Verified GitHub commits with Keybase

A while back, GitHub announced support for GPG signature verification. Now, git has supported signing commits and tags for a while, but it was a pain to manually verify signed commits, so I’m not sure the average developer even considered it.

I saw the announcement, and messed around with it for a few minutes then forgot about it, because I don’t use GPG very often, and it hadn’t yet clicked that Keybase is really just a GPG management tool…

Keybase is great - it pretty much solves that pesky PGP/GPG web-of-trust problem without forcing you to go to those awkward key signing parties (are those still a thing?). Also it makes it dead-simple to encrypt/decrypt stuff, especially now that they’ve launched the Keybase File System.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a super-simple path from Keybase to GitHub verified commits, largely because there’s two other tools involved (and frankly, doing the real work): Git and GnuPG.

So, for anyone else who wants to do this, but especially for my own memory, here’s how I set up Git and GnuPG on my Mac to sign commits with my Keybase identity…


The tools I’m using are:

I installed all of these (except Keybase) with Homebrew:

$ brew install git gnupg pinentry-mac

I installed Keybase from


I’m going to leave setting Keybase up as an exercise to the reader. My process was a little convoluted:

  1. figuring out how to get my GPG key out of Keybase
  2. importing my Keybase key into gpg
  3. configuring git
  4. adding my key to GitHub
  5. figuring out I needed to use gpg-agent
  6. realizing that gpg-agent expires passphrases
  7. finding pinentry-mac

So, I’ve put together a bit of a shortcut. Let’s get started…

Getting Keybase to cough up my key pair

The first step’s easy:

$ keybase pgp export > keybase-public.key

This gets my public key, but I need the secret key too. To do that, there’s a couple options - Keybase lets you export the private key (after authenticating) from the web UI, but an easier commandline way is:

$ keybase pgp export -s > keybase-private.key

It’ll prompt for the passphrase.

Ok, now we have the key pair!

Importing the key pair into the GPG keychain

This is probably the most involved step,

First the public:

$ gpg --import keybase-public.key

Now private:

$ gpg --allow-secret-key-import --import keybase-private.key

Ok, cool. If I type gpg --list-secret-keys now, I see my key:

$ gpg --list-secret-keys
sec   4096R/9AB1B536 2014-11-19
uid         <>
ssb   2048R/5DCE5AFA 2014-11-19
ssb   2048R/30CF03B1 2014-11-19

The one important bit to take away from that is the key ID - the bit after the / in the sec entry: 9AB1B536 in my case.

In my case I only had one e-mail address associated with it - I don’t have any access to that mail account, and I certainly never sign commits with that address. So I need to add my regular e-mail address to the key:

$ gpg --edit <key id>
gpg (GnuPG) 2.0.30; Copyright (C) 2015 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
This is free software: you are free to change and redistribute it.
There is NO WARRANTY, to the extent permitted by law.

Secret key is available.

pub  4096R/9AB1B536  created: 2014-11-19  expires: never       usage: SCEA
                     trust: unknown       validity: unknown
sub  2048R/5DCE5AFA  created: 2014-11-19  expires: 2022-11-17  usage: S   
sub  2048R/30CF03B1  created: 2014-11-19  expires: 2022-11-17  usage: E   
[unknown] (2) <>


At this point, enter adduid and it’ll prompt for various information:

gpg> adduid
Real name: Dave Henderson
Email address:
You selected this USER-ID:
    "Dave Henderson <>"

Change (N)ame, (C)omment, (E)mail or (O)kay/(Q)uit? O

It’ll prompt for the passphrase and then you’re back at the gpg> prompt.

Now, one more change - not strictly necessary, but will avoid weird warnings later: set my own identity to ultimate trust. Use the trust command:

gpg> trust
pub  4096R/9AB1B536  created: 2014-11-19  expires: never       usage: SCEA
                     trust: unknown      validity: unknown
sub  2048R/5DCE5AFA  created: 2014-11-19  expires: 2022-11-17  usage: S   
sub  2048R/30CF03B1  created: 2014-11-19  expires: 2022-11-17  usage: E   
[unknown] (1)  Dave Henderson <>
[unknown] (2) <>

Please decide how far you trust this user to correctly verify other users' keys
(by looking at passports, checking fingerprints from different sources, etc.)

  1 = I don't know or won't say
  2 = I do NOT trust
  3 = I trust marginally
  4 = I trust fully
  5 = I trust ultimately
  m = back to the main menu

Your decision? 5

Finish the session with the save command.

Ok, last step here: update Keybase with the updated key:

$ keybase pgp update
▶ INFO Posting update for key 22600e46075b206041e8f730407ccdee9ab1b536.
▶ INFO Update succeeded for key 22600e46075b206041e8f730407ccdee9ab1b536.

Configuring Git

This part’s pretty straightforward. I just want to tell Git which key to use by default:

$ git config --global user.signingkey 9AB1B536

Configuring GitHub

This part’s really straightforward. All I needed to do is open and create a new key by pasting in the contents of my public key.

Configuring gpg-agent

Almost there! I had to create a new ~/.gnupg/gpg-agent.conf file. The contents are:

pinentry-program /usr/local/bin/pinentry-mac

Then in ~/.gnupg/gpg.conf, I added a line that says:


That’s it! Ready to sign commits now!

Signing commits

And now, the fruit of our labours. I can just use the -S flag when I make a commit:

$ git commit -S -m "whoa, there's cryptographic proof this was written by me"

Now, when I first looked at this I wondered if -S was a “stronger” version of -s, but it turns out they’re completely unrelated. I’ve been used to “signing” my commits already with the git commit -s flag, but this really only adds a Signed-off-by line, which usually just implies acceptance of a DCO.

I guess I need to adjust my thinking about this, because - -s really means “sign off”, which is pretty obvious once you look at the long form: --signoff.

On the other hand, -S (or --gpg-sign) adds a cryptographic signature to the commit. Cryptographically signing commits means something completely different: It gives some proof that the commit was written by the person who owns a certain GPG key.

When this is combined with GitHub’s signature verification support, you get fairly irrefutable proof that a commit was signed by the person who owns a given GitHub account.

And then, we come full circle when we combine this with Keybase’s various proof mechanisms, which can prove that the person who owns a certain twitter account, a certain website, and a certain reddit account is also the same person who owns that GitHub account.


Just an addendum: - sometimes after reboots (and maybe especially after password changes), signing stops working, with "error: gpg failed to sign the data". The usual fix is simply to kill the gpg-agent process. It should restart on its own and start behaving again!

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