General information

GNU Privacy Guard is a Free Software GNU GPLed implementation of the crypto standards OpenPGP and CMS (used by S/MIME). Also known as "GnuPG" or "GPG". There are a couple of principal ways to access GnuPG functions from Python programs:

  1. use the official GPGME library.
  2. run the gpg commands and pipe to them.

The GnuPG initiative recommends using GPGME because it provides a documented API.

Accessing GnuPG via gpgme

GPGME is the official library for accessing GNU Privacy Guard from programs. Although there are python bindings for GPGME included within PyPi which could be installed with pip, this is not recommended by the PGP project since the PyPi library version would have to exactly match the version of GNUPG installed on your system. Instead either

The manual is currently missing from the various python documentation repositories but there is an online manual at ( /!\ bad HTTPS certificate at time of writing).

Running gpg executables

There are multiple libraries which drive the gpg binary as a program and interpret its output. This approach is older and more mature than the library but is not recommended and has lead to a number of vulnerabilities both in the python modules, related systems and other programs such as email programs which work in this way.


pretty-bad-protocol is a rewrite of python-gnupg with a more conservative coding approach. This library can be installed with:

python -m pip install pretty-bad-protocol

improvements over python-gnupg include whitelisting of gpg program output designed to protect against vulnerabilities caused by changes in the program output.


python-gnupg is the most widely used and recommended library. This library has had multiple vulnerabilities in the past, however it is under active development so currently known vulnerabilities are believed to have been fixed. It can be installed with:

python -m pip install python-gnupg


Not mentioned in this history there are a number of other old libraries which were built to support access to GNU Privacy Guard. These probably should not be used in new projects.

history of libraries that call the gpg program

The original Python/GnuPG interface was written by amk. This was updated in 2005 by SteveTraugott to 2005 using pipes) building on Richard Jones' 1.3 update and adding more support for the decryption, signing, key management, bells, whistles, and so on which amk's original design implied. This was still a pure-python implementation for Python 2.2.1 requiring only gpg executable itself. This was *not* a drop-in replacement.

In parallel with the GnuPG interface a separate GnuPGInterface was released in 2002. This project has not been updated since 2006 and the project pages are now broken so it should no longer be used in new software. It concentrates on interacting with GnuPG via filehandles, providing access to control GnuPG via versatile and extensible means.

After four years from Steve Traugott's work, in July 2009 Vinay Sajip updated the module (now called to avoid confusion) and made it available (under the New BSD License) in tarballs on Google Code. The new version uses the subprocess module and so is easiest to use under Pythons >= 2.4. A unittest harness was also included.

In 2013, in response to vulnerabilities in python-gnupg, a fork was made by Isis Lovecruft, this was initially available on PyPi as gnupg but has now been renamed to pretty-bad-protocol to avoid any confusion. This library has now completely rewritten the original and has not been vulnerable to some vulnerabilities which have been found in python-gnupg since.

pgpme based libraries history

GPGME was originally released as a C library. A library exposing the gpgme library to Python, PyMe was released which provided bindings for this. PyMe's development model was based on GPGME + Python + SWIG (just like m2crypto is an OpenSSL + Python + SWIG) meaning that most of the functions and types were converted from C into Python automatically by SWIG. That library has now been merged into GPGME and is supposed to be maintained there.

pygpgme (PyGPGME on PyPi) was started by James Henstridge. Beside Python2 it supports Python 3 since v0.3 (March 2012). The wrapping is done using python's C interface directly without using a generator tool like SWIG. This project has not been updated since 2013 and should probably be considered obsolete.

related libraries

The following libraries work with GNU PG to provide other functions.

pgp-mime (using the assuan protocol to gpgme-tool)

pgp-mime makes it easy to construct, verify, and send signed and/or encrypted email. It uses a pyassuan-based connection to gpgme-tool for the cryptography, which is isolated in a pgp_mime.crypt module if you don't need the extra email-handling functionality. This currently uses gpgme by running gpgme-tool via subprocess.

This module was created in 2012 and does not seem to have been updated since then so may not be suitable for production use.

GnuPrivacyGuard (last edited 2018-10-19 09:25:31 by MichaelDeLaRue)

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