Enigmail, passphrase issue

This is a short post where I try to explain the steps i followed to fix the behavior of Enigmail on my machine.

In the last few weeks i wasn’t able to use any signing and encryption capabilities on my emails due to a problem that showed an unclear error message.

I don’t remember the cause of the issue but it is somehow related to a fresh install of my current operating system (Ubuntu). So every time i tried to sign a message, the following error message showed up: “Error – Bad passphrase”, even without inserting any password. I searched on the web to see if it was a common problem and most of the answers were related with the cache of “gpg-agent” and how to clean it. I tried most of the solutions without success.

It took a while until i found an entry in the support forum that allowed me to fix the issue.

So what happened?

After a fresh system install I had the wrong “pinentry” application set up (i still don’t know why “pinentry-qt4” didn’t work) and it was making Enigmail show the error without asking for the passphrase. After going through the following steps i was able to put everything working again.

  1. Set the pinentry symlink to the “pinentry-gtk-2” application:
    sudo ln -s -f /usr/bin/pinentry-gtk-2 /usr/bin/pinentry
  2. Edit  “~/.gnupg/gpg-agent.conf” and change the following line (if it exists):
    pinentry-program /usr/bin/pinentry-qt4


    pinentry-program /usr/bin/pinentry-gtk-2
  3. Log out of your system session and log in again.

In the end it is easy to solve but it took me while until i found an answer that lead me in the right direction. So if you run into the same issue in the future i hope this might be useful to you and prevent you to waste a lot of time to solve it.

About the author

Gonçalo Valério

Software developer and owner of this blog. More in the "about" page.

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