EasyPG Assistant User’s Manual

EasyPG Assistant is an Emacs user interface to GNU Privacy Guard (GnuPG, see Top in Using the GNU Privacy Guard).

EasyPG Assistant is a part of the package called EasyPG, an all-in-one GnuPG interface for Emacs. EasyPG also contains the library interface called EasyPG Library.

This file describes EasyPG Assistant 1.0.0.

Copyright © 2007–2024 Free Software Foundation, Inc.

Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.3 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, with the Front-Cover Texts being “A GNU Manual,” and with the Back-Cover Texts as in (a) below. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled “GNU Free Documentation License”.

(a) The FSF’s Back-Cover Text is: “You have the freedom to copy and modify this GNU manual.”

Table of Contents

1 Overview

EasyPG Assistant is an Emacs frontend application to GnuPG (GNU Privacy Guard) that provides the following features:

2 Quick Start

You can use EasyPG Assistant without any Emacs or GnuPG configuration whatsoever, for example to encrypt and decrypt files automatically with symmetric encryption, see Encrypting and Decrypting gpg Files. However, to use the full set of EasyPG Assistant’s functions you should have at least some minimum GnuPG configuration in place.

John Michael Ashley’s GNU Privacy Handbook, available online as part of the GnuPG user guides, provides an introduction to GnuPG use and configuration. In contrast to that, the GnuPG manual (see Top in Using the GNU Privacy Guard) is more of a reference manual.

EasyPG Assistant commands are prefixed by ‘epa-’. For example,

EasyPG Assistant provides several cryptographic features which can be integrated into other Emacs functionalities. For example, automatic encryption/decryption of *.gpg files.

3 Commands

This chapter introduces various commands for typical use cases.

3.1 Key Management

Probably the first step of using EasyPG Assistant is to browse your keyring. M-x epa-list-keys is corresponding to ‘gpg --list-keys’ from the command line.

Command: epa-list-keys name mode

Show all keys matched with name from the public keyring.

The output looks as follows.

  u A5B6B2D4B15813FE Daiki Ueno <ueno@unixuser.org>

A character on the leftmost column indicates the trust level of the key. If it is ‘u’, the key is marked as ultimately trusted. The second column is the key ID, and the rest is the user ID.

You can move over entries by TAB. If you type RET or click button1 on an entry, you will see more detailed information about the key you selected.

 u Daiki Ueno <ueno@unixuser.org>
 u A5B6B2D4B15813FE 1024bits DSA
        Created: 2001-10-09
        Expires: 2007-09-04
        Capabilities: sign certify
        Fingerprint: 8003 7CD0 0F1A 9400 03CA  50AA A5B6 B2D4 B158 13FE
 u 4447461B2A9BEA2D 2048bits ELGAMAL_E
        Created: 2001-10-09
        Expires: 2007-09-04
        Capabilities: encrypt
        Fingerprint: 9003 D76B 73B7 4A8A E588  10AF 4447 461B 2A9B EA2D

To browse your private keyring, use M-x epa-list-secret-keys.

Command: epa-list-secret-keys name

Show all keys matched with name from the private keyring.

In *Keys* buffer, several commands are available. The common use case is to export some keys to a file. To do that, type m to select keys, type o, and then supply the filename.

Below are other commands related to key management. Some of them take a file as input/output, and others take the current region.

Command: epa-insert-keys keys

Insert selected keys after the point. It will let you select keys before insertion. By default, it will encode keys in the OpenPGP armor format.

Command: epa-import-keys file

Import keys from file to your keyring.

Command: epa-import-keys-region start end

Import keys from the current region between start and end to your keyring.

Command: epa-import-armor-in-region start end

Import keys in the OpenPGP armor format in the current region between start and end. The difference from epa-import-keys-region is that epa-import-armor-in-region searches armors in the region and applies epa-import-keys-region to each of them.

Command: epa-delete-keys allow-secret

Delete selected keys. If allow-secret is non-nil, it also delete the secret keys.

3.2 Cryptographic Operations on Regions

Command: epa-decrypt-region start end

Decrypt the current region between start and end. It replaces the region with the decrypted text.

Command: epa-decrypt-armor-in-region start end

Decrypt OpenPGP armors in the current region between start and end. The difference from epa-decrypt-region is that epa-decrypt-armor-in-region searches armors in the region and applies epa-decrypt-region to each of them. That is, this command does not alter the original text around armors.

Command: epa-verify-region start end

Verify the current region between start and end. It sends the verification result to the minibuffer or a popup window. It replaces the region with the signed text.

Command: epa-verify-cleartext-in-region

Verify OpenPGP cleartext blocks in the current region between start and end. The difference from epa-verify-region is that epa-verify-cleartext-in-region searches OpenPGP cleartext blocks in the region and applies epa-verify-region to each of them. That is, this command does not alter the original text around OpenPGP cleartext blocks.

Command: epa-sign-region start end signers type

Sign the current region between start and end. By default, it creates a cleartext signature. If a prefix argument is given, it will let you select signing keys, and then a signature type.

Command: epa-encrypt-region start end recipients sign signers

Encrypt the current region between start and end. It will let you select recipients. If a prefix argument is given, it will also ask you whether or not to sign the text before encryption and if you answered yes, it will let you select the signing keys.

3.3 Cryptographic Operations on Files

Command: epa-decrypt-file file &optional output

Decrypt file. If you do not specify the name output to use for the decrypted file, this function prompts for the value to use.

Command: epa-verify-file file

Verify file.

Command: epa-sign-file file signers type

Sign file. If a prefix argument is given, it will let you select signing keys, and then a signature type.

Command: epa-encrypt-file file recipients

Encrypt file. It will let you select recipients.

3.4 Dired Integration

EasyPG Assistant extends Dired Mode for GNU Emacs to allow users to easily do cryptographic operations on files. For example,

M-x dired
(mark some files)
: e (or M-x epa-dired-do-encrypt)
(select recipients by 'm' and click [OK])

The following keys are assigned.

: d

Decrypt marked files.

: v

Verify marked files.

: s

Sign marked files.

: e

Encrypt marked files.

3.5 Mail-Mode Integration

EasyPG Assistant provides a minor mode epa-mail-mode to help user compose inline OpenPGP messages. Inline OpenPGP is a traditional style of sending signed/encrypted emails by embedding raw OpenPGP blobs inside a message body, not using modern MIME format.

NOTE: Inline OpenPGP is not recommended and you should consider to use PGP/MIME. See Inline OpenPGP in E-mail is bad, Mm’kay?.

Once epa-mail-mode is enabled, the following keys are assigned. You can do it by C-u 1 M-x epa-mail-mode or through the Customize interface. Try M-x customize-variable epa-global-mail-mode.

C-c C-e C-d and C-c C-e d

Decrypt OpenPGP armors in the current buffer.

C-c C-e C-v and C-c C-e v

Verify OpenPGP cleartext signed messages in the current buffer.

C-c C-e C-s and C-c C-e s

Compose a signed message from the current buffer, using your default key. With a prefix argument, select the key to use interactively.

C-c C-e C-e and C-c C-e e

Compose an encrypted message from the current buffer. By default it tries to build the recipient list from ‘to’, ‘cc’, and ‘bcc’ fields of the mail header. To include your key in the recipient list, use ‘encrypt-to’ option in ~/.gnupg/gpg.conf. This function translates recipient addresses using the epa-mail-aliases list. You can also use that option to ignore specific recipients for encryption purposes.

With prefix argument, asks you to select the recipients interactively, whether to sign, and which key(s) to sign with.

3.6 Encrypting and Decrypting gpg Files

By default, every file whose name ends with .gpg will be treated as encrypted. That is, when you open such a file, the decrypted text is inserted in the buffer rather than encrypted one. Similarly, when you save the buffer to a foo.gpg file, encrypted data is written.

When you save a buffer to an encrypted file for the first time, EasyPG Assistant presents you a list of keys in a buffer *Keys* where you can select recipients for encryption. See Key Management, for a description of the format of that buffer. You can streamline this recipient selection step by customizing variables epa-file-encrypt-to and epa-file-select-keys described further below in this section.

If you do not select any recipient during this step, EasyPG Assistant uses symmetric encryption. As a consequence, you have to enter the passphrase twice for every buffer save and every so often for file reads, since the GnuPG Agent caches your passphrase for file reads at least for some time, but not for buffer saves. See Caching Passphrases, for more information.

If you have created your own keypair1, you can select that as recipient, and EasyPG Assistant will use public key encryption for that file. Since GnuPG performs encryption with your public key, it does not prompt for a passphrase for the buffer save, but it will prompt for your passphrase for file reads every now and then, depending on the GnuPG Agent cache configuration.

To encrypt and decrypt files as described above EasyPG Assistant under certain circumstances uses intermediate temporary files that contain the plain-text contents of the files it processes. EasyPG Assistant creates them below the directory returned by function temporary-file-directory (see Generating Unique File Names in GNU Emacs Lisp Reference Manual). If you want to be sure not to leave any plain-text traces, use an encrypted file systems at least for that directory.

The file name pattern for encrypted files can be controlled by epa-file-name-regexp.

Variable: epa-file-name-regexp

Regexp which matches filenames treated as encrypted.

You can disable this behavior with M-x epa-file-disable, and then get it back with M-x epa-file-enable.

Command: epa-file-disable

Disable automatic encryption/decryption of *.gpg files.

Command: epa-file-enable

Enable automatic encryption/decryption of *.gpg files.

By default, epa-file will try to use symmetric encryption, aka password-based encryption. If you want to use public key encryption instead, do M-x epa-file-select-keys, which pops up the key selection dialog.

Command: epa-file-select-keys

Select recipient keys to encrypt the currently visiting file with public key encryption.

You can also change the default behavior with the variable epa-file-select-keys.

Variable: epa-file-select-keys

Control whether or not to pop up the key selection dialog.

For frequently visited files, it might be a good idea to tell Emacs which encryption method should be used through file variables (see Local Variables in Files in The Emacs Editor). Use the epa-file-encrypt-to local variable for this.

For example, if you want an Elisp file to be encrypted with a public key associated with an email address ‘ueno@unixuser.org’, add the following line to the beginning of the file.

;; -*- epa-file-encrypt-to: ("ueno@unixuser.org") -*-

Instead, if you want the file always (regardless of the value of the epa-file-select-keys variable) encrypted with symmetric encryption, change the line as follows.

;; -*- epa-file-encrypt-to: nil -*-

Other variables which control the automatic encryption/decryption behavior are below.

Variable: epa-file-cache-passphrase-for-symmetric-encryption

If non-nil, cache passphrase for symmetric encryption. The default value is nil.

For security reasons, this option is turned off by default and not recommended to be used. Instead, consider using the GnuPG Agent, which in many cases can do the same job, and does it in a safer way. See Caching Passphrases, for more information.

Variable: epa-file-inhibit-auto-save

If non-nil, disable auto-saving when opening an encrypted file. The default value is t.

3.7 Querying a Key Server

The epa-search-keys command can be used to query a GPG key server. Emacs will then pop up a buffer that lists the matches, and you can then fetch (and add) keys to your personal key ring.

In the key search buffer, you can use the f command to mark keys for fetching, and then x to fetch the keys (and incorporate them into your key ring).

The epa-keyserver variable says which server to query.

4 GnuPG Version Compatibility

As of June 2023, there are three active branches of GnuPG: 2.4, 2.2, and 1.4. GnuPG versions 2.4.1 and later suffer from GnuPG bug T6481 and are hardly usable with Emacs. There is a patch for that bug available at least for GnuPG version 2.4.1, which your operating system or distribution might provide already. GnuPG 1.4 is considered a legacy version.

Besides that, all of those branches mentioned above should work flawlessly with Emacs with basic use-cases. They have, however, some incompatible characteristics, which might be visible when used from Emacs.

5 GnuPG Pinentry

An important component of the GnuPG suite is the Pinentry, which allows for secure entry of passphrases requested by GnuPG. GnuPG delivers various different programs as Pinentry, ranging from bland TTY-only pinentry-tty to fancy graphical dialogs for various desktop environments, like pinentry-gnome3. Your operating system usually determines which of these is used by default.

Note that the selection of a concrete Pinentry program determines only how GnuPG queries for passphrases and not how often. For the latter question see Caching Passphrases.

With some configuration Emacs can also play the role of a Pinentry. The most natural choice, available with GnuPG 2.1.5 and later, is to use Emacs itself as Pinentry for requests that are triggered by Emacs. For example, if you open a file whose name ends with .gpg using automatic decryption, you most likely also want to enter the passphrase for that request in Emacs.

This so called loopback Pinentry has the added benefit that it works also when you use Emacs remotely or from a text-only terminal. To enable it:

  1. Ensure that option allow-loopback-pinentry is configured for gpg-agent, which should be the default. See Option Summary in Using the GNU Privacy Guard.
  2. Customize variable epg-pinentry-mode to loopback in Emacs.

There are other options available to use Emacs as Pinentry, you might come across a Pinentry called pinentry-emacs or gpg-agent option allow-emacs-pinentry. However, these are considered insecure or semi-obsolete and might not be supported by your operating system or distribution. For example, Debian GNU/Linux supports only the loopback Pinentry described above.

6 Caching Passphrases

Typing passphrases is a troublesome task if you frequently open and close the same file. GnuPG and EasyPG Assistant provide mechanisms to remember your passphrases for a limited time. Using these, you only need to re-enter the passphrase occasionally. However, the configuration is a bit confusing since it depends on your GnuPG installation (see GnuPG Version Compatibility), encryption method (symmetric or public key), and whether or not you want to use GnuPG Agent. As an additional constraint, use of the GnuPG Agent is mandatory for GnuPG 2.0 and later. Here are some questions:

  1. Do you use GnuPG version 2.0 or later instead of GnuPG version 1.4?
  2. Do you use symmetric encryption rather than public key encryption?
  3. Do you want to use GnuPG Agent?

Here are configurations depending on your answers:

YesYesMustSet up GnuPG Agent.
YesNoMustSet up GnuPG Agent.
NoYesYesSet up elisp passphrase cache.
NoYesNoSet up elisp passphrase cache.
NoNoYesSet up GnuPG Agent.
NoNoNoYou can’t, without GnuPG Agent.

To set up GnuPG Agent, follow the instruction in Invoking GPG-AGENT in Using the GNU Privacy Guard.

To set up elisp passphrase cache, set epa-file-cache-passphrase-for-symmetric-encryption. See Encrypting and Decrypting gpg Files.

7 Bug Reports

Bugs and problems with EasyPG Assistant are actively worked on by the Emacs development team. Feature requests and suggestions are also more than welcome. Use M-x report-emacs-bug, see Reporting Bugs in The Emacs Editor.

When submitting a bug report, please try to describe in excruciating detail the steps required to reproduce the problem. Also try to collect necessary information to fix the bug, such as:

Before reporting the bug, you should set epg-debug in the ~/.emacs file and repeat the bug. Then, include the contents of the *epg-debug* buffer. Note that the first letter of the buffer name is a whitespace.

Appendix A GNU Free Documentation License

Version 1.3, 3 November 2008
Copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002, 2007, 2008 Free Software Foundation, Inc.

Everyone is permitted to copy and distribute verbatim copies
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Concept Index

Jump to:   A   B   C   D   E   F   G   I   K   L   M   P   Q   R   S   T   V  
Index Entry  Section

automatic file encryption and decryption: Encrypting/decrypting gpg files

browse key ring: Key management
bug reports: Bug Reports

caching passphrases: Caching Passphrases
compatibility with gnupg: GnuPG version compatibility
configuration of gnupg: Quick start
cryptographic operations on files: Cryptographic operations on files
cryptographic operations on regions: Cryptographic operations on regions

decrypt file: Cryptographic operations on files
decrypt region: Cryptographic operations on regions
decrypting gpg files: Encrypting/decrypting gpg files
delete keys: Key management
directory operations: Dired integration
dired integration: Dired integration
documentation on gnupg: Quick start

easypg assistant: Top
encrypt file: Cryptographic operations on files
encrypt region: Cryptographic operations on regions
encrypting gpg files: Encrypting/decrypting gpg files
entering passphrases: Caching Passphrases

features of easypg assistant: Overview
file operations, cryptographic: Cryptographic operations on files

gnu privacy guard: Top
gnupg: Top
gnupg documentation: Quick start
gnupg pinentry: GnuPG Pinentry
gnupg version compatibility: GnuPG version compatibility
gpg files, encrypting and decrypting: Encrypting/decrypting gpg files

import keys: Key management
insert keys: Key management
introduction to easypg assistant: Quick start
introduction to gnupg: Quick start

key management: Key management
key ring, browsing: Key management
key server, querying: Querying a key server

loopback pinentry: GnuPG Pinentry

mail-mode integration: Mail-mode integration
multiple file operations: Dired integration

passphrases, entering and caching: Caching Passphrases
pinentry provided by gnupg: GnuPG Pinentry
pinentry, emacs as: GnuPG Pinentry
private key ring, browsing: Key management
public key encryption, passphrase entry for: Encrypting/decrypting gpg files

query key server: Querying a key server

region operations, cryptographic: Cryptographic operations on regions
reporting bugs: Bug Reports

sending signed/encrypted mails: Mail-mode integration
sign file: Cryptographic operations on files
sign region: Cryptographic operations on regions
symmetric encryption, passphrase entry for: Encrypting/decrypting gpg files

temporary files created by easypg assistant: Encrypting/decrypting gpg files

verify file: Cryptographic operations on files
verify region: Cryptographic operations on regions
version compatibility with gnupg: GnuPG version compatibility

Key Index

Function Index

Variable Index



For encryption and decryption of files you do not intend to share, you do not have to use an email address as recipient during creation of the keypair. You can also use some free-form string that gives information on the use of the keypair, like backup or account database.