Tag Archives: enigmail

Pinentry not working over SSH with x11forwarding (Thunderbird with Enigmail)

Using Thunderbird with Enigmail over SSH sometimes does not work because you cannot input the passphrase for your private GPG key. Starting pinentry-qt / pinentry-gnome3 / pinentry-gtk2 does not work. Here is a workaround. You can cache the passphrase with gpg-agent before starting Thunderbird. Enigmail will then use the cached passphrase because it runs only gpg2 commands in a subshell in order to encrypt or sign messages.

Connect to the server using x11forwarding:

$ ssh -Y server

Note your DISPLAY environment variable:

$ echo $DISPLAY

Unset / delete the DISPLAY environment variable:


Export GPG_TTY environment variable for gpg:

export GPG_TTY=$(tty)

Make sure that gpg-agent is running:

$ ps aux | grep gpg-agent
user 2058 0.0 0.0 168068 2228 ? Ss Nov10 0:07 gpg-agent --homedir /home/user/.gnupg --use-standard-socket --daemon

Insert the passphrase for your GPG key in gpg-agent by signing a dummy message. Make sure that you enter your passphrase in the pinentry tui not the gpg command prompt.

$ echo test | gpg2 --use-agent -s

The passphrase you are about to enter should be cached by gpg-agent. The cache lifetime is controlled by settings in ~/.gnupg/gpg-agent.conf . Now set the DISPLAY environment variable again to run Thunderbird. Use the value from previous command.

export DISPLAY=localhost:10.0

Start Thunderbird. You should now be able to sign and encrypt email messages with Enigmail without having to enter your gpg passphrase again because it is already cached by gpg-agent.

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