Sometimes I might want to use someone's gpg key to send a message but will have no need to ever use the key again.

Importing the key in this instance seems unnecessary.

I've searched, but can't find anything suggesting this is possible. It is a bit annoying to have to do --delete-keys each time.

  • 2
    Why do you need to delete the keys? You can't predict the future. Jun 2, 2015 at 20:36
  • "Importing the key in this instance seems unnecessary." So's deleting it, though. You could just keep 'em around.
    – ceejayoz
    Jun 2, 2015 at 21:26

2 Answers 2


You could make a small shell script that copies your pubring.gpg file, imports the key, encrypts your file, then moves your original pubring.gpg file back into place. This turns it into a one-liner next time.

cp -a ~/.gnupg/pubring.gpg ~/.gnupg/pubring.gpg-backup
gpg ... # Command to import 
gpg ... # Command to encrypt message/file
mv ~/.gnupg/pubring.gpg-backup ~/.gnupg/pubring.gpg

Note: parameters to the script are variables "$1", "$2", ...

Edit: I know I answered this a long time ago. I'd like to mention a pitfall in the above: an interruption before restoring the backup would lead to an altered keystore. I suggest instead copying into a temp directory:

gpgtemp="$(mktemp -d gpgtemp.XXXXXXXXXX)"
cp -a ~/.gnupg "$gpgtemp"
gpg --homedir "$gpgtemp/.gnupg" ... # Command to import 
gpg --homedir "$gpgtemp/.gnupg" ... # Command to encrypt message/file
rm "$gpgtemp" -rf
  • That's actually a great idea, thanks. In the past I used to use aliases and the --homedir to have separate gpg paths / sessions almost. It seemed to stop working though at some stage and I got gpg agent errors. Could have been due to trying to use removeable media for the home dir. As well as solving my question, could also use this idea to achieve something similar by replacing the key file. Jun 2, 2015 at 21:53

GnuPG requires all keys you want to use to be imported into a keyring.

If you don't want to import it to your normal keyring, either use another (temporary) keyring, or even a temporary GnuPG home directory (which will also bypass any configuration).

Temporary Keyring

Set --primary-keyring temporary.gpg to use (and create if necessary) a temporary keyring as default. It will be created in your GnuPG home directory (~/.gnupg/temporary.gpg by default). Your normal keyring will still be available, but imports will go to the temporary one. Delete it as you want to.

For example:

gpg --primary-keyring temporary.gpg --import key.asc
gpg --primary-keyring temporary.gpg --recipient 0xDEADBEEF --encrypt
rm ~/.gnupg/temporary.gpg # can be omitted, not loaded by default

Temporary GnuPG Home Directory

This will also reset all configuration, and might be helpful for testing some stuff. Set --homedir [folder] or the environment variable $GNUPGHOME, import the key, perform any operations and then delete the folder as you wish to.

For example:

export GNUPGHOME=/tmp/gnupg # Or apply --homedir on each invocation
gpg --import key.asc
gpg --recipient 0xDEADBEEF --encrypt
rm -r $GNUPGHOME # Can be omitted

GnuPG is very picky regarding permissions, you might need to apply stricter permissions to the $GNUPGHOME folder before being able to perform all operations. Might very well be an option to keep some playground-$GNUPGHOME around.

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