Manuel Ohlendorf

Things from and about me

Sharing secrets with pass

Posted at — Nov 13, 2015

I don’t like password managers. I don’t trust them. But when you work in a small team and use a lot of different servers and technologies you sometimes have to securely store and share a secret with them. There are a lot of password managers out there that can do that but I want a very simple command line tool that just uses standard technologies and — TataPass, the standard unix password manager hits the spot.

The documentation is quite good and there are some helpful blogpost on how to setup pass. But what I am missing is how to share the stored and encrypted passwords.


To setup pass, you need a GnuPG key which pass uses to encrypt all your secrets. Run the command and follow the instructions:

$ gpg --gen-key

You should stick to the defaults recommended by GnuPG. Only for the key length I would choose 4096 bits instead of just 2048 bits because you can and bigger is better :-)

After GnuPG has generated the key it prints the details to the key. One line should look something like:

pub   4096R/11223344 2009-07-17

You need to remember (copy into clipboard) the 8 character key id of the public key. Here it is 11223344.

Now you can initialize your pass password store with it:

$ pass init 11223344

With pass you can use git to track changes made to the password store and if you have a remote repository, you can also share the store with others. Let’s initialize the git repository with pass:

$ pass git init

And add the remote URL:

$ pass git remote add origin

Since pass just uses git you don’t have to use pass for managing the repository. You can also just use the bare git command for that. The default path for the password store is ~/.password-store/.


Now that you have a running pass setup you can share that with others. For decrypting the secrets you have to export and share the public and private GnuPG key that you just created.

Keep in mind that anyone who has access to the key and knows the password of the key is able to decrypt all your passwords.

$ gpg -a --output gpg-secret-key.asc --export-secret-keys 11223344

If you want to provide a team member access to the password store she needs the exported key in the file gpg-secret-key.asc, access to the git remote repository holding the store and the password of the GnuPG key, of course.

This is what the colleague has to do after installing pass:

Import the key into her GnuPG installation:

$ gpg --import gpg-secret-key.asc

Increase the trust-level to maximum with the GnuPG editor:

$ gpg --edit-key 11223344

Now, that you are in the interactive editor you have to enter the following:

gpg> trust

and type 5 for ultimate trust, then confirm with y and enter quit to exit. The final step is to clone the git repository:

$ git clone ~/.password-store/

Your colleague is now able to decrypt all passwords and add new ones.

Security Considerations

Sharing the pass password store has some security issues that you should be aware of:

Please keep that in mind and don’t blame me later ;-)