Pacman Package Signing – 2: Pacman-key

In this second part of the ongoing series of articles about the implementation of package signing in pacman, I am going to focus on keyring management and the new tool pacman-key that is provided to help with this. You can read the previous entry covering makepkg and repo-add here.

The way in which the PGP keyring for pacman is managed will be an essential aspect of the security of your system. The keyring (in combination with configuration options for pacman itself), will control which package and database signatures that you trust and thus what packages get onto your system. In fact, I’m still not entirely sure how best to set-up the keyring in terms of importing keys and setting their trust levels as the only repo I currently use that has full signing is my own and for that I can just add my own key with ultimate trust. Adding my key with ultimate trust would not be ideal for other people to do, but then again it may be acceptable given it is in a keyring for pacman only. But this is more the social aspect of PGP signing so I will leave discussing that further to another time.

However the keyring is set-up, it is helpful to have a tool to manage it. While this could be done directly using gpg with the --homedir flag, there are a few pacman specific keyring management issues that warranted the creation of a separate tool. Enter pacman-key. Originally this was a port of Debian’s apt-key to pacman by Denis A. AltoĆ© Falqueto, but has slowly become closer to being just a gpg wrapper with additional functions. I’ll also add a shout-out to both Ivan Kanakarakis and Pang Yan Han who also contributed multiple patches towards this script and Guillaume Alaux who provided the initial man page.

The pacman keyring will be located (by default) in /etc/pacman.d/gnupg (although this can be adjusted using the GPGDir directive in pacman.conf). The keyring should be set-up using pacman-key --init to ensure the files have the correct permissions for full pacman signature checking functionality. For example, to verify package signatures as a user (e.g. using pacman -Qip <pkg>), we need to let the user have read permissions on the keyring files and also add a gnupg configuration file to prevent the creation of a lock file (this is currently required to be done globally as the gpgme library used by pacman does not have the ability to control lock file creation…).

Keys can be added to the pacman keyring in several ways. They can be imported from a local file or files using pacman-key -a/--add <file(s)> or from a public key server using pacman-key -r/--receive <keyserver> <keyid(s)>. You can also --import entire sets of keys and trust dbs from other gnupg keyrings you have. Keys are removed using the -d/--delete option. There is also a mechanism for a distribution or other repo provider to supply a keyring containing all their packagers’ PGP keys to be imported into the pacman keyring, but this area is still undergoing development.

Once you have some keys in your keyring, you can manipulate them using pacman-key and some standard gnupg flags including --edit-key, --export, --list-{keys,sigs}, etc. The --edit-key option is fairly important as it allows you to do things like adjust the trust levels or locally sign keys in the keyring, which builds our web of trust. For any more advanced manipulation of the keyring (or just something that is not wrapped by pacman-key), you need to use gpg directly (although I am sure that if it turns out that a commonly used command is not currently wrapped by pacman-key, it can be added on request…).

And that is basically all there is to the pacman-key tool. It is fairly simple but it is also the part of the package signing implementation that has probably received the lowest volume of testing as it is not a script that will be used everyday. If you would like to help test it out while not touching your system pacman, you can build and run it directly from a git checkout. This should get you there:

$ git clone git://
$ cd pacman
$ ./
$ ./configure --prefix=/usr --sysconfdir=/etc --localstatedir=/var
$ make -C scripts
$ ./scripts/pacman-key

Test initializing a new keyring, adding and removing keys, editing a keys trust level, verifying a file with a detached signature (many packages in the Arch repos are already signed) and report any issues you run into.

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