CJ Duncan CJ Duncan - 5 months ago 15
Git Question

Why do I have to kill gpg-agent to sign my commits?

GitHub recently announced verified commits, so I took this opportunity to implement GPG and start using keys. When I want to start committing, I get the following:

$ git commit

You need a passphrase to unlock the secret key for
user: "John Doe <johndoe@email.com>"
4096-bit RSA key, ID ABCD1234, created 2016-04-08

gpg: problem with the agent - disabling agent use
error: gpg failed to sign the data
fatal: failed to write commit object

I went online and searched for a solution, and one site (for a mail provider) suggested to
killall gpg-agent
, and it worked. Now, I can sign commits by entering my passphrase.

necessary? It seems to come with GPG when I installed it, but if I have to kill it to sign my commits, it would seem that I there is something that I am not understanding. How can I fix this so that I can have
running and be able to sign my commits?


I just figured out how to use gpg-agent on my Mac today. I was blocked after hitting the same error as you:

gpg: problem with the agent - disabling agent use

tldr; How I fixed it

For my setup, I was able to fix this by installing pinentry-mac and pointing gpg-agent to use it, thus popping up a GUI prompt as required.

1. install pinentry-mac
% brew install pinentry-mac
2. update gpg-agent conf
# manually change ~/.gnupg/gpg-agent.conf's pinentry-program to /usr/local/bin/pinentry-mac
3. update shell's view of PATH contents
% hash -r
4. restart gpg-agent
# however you normally do it (see below for how I run it manually)

Details on debugging

I debugged this by restarting the gpg-agent manually. I first commented out the configs in ~/.gnupg/gpg-agent.conf, then I ran this command to restart the gpg-agent with --verbose:

% killall gpg-agent && \
  eval $(gpg-agent --pinentry-program /usr/local/bin/pinentry --default-cache-ttl 60 --daemon --verbose)

Then I ran a test command and saw the error we've both listed above, as well as a new one:

# update the MY_GPG_KEY_ID as appropriate
% echo hi | gpg -e -r $(MY_GPG_KEY_ID) | gpg -d --use-agent
gpg-agent[60604]: command get_passphrase failed: Device not configured
gpg: problem with the agent - disabling agent use

I eventually realized (after reading this article and this GPG page) that GPG_TTY was not set by the steps I was following for starting up gpg-agent. So once I set that variable everything "worked":

% killall gpg-agent && \
  eval $(gpg-agent --pinentry-program /usr/local/bin/pinentry --default-cache-ttl 60 --daemon --verbose)
% export GPG_TTY=`tty`
# Now the below command succeeds
% echo hi | gpg -e -r $(MY_GPG_KEY_ID) | gpg -d --use-agent

In the midst of this exercise I was trying a lot of different options, and discovered that the pinentry-mac GUI prompter "just worked".

Avoiding GUI passphrase prompter

If you don't want a GUI prompter popping up, then I think it would be sufficient to ensure that the following env variables are being set in every terminal:

    • e.g., you can put this line into your .bashrc:
    • export GPG_TTY=$(tty)