Exchanging keys

To communicate with others you must exchange public keys. To list the keys on your public keyring use the command-line option --list-keys.

alice% gpg --list-keys
pub  1024D/BB7576AC 1999-06-04 Alice (Judge) <alice@cyb.org>
sub  1024g/78E9A8FA 1999-06-04

Exporting a public key

To send your public key to a correspondent you must first export it. The command-line option --export is used to do this. It takes an additional argument identifying the public key to export. As with the --gen-revoke option, either the key ID or any part of the user ID may be used to identify the key to export.

alice% gpg --output alice.gpg --export alice@cyb.org

The key is exported in a binary format, but this can be inconvenient when the key is to be sent though email or published on a web page. GnuPG therefore supports a command-line option --armor[1] that that causes output to be generated in an ASCII-armored format similar to uuencoded documents. In general, any output from GnuPG, e.g., keys, encrypted documents, and signatures, can be ASCII-armored by adding the --armor option.

alice% gpg --armor --export alice@cyb.org
Version: GnuPG v0.9.7 (GNU/Linux)
Comment: For info see http://www.gnupg.org


Importing a public key

A public key may be added to your public keyring with the --import option.

alice% gpg --import blake.gpg
gpg: key 9E98BC16: public key imported
gpg: Total number processed: 1
gpg:               imported: 1
alice% gpg --list-keys
pub  1024D/BB7576AC 1999-06-04 Alice (Judge) <alice@cyb.org>
sub  1024g/78E9A8FA 1999-06-04

pub  1024D/9E98BC16 1999-06-04 Blake (Executioner) <blake@cyb.org>
sub  1024g/5C8CBD41 1999-06-04

Once a key is imported it should be validated. GnuPG uses a powerful and flexible trust model that does not require you to personally validate each key you import. Some keys may need to be personally validated, however. A key is validated by verifying the key's fingerprint and then signing the key to certify it as a valid key. A key's fingerprint can be quickly viewed with the --fingerprint command-line option, but in order to certify the key you must edit it.

alice% gpg --edit-key blake@cyb.org

pub  1024D/9E98BC16  created: 1999-06-04 expires: never      trust: -/q
sub  1024g/5C8CBD41  created: 1999-06-04 expires: never     
(1)  Blake (Executioner) <blake@cyb.org>

Command> fpr
pub  1024D/9E98BC16 1999-06-04 Blake (Executioner) <blake@cyb.org>
             Fingerprint: 268F 448F CCD7 AF34 183E  52D8 9BDE 1A08 9E98 BC16
A key's fingerprint is verified with the key's owner. This may be done in person or over the phone or through any other means as long as you can guarantee that you are communicating with the key's true owner. If the fingerprint you get is the same as the fingerprint the key's owner gets, then you can be sure that you have a correct copy of the key.

After checking the fingerprint, you may sign the key to validate it. Since key verification is a weak point in public-key cryptography, you should be extremely careful and always check a key's fingerprint with the owner before signing the key.

Command> sign
pub  1024D/9E98BC16  created: 1999-06-04 expires: never      trust: -/q
             Fingerprint: 268F 448F CCD7 AF34 183E  52D8 9BDE 1A08 9E98 BC16

     Blake (Executioner) <blake@cyb.org>

Are you really sure that you want to sign this key
with your key: "Alice (Judge) <alice@cyb.org>"

Really sign?

Once signed you can check the key to list the signatures on it and see the signature that you have added. Every user ID on the key will have one or more self-signatures as well as a signature for each user that has validated the key.

Command> check
uid  Blake (Executioner) <blake@cyb.org>
sig!       9E98BC16 1999-06-04   [self-signature]
sig!       BB7576AC 1999-06-04   Alice (Judge) <alice@cyb.org>



Many command-line options that are frequently used can also be set in a configuration file.