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3.5.3. Creating GPG Keys Using the Command Line

  1. Use the following shell command:
    ~]$ gpg2 --gen-key
    This command generates a key pair that consists of a public and a private key. Other people use your public key to authenticate and/or decrypt your communications. Distribute your public key as widely as possible, especially to people who you know will want to receive authentic communications from you, such as a mailing list.
  2. A series of prompts directs you through the process. Press the Enter key to assign a default value if desired. The first prompt asks you to select what kind of key you prefer:
    Please select what kind of key you want:
    (1) RSA and RSA (default)
    (2) DSA and Elgamal
    (3) DSA (sign only)
    (4) RSA (sign only)
    Your selection?
    In almost all cases, the default is the correct choice. An RSA/RSA key allows you not only to sign communications, but also to encrypt files.
  3. Choose the key size:
    RSA keys may be between 1024 and 4096 bits long.
    What keysize do you want? (2048)
    Again, the default, 2048, is sufficient for almost all users and represents an extremely strong level of security.
  4. Choose when the key will expire. It is a good idea to choose an expiration date instead of using the default, which is none. If, for example, the email address on the key becomes invalid, an expiration date will remind others to stop using that public key.
    Please specify how long the key should be valid.
    0 = key does not expire
    d = key expires in n days
    w = key expires in n weeks
    m = key expires in n months
    y = key expires in n years
    key is valid for? (0)
    Entering a value of 1y, for example, makes the key valid for one year. (You may change this expiration date after the key is generated, if you change your mind.)
  5. Before the gpg2 application asks for signature information, the following prompt appears:
    Is this correct (y/N)?
    Enter y to finish the process.
  6. Enter your name and email address for your GPG key. Remember this process is about authenticating you as a real individual. For this reason, include your real name. If you choose a bogus email address, it will be more difficult for others to find your public key. This makes authenticating your communications difficult. If you are using this GPG key for self-introduction on a mailing list, for example, enter the email address you use on that list.
    Use the comment field to include aliases or other information. (Some people use different keys for different purposes and identify each key with a comment, such as "Office" or "Open Source Projects.")
  7. At the confirmation prompt, enter the letter O to continue if all entries are correct, or use the other options to fix any problems. Finally, enter a passphrase for your secret key. The gpg2 program asks you to enter your passphrase twice to ensure you made no typing errors.
  8. Finally, gpg2 generates random data to make your key as unique as possible. Move your mouse, type random keys, or perform other tasks on the system during this step to speed up the process. Once this step is finished, your keys are complete and ready to use:
    	  pub  1024D/1B2AFA1C 2005-03-31 John Q. Doe <>
    	  Key fingerprint = 117C FE83 22EA B843 3E86  6486 4320 545E 1B2A FA1C
    	  sub  1024g/CEA4B22E 2005-03-31 [expires: 2006-03-31]
  9. The key fingerprint is a shorthand "signature" for your key. It allows you to confirm to others that they have received your actual public key without any tampering. You do not need to write this fingerprint down. To display the fingerprint at any time, use this command, substituting your email address:
    ~]$ gpg2 --fingerprint
    Your "GPG key ID" consists of 8 hex digits identifying the public key. In the example above, the GPG key ID is 1B2AFA1C. In most cases, if you are asked for the key ID, prepend 0x to the key ID, as in 0x6789ABCD.


If you forget your passphrase, the key cannot be used and any data encrypted using that key will be lost.