How do I delete secret subkeys correctly?

Matheus Afonso Martins Moreira matheus.a.m.moreira at
Fri Apr 12 04:57:22 CEST 2019

> I think you might be misinterpreting the result
> you say you are dealing with revoked subkeys.
> Unless you specify "--list-options show-unusable-subkeys",
> you might not see those in the keylistings even though they are there.

You're right!

> The gpg binary only deals with public keys in the keyring directly.
> Secret keys are delegated to gpg-agent, and gpg-agent works with
> keygrips only

So gpg focuses on the public key ring and public key operations
while gpg-agent is responsible for the private-keys-v1.d directory.
This explains why the names of the *.key files don't match
the fingerprints of the keys, unlike the *.rev files:
gpg-agent uses keygrips in order to refer to the private keys.

Before I found the --delete-secret-keys command,
I tried to delete the subkey files manually with rm.
Since their names did not match their fingerprints,
I did not know which files were the right ones.

> If it would have deleted the secret part,
> I'd have expected a popup from gpg-agent asking me if I was sure about
> that. I got no popup.

I understand now. That is what happened when I accidentally deleted
my original keys. I got a graphical confirmation pop-up from gpg-agent.

> delete_key 6D610FB78404E0C80954BB993E3410ED9FA463A6

Looks like this is the definitive answer.

I looked up the delete_key command on the gpg-agent manual.
There seems to be only one reference to it
in the description of the --allow-loopback-pinentry option.

It does not seem to be listed on the page where the other commands are:

Is this gpg-agent command not documented?

I was able to obtain some help text for it:

    $ gpg-connect-agent 'help delete_key' /bye
    # DELETE_KEY [--force|--stub-only] <hexstring_with_keygrip>
    # Delete a secret key from the key store.  If --force is used
    # and a loopback pinentry is allowed, the agent will not ask
    # the user for confirmation.  If --stub-only is used the key will
    # only be deleted if it is a reference to a token.

This does seem to be very useful. The --stub-only option in particular
is very relevant to me since I have subkeys on a YubiKey and would like
to delete their stubs in case of loss or deletion.

> I hope this helps your understanding!

It did! I was able to truly delete the subkey following your steps.
Now I have a much better understanding of how gpg works.

Thank you for the detailed answer!

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