PSA: want to use a new subkey to sign your commits?

Dec 13, 2018
2 minute read

I not so recently started using subkeys to do my normal PGP work. I made a new subkey specifically for signing things, and naturally wanted to use this new key to sign my commits with git’s builtin GPG support. I picked up my subkey’s ID with gpg --list-keys --keyid-format LONG and set it with git config --global user.signingKey <id>. That’d be it, right?

Since you’re reading this, you’ve found out the answer is “no”. First, GPG by default uses the last created subkey for signing. If this is your problem, you need to append an exclamation mark to your key’s ID, i.e., use git config --global user.signingKey <id>\!.

However, if this isn’t your problem (i.e., if you want to use a new and hence last created subkey to sign your commits), what do you do? If you go to your GitHub (or GitLab) settings, you’ll see your current GPG key with a list of subkeys. Your new subkey probably isn’t there (or you wouldn’t be reading this article). How do we get it there?

If you try to re-add your GPG key, you get a red warning that this key already exists. Bummer. Apparently GitHub doesn’t pick up the fact that there are new subkeys. The solution to this problem is to remove your current GPG key and then add it again. This may look scary, especially given the warning that “any commits you signed with this key will become unverified after removing it”. However, don’t worry: as we are adding this same key back, those commits will all become verified again. In fact, even the commits I made since starting to use subkeys suddenly became verified as well. This same trick works on GitLab, by the way.

Update Jan 2 2019

I reported this issue when I discovered it. I have now gotten a response.