.

--recipient name

Encrypt to the user id name.  There are several ways a user id may be given (see: [how-to-specify-a-user-id]).

--output file
-o file

Write output to file.  The default is to write it to stdout.


Displays extra information with the --list-keys commands.  Especially a line tagged grp is printed which tells you the keygrip of a key.  This string is for example used as the file name of the secret key.  Implies --with-colons.


When doing a key listing, do a full validation check for each key and print the result.  This is usually a slow operation because it requires a CRL lookup and other operations.

When used along with --import, a validation of the certificate to import is done and only imported if it succeeds the test.  Note that this does not affect an already available certificate in the DB. This option is therefore useful to simply verify a certificate.


For standard key listings, also print the MD5 fingerprint of the certificate.


Include the keygrip in standard key listings.  Note that the keygrip is always listed in --with-colons mode.


Include info about the presence of a secret key in public key listings done with --with-colons.


By default gpgsm prints distinguished names (DNs) like the Issuer or Subject in a more readable format (e.g. using a well defined order of the parts).  However, this format can't be used as input strings. This option reverts printing to standard RFC-2253 format and thus avoids the need to use --dump-cert or --with-colons to get the “real” name.

How to change how the CMS is created


--include-certs n

Using n of -2 includes all certificate except for the root cert, -1 includes all certs, 0 does not include any certs, 1 includes only the signers cert and all other positive values include up to n certificates starting with the signer cert.  The default is -2.

--cipher-algo oid

Use the cipher algorithm with the ASN.1 object identifier oid for encryption.  For convenience the strings 3DES, AES and AES256 may be used instead of their OIDs.  The default is AES (2.16.840.

--digest-algo name

Use name as the message digest algorithm.  Usually this algorithm is deduced from the respective signing certificate.  This option forces the use of the given algorithm and may lead to severe interoperability problems.

Doing things one usually do not want to do


--chuid uid

Change the current user to uid which may either be a number or a name.  This can be used from the root account to run gpgsm for another user.  If uid is not the current UID a standard PATH is set and the envvar GNUPGHOME is unset.  To override the latter the option --homedir can be used.  This option has only an effect when used on the command line.  This option has currently no effect at all on Windows.

--extra-digest-algo name

Sometimes signatures are broken in that they announce a different digest algorithm than actually used.  gpgsm uses a one-pass data processing model and thus needs to rely on the announced digest algorithms to properly hash the data.  As a workaround this option may be used to tell gpgsm to also hash the data using the algorithm name; this slows processing down a little bit but allows verification of such broken signatures.  If gpgsm prints an error like “digest algo 8 has not been enabled” you may want to try this option, with ‘SHA256’ for name.

--compliance string

Set the compliance mode.  Valid values are shown when using "help" for string.

--min-rsa-length n

This option adjusts the compliance mode "de-vs" for stricter key size requirements.  For example, a value of 3000 turns rsa2048 and dsa2048 keys into non-VS-NfD compliant keys.


To check that data has been encrypted according to the rules of the current compliance mode, a gpgsm user needs to evaluate the status lines.  This is allows frontends to handle compliance check in a more flexible way.  However, for scripted use the required evaluation of the status-line requires quite some effort; this option can be used instead to make sure that the gpgsm process exits with a failure if the compliance rules are not fulfilled.  Note that this option has currently an effect only in "de-vs" mode.


Force encryption to the specified certificates without any validation of the certificate chain.  The only requirement is that the certificate is capable of encryption.  Note that this option is ineffective if --require-compliance is used.

--ignore-cert-with-oid oid

Add oid to the list of OIDs to be checked while reading certificates from smartcards. The oid is expected to be in dotted decimal form, like  This option may be used more than once.  As of now certificates with an extended key usage matching one of those OIDs are ignored during a --learn-card operation and not imported.  This option can help to keep the local key database clear of unneeded certificates stored on smartcards.

--faked-system-time epoch

This option is only useful for testing; it sets the system time back or forth to epoch which is the number of seconds elapsed since the year 1970.  Alternatively epoch may be given as a full ISO time string (e.g. "20070924T154812").


Include ephemeral flagged keys in the output of key listings.  Note that they are included anyway if the key specification for a listing is given as fingerprint or keygrip.

--compatibility-flags flags

Set compatibility flags to work around problems due to non-compliant certificates or data.  The flags are given as a comma separated list of flag names and are OR-ed together.  The special flag "none" clears the list and allows one to start over with an empty list.  To get a list of available flags the sole word "help" can be used.

--debug-level level

Select the debug level for investigating problems. level may be a numeric value or by a keyword:


No debugging at all.  A value of less than 1 may be used instead of the keyword.


Some basic debug messages.  A value between 1 and 2 may be used instead of the keyword.


More verbose debug messages.  A value between 3 and 5 may be used instead of the keyword.


Even more detailed messages.  A value between 6 and 8 may be used instead of the keyword.


All of the debug messages you can get. A value greater than 8 may be used instead of the keyword.  The creation of hash tracing files is only enabled if the keyword is used.

How these messages are mapped to the actual debugging flags is not specified and may change with newer releases of this program. They are however carefully selected to best aid in debugging.

--debug flags

Set debug flags.  All flags are or-ed and flags may be given in C syntax (e.g. 0x0042) or as a comma separated list of flag names. To get a list of all supported flags the single word "help" can be used. This option is only useful for debugging and the behavior may change at any time without notice.

Note, that all flags set using this option may get overridden by --debug-level.


Same as --debug=0xffffffff


Usually gpgsm tries to avoid dumping core by well written code and by disabling core dumps for security reasons.  However, bugs are pretty durable beasts and to squash them it is sometimes useful to have a core dump.  This option enables core dumps unless the Bad Thing happened before the option parsing.


This is actually not a debugging option but only useful as such.  It lets gpgsm bypass all certificate chain validation checks.


This is actually not a debugging option but only useful as such.  It lets gpgsm ignore all notAfter dates, this is used by the regression tests.

--passphrase-fd n

Read the passphrase from file descriptor n. Only the first line will be read from file descriptor n. If you use 0 for n, the passphrase will be read from STDIN. This can only be used if only one passphrase is supplied.

Note that this passphrase is only used if the option --batch has also been given.

--pinentry-mode mode

Set the pinentry mode to mode.  Allowed values for mode are:


Use the default of the agent, which is ask.


Force the use of the Pinentry.


Emulate use of Pinentry's cancel button.


Return a Pinentry error (“No Pinentry”).


Redirect Pinentry queries to the caller.  Note that in contrast to Pinentry the user is not prompted again if he enters a bad password.

--request-origin origin

Tell gpgsm to assume that the operation ultimately originated at origin.  Depending on the origin certain restrictions are applied and the Pinentry may include an extra note on the origin.  Supported values for origin are: local which is the default, remote to indicate a remote origin or browser for an operation requested by a web browser.


Suppress the import of common certificates on keybox creation.

All the long options may also be given in the configuration file after stripping off the two leading dashes.

How to Specify a User Id

There are different ways to specify a user ID to GnuPG.  Some of them are only valid for gpg others are only good for gpgsm.  Here is the entire list of ways to specify a key:

By key Id.

This format is deduced from the length of the string and its content or 0x prefix. The key Id of an X.509 certificate are the low 64 bits of its SHA-1 fingerprint.  The use of key Ids is just a shortcut, for all automated processing the fingerprint should be used.

When using gpg an exclamation mark (!) may be appended to force using the specified primary or secondary key and not to try and calculate which primary or secondary key to use.

The last four lines of the example give the key ID in their long form as internally used by the OpenPGP protocol. You can see the long key ID using the option --with-colons.


By fingerprint.

This format is deduced from the length of the string and its content or the 0x prefix.  Note, that only the 20 byte version fingerprint is available with gpgsm (i.e. the SHA-1 hash of the certificate).

When using gpg an exclamation mark (!) may be appended to force using the specified primary or secondary key and not to try and calculate which primary or secondary key to use.

The best way to specify a key Id is by using the fingerprint.  This avoids any ambiguities in case that there are duplicated key IDs.


gpgsm also accepts colons between each pair of hexadecimal digits because this is the de-facto standard on how to present X.509 fingerprints.  gpg also allows the use of the space separated SHA-1 fingerprint as printed by the key listing commands.

By exact match on OpenPGP user ID.

This is denoted by a leading equal sign. It does not make sense for X.509 certificates.

=Heinrich Heine <heinrichh@uni-duesseldorf.de>
By exact match on an email address.

This is indicated by enclosing the email address in the usual way with left and right angles.

By partial match on an email address.

This is indicated by prefixing the search string with an @. This uses a substring search but considers only the mail address (i.e. inside the angle brackets).

By exact match on the subject's DN.

This is indicated by a leading slash, directly followed by the RFC-2253 encoded DN of the subject.  Note that you can't use the string printed by gpgsm --list-keys because that one has been reordered and modified for better readability; use --with-colons to print the raw (but standard escaped) RFC-2253 string.

/CN=Heinrich Heine,O=Poets,L=Paris,C=FR
By exact match on the issuer's DN.

This is indicated by a leading hash mark, directly followed by a slash and then directly followed by the RFC-2253 encoded DN of the issuer. This should return the Root cert of the issuer.  See note above.

#/CN=Root Cert,O=Poets,L=Paris,C=FR
By exact match on serial number and issuer's DN.

This is indicated by a hash mark, followed by the hexadecimal representation of the serial number, then followed by a slash and the RFC-2253 encoded DN of the issuer. See note above.

#4F03/CN=Root Cert,O=Poets,L=Paris,C=FR
By keygrip.

This is indicated by an ampersand followed by the 40 hex digits of a keygrip.  gpgsm prints the keygrip when using the command --dump-cert.

By substring match.

This is the default mode but applications may want to explicitly indicate this by putting the asterisk in front.  Match is not case sensitive.

. and + prefixes

These prefixes are reserved for looking up mails anchored at the end and for a word search mode.  They are not yet implemented and using them is undefined.

Please note that we have reused the hash mark identifier which was used in old GnuPG versions to indicate the so called local-id.  It is not anymore used and there should be no conflict when used with X.509 stuff.

Using the RFC-2253 format of DNs has the drawback that it is not possible to map them back to the original encoding, however we don't have to do this because our key database stores this encoding as meta data.


$ gpgsm -er goo@bar.net <plaintext >ciphertext


There are a few configuration files to control certain aspects of gpgsm's operation. Unless noted, they are expected in the current home directory (see: [option --homedir]).


This is the standard configuration file read by gpgsm on startup.  It may contain any valid long option; the leading two dashes may not be entered and the option may not be abbreviated.  This default name may be changed on the command line (see: [gpgsm-option --options]). You should backup this file.


This is an optional configuration file read by gpgsm on startup.  It may contain options pertaining to all components of GnuPG.  Its current main use is for the "use-keyboxd" option.


This is a list of allowed CA policies.  This file should list the object identifiers of the policies line by line.  Empty lines and lines starting with a hash mark are ignored.  Policies missing in this file and not marked as critical in the certificate will print only a warning; certificates with policies marked as critical and not listed in this file will fail the signature verification.  You should backup this file.

For example, to allow only the policy, the file should look like this:

# Allowed policies

This is the list of root certificates used for qualified certificates. They are defined as certificates capable of creating legally binding signatures in the same way as handwritten signatures are.  Comments start with a hash mark and empty lines are ignored.  Lines do have a length limit but this is not a serious limitation as the format of the entries is fixed and checked by gpgsm: A non-comment line starts with optional whitespace, followed by exactly 40 hex characters, white space and a lowercased 2 letter country code.  Additional data delimited with by a white space is current ignored but might late be used for other purposes.

Note that even if a certificate is listed in this file, this does not mean that the certificate is trusted; in general the certificates listed in this file need to be listed also in ‘trustlist.txt’. This is a global file an installed in the sysconf directory (e.g. ‘/etc/gnupg/qualified.txt’).

Every time gpgsm uses a certificate for signing or verification this file will be consulted to check whether the certificate under question has ultimately been issued by one of these CAs.  If this is the case the user will be informed that the verified signature represents a legally binding (“qualified”) signature.  When creating a signature using such a certificate an extra prompt will be issued to let the user confirm that such a legally binding signature shall really be created.

Because this software has not yet been approved for use with such certificates, appropriate notices will be shown to indicate this fact.


This is plain text file with a few help entries used with pinentry as well as a large list of help items for gpg and gpgsm.  The standard file has English help texts; to install localized versions use filenames like ‘help.LL.txt’ with LL denoting the locale.  GnuPG comes with a set of predefined help files in the data directory (e.g. ‘/usr/share/gnupg/gnupg/help.de.txt’) and allows overriding of any help item by help files stored in the system configuration directory (e.g. ‘/etc/gnupg/help.de.txt’). For a reference of the help file's syntax, please see the installed ‘help.txt’ file.


This file is a collection of common certificates used to populated a newly created ‘pubring.kbx’.  An administrator may replace this file with a custom one.  The format is a concatenation of PEM encoded X.509 certificates.  This global file is installed in the data directory (e.g. ‘/usr/share/gnupg/com-certs.pem’).

Note that on larger installations, it is useful to put predefined files into the directory ‘/etc/skel/.gnupg/’ so that newly created users start up with a working configuration.  For existing users a small helper script is provided to create these files (see: [addgnupghome]).

For internal purposes gpgsm creates and maintains a few other files; they all live in the current home directory (see: [option --homedir]).  Only gpgsm may modify these files.


This a database file storing the certificates as well as meta information.  For debugging purposes the tool kbxutil may be used to show the internal structure of this file.  You should backup this file.


This content of this file is used to maintain the internal state of the random number generator across invocations.  The same file is used by other programs of this software too.


If this file exists gpgsm will first try to connect to this socket for accessing gpg-agent before starting a new gpg-agent instance.  Under Windows this socket (which in reality be a plain file describing a regular TCP listening port) is the standard way of connecting the gpg-agent.

See Also

gpg(1), gpg-agent(1)

The full documentation for this tool is maintained as a Texinfo manual. If GnuPG and the info program are properly installed at your site, the command

info gnupg

should give you access to the complete manual including a menu structure and an index.

Referenced By

dirmngr(8), dirmngr-client(1), gnupg(7), gpg(1), gpg-agent(1), gpgconf(1), gpg-preset-passphrase(1), scdaemon(1), watchgnupg(1).

2024-03-04 GnuPG 2.4.5 GNU Privacy Guard 2.4