When I run gpg2, I'm prompted for a password every time I use it. Based on my reading of the gpg-agent man pages, I should only be prompted the first time.

gpg-agent  is a daemon to manage secret (private)
keys independently from any proto-col. It is
used as a backend for gpg and gpgsm as well as
for  a  couple  of other utilities.

The agent is automatically started on demand
by gpg, gpgsm, gpgconf, or gpg-connect-agent.
Thus there is no reason to start it manually.


--default-cache-ttl n
    Set the time a cache entry is valid to n
    seconds.  The default  is  600  sec- onds.
    Each  time a cache entry is accessed, the
    entry's timer is reset.  To set an entry's
    maximum lifetime, use max-cache-ttl.

--max-cache-ttl n
    Set the maximum time a cache entry is valid
    to n seconds.  After this time  a cache
    entry will be expired even if it has been
    accessed recently or has been set using
    gpg-preset-passphrase.  The default is 2
    hours (7200 seconds).

If I'm reading this correctly, invoking gpg2 should prompt for a password the first time that I use it, then, If I run it again in the next 600 seconds, I won't be prompted again. Running

gpg2 --export-secret-keys --armor john.doe@example.com > /dev/null

gives me this:

│ Please enter the passphrase to export the OpenPGP secret key:  │
│ "John Doe (asdf) <john.doe@example.com>"                       │
│ 2048-bit RSA key, ID EB7B49EAD38DE665,                         │         
│ created 2018-10-09.                                            │         
│                                                                │         
│                                                                │         
│ Passphrase: _ │
│                                                                │         
│         <OK>                                    <Cancel>       │

A quick ps aux shows that gpg-agent is running:

ps aux | grep gpg-agent
jdoe   14089  0.1  0.1 100884  3588 ?        SLs  18:50   0:07 /usr/bin/gpg-agent --supervised

Alas, running running gpg2 --export-secret-keys... again immediately thereafter prompts me for a password again.

A few more details:

  • Do you have GPG_AGENT_INFO set? What happens if you do gpg2 --use-agent --export-secret-keys .... – muru Oct 10 '18 at 4:04
  • $GPG_AGENT_INFO was not set, but @Kusalananda was correct. Other gpg2 commands worked without prompting for a password. – Barton Chittenden Oct 10 '18 at 12:07

From the GnuPG 2.2.4 manual, regarding --export-secret-keys (specifically):

GnuPG may ask you to enter the passphrase for the key. This is required, because the internal protection method of the secret key is different from the one specified by the OpenPGP protocol.

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