Ever since I installed Ubuntu Desktop 16.10 Gnome(previously I had 15.10), I have been annoyed with the fact that whenever I try to add an SSH key or import a GPG key using terminal a GUI popup box pops up asking for the passphrase.

With SSH, I work around this issue by starting a new agent on the terminal and then trying to add the key. And finally, it asks me for the passphrase in TTY or not a GUI.

With GPG I just started learning it, so not sure how to workaround.

Is there a way I can disable this and make them ask for the passphrase in TTY when accessed from TTY?

I have read the answers in this question and but it is about ubuntu 12.04 and the top two answers didn't work for me.

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    What about the last answer? askubuntu.com/a/806006/158442
    – muru
    Dec 9, 2016 at 11:11
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    @guntbert: OP doesn't want to disable the SSH and/or GPG agent(s). He wants the password dialogue to appear on the terminal instead of in a new X window when the application requesting SSH/GPG key access is running insidea terminal application. Dec 9, 2016 at 21:14
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    For a simple gpg decript command use gpg --pinentry-mode loopback -d criptedfile.txt.gpg -o file.txt and it will ask passphrase in the command line. No need to reconfigure.
    – DrBeco
    Nov 6, 2017 at 4:00
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    So, what you're asking is, "How do I disable the GUI prompts and only make it ask in the shell/TTY directly without using any GUI agents?
    – Thomas Ward
    Dec 20, 2021 at 15:32

2 Answers 2


SSH and GPG use so-called "agents" to cache decrypted private keys, so that users don't have to enter their pass phrases all the time. By default they use the program pinentry to this purpose.

Before we continue let's make sure that an example for a command-line pin entry program is available on your system. In Ubuntu's repository we have pinentry-curses (since forever) and pinentry-tty (since Xenial) but they're not installed by default. You can get it from the package of the same name:

sudo apt install pinentry-curses

Setting a different pin entry program

You can adjust the program used for pin entry by either:

  • (per-user) Setting pinentry-program in your ~/.gnupg/gpg-agent.conf to a command-line pin entry program, e. g.:

    pinentry-program /usr/bin/pinentry-curses

    You need to either restart the agent or have it reload its configuration:

    gpg-connect-agent <<< RELOADAGENT
  • (system-wide) In all common Linux distributions including Ubuntu the default pinentry program is actually a symbolic link to the actual pin entry program. The target of this symbolic link is managed by the update-alternatives system. You can use it to change the link target to a command-line pin entry program:

    sudo update-alternatives --config pinentry

Choosing the pin entry program based on the availability of a terminal

The disadvantage of both of these methods is that you won't be able to use a command-line pin entry if SSH or GPG are invoked from a program running without a terminal, e. g. a graphical SFTP client or a mail user agent. A better way would be to use the graphical pin entry program only when an X server is available and a terminal is unavailable. To this purpose we'll need a small wrapper script that analyses the environment before deferring to the right pin entry program.

Let's assume we have the following executable shell script at ~/.local/bin/my-smart-pinentry:

set -eu

# Configuration -- adjust these to your liking

# Action happens below!
if [ -n "${DISPLAY-}" -a -z "${TERM-}" ]; then
    exec "$PINENTRY_X11" "$@"
    exec "$PINENTRY_TERMINAL" "$@"

To use this wrapper as the pin entry "program" you can use the per-user method mentioned above. You can also add it to the update-alternatives database.


If anyone will find this question while using newer version like I do then there is much simpler solution. At least the one which works for me with GPG v2.2.19 in (K)ubuntu 20.04 LTS Focal. All I had to add was just --pinentry-mode loopback and it started to ask for a password in TTY. I didn't have to install anything. For example:

gpg --pinentry-mode loopback --export-secret-keys -a | less

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