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0.2.0 • Public • Published

Authoritative Key Server

aks is an implementation of an Authoritative PGP Key Server, using HAKP, as defined in the HTTP Authoritative Keyserver Protocol. It is intended to be a demonstration of a working Authoritative Key Server using updated REST principles.


Through NPM

$ npm install aks

or using Git

$ git clone git:// .git node_modules/aks/


aks can be run as a stand-alone web server or as an additional web server inside of a Node application. To create it, simply create an instance of aks and instruct it to listen on the proper port.

It takes as a parameter a database driver that implements the methods described in Key Database Drivers. It ships with a MongoDB driver (on top of Mongoose) as well as a Filesystem driver, meant only for local dev use, not as a production server.

var aks = require('aks');
var mongoUrl = 'mongodb://' + db.user + ':' + db.pass + '@' + + ':' + db.port + '/' +;
var mongoKeyDatabase = new aks.drivers.Mongo(mongoUrl, 'keys'); // the storage mechanism for the keys is divorced from serving the keys themselves.
var server = new aks.Server(mongoKeyDatabase);
server.listen(); // defaults to the typical HKP Port of 11371

Once the Key Server is listening on a port, it will respond to requests formed in accordance with the Public API.

Server Options

The optional second parameter when starting the AKS server is an object of options. The possible properties for the options object are:

  • trustProxy - If set to a truthy value, this tells AKS to trust a proxy which handles SSL connections by respecting the X-Forwarded-Proto header. See the Express documentation of trust proxy for more information. Defaults to false.
  • useIndex - If set to a false-y value, this tells AKS to ignore requests for multiple users, as outlined in Spam Concerns. Defaults to true.
  • baseUri - If set, this should a string, beginning and ending with a forward slash, that defines the base uri at which the key server listens for requests. This is to facillitate the key server co-existing with other services on a single server. Defaults to /.

HTTP Authoritative Keyserver Protocol

The public API for this Authoritative Key Server is available over HTTP and HTTPS. It uses a protocol known as AKP (HTTP Authoritative Keyserver Procotol). The IETF draft of this HTTP Keyserver Protocol is the basis for much of the API, and it was itself based on earlier implementations of Keyservers, such as Marc Horowitz's Public Key Server.

Although the above draft was never approved, HKP is the de facto standard for keyservers. HAKP is based on HKP, but uses a substantially different API, as its use case is very different.

HAKP places an emphasis on REST principles, and the usage of a Keyserver as an Authoritative Key Server. As such, it does not implement all of the same methods as HKP, and the methods it does implement are done so in a substantially different way. HAKP should be considered incompatible with HKP.

However, due to the many benefits of HKP, including the use of existing technologies such as SKS, the protocol is designed such that a server may use both HAKP and HKP, similar to the way in which a Domain Name Server and an Authoritative Domain Name server may be the same server.

SRV Records

A Keyserver is designated as "Authoritative" for a domain, by adding a Service Record (SRV) to the DNS records for the domain. This means that all users of that domain that have PGP Keys will have the official version (up-to-date, valid, etc) located on the designated Authoritative Keyserver.

The symbolic name for the Authoritative Keyserver is hakp, and the underlying protocol is tcp.

An SRV Record might appear as follows: 86400 IN SRV 0 5 80

Since Authoritative Keyservers are available over HTTP or HTTPS, the most common ports will be 80 and 443. However, the traditional HKP port of 11371 is also a likely choice.

If the Keyserver acts as both a HKP Keyserver as well as a HAKP Keyserver, both services should be designated within the DNS records.

Public API

Retrieving all the users on a keyserver

HKP defined the index of the keys as all of the individual keyid's. While technically true, for use as an authoritative supplier of keys for users it is more helpful to have an index of users with keys, regardless of whether or not some of those users (again defined by unique email addresses) have the same key.

HAKP uses this more practical definition of an index, which is retrieved by sending a GET request to /users/. The response is a JSON object, which has two properties: version and keys. version defines the version of the HAKP protocol in use, in our case it is always 1. keys are an array of key objects, corresponding to all the unique users who have keys on this server. Each key object has a single property defined, path, which defines the relative path (not the absolute path) to the user's Public Key Block.


could return

    "version": 1,
    "keys": [
            "path": ""
            "path": ""

HKP defined a variable, mr to designate whether a response should be machine-readable or human-readable. Since encryption is generally something better undertaken by machines than humans, HAKP assumes all request to be machine-readable, but the responses are in formats (like JSON) that are also easily read by humans.

Each key can optionally contain additional properties describing the key, including the keyid, algorithm, etc., but the protocol only requires the path property.

Retrieving all the users for a domain on a keyserver

As might be expected from the paths returned from index, it is possible to retrieve all the users for a particular domain by using the domain as a the endpoint. The JSON object returned is the same as for the index route, but the paths do not include the domain as they are relative to the current endpoint.


could return

    "version": 1,
    "keys": [
            "path": "alice"
            "path": "bob"

Retrieving a user's public key

HKP relied on string searching to find the key id for a particular user, and then GETing that key id to retrieve the Public Key Block. HAKP, by contrast does not support string searching, and instead returns the Public Key Block for a user (as defined by a unique email address) when sending a GET request to /users/:domain/:user. For example:


could return

Version: GnuPG v1.0.1 (GNU/Linux)
Comment: For info see

Spam Concerns

There are (legitimate) concerns that exposing all the users on a keyserver with a simple GET request, or all the users of a particular domain can lead to users who are published in this way to be targeted by spammers. Some Public Key Servers, such as the PGP Global Directory have attempted to combat this behavior by requiring users to solve a CAPTCHA before they are granted access to the API. However, since the philosophy of HAKP is that machines, not humans, should be handling encryption, a CAPTCHA is decidely the wrong mechanism.

HAKP makes requests for all the users of a keyserver easier, but fundamentally presents the same opportunity for spammers. To combat this, individual implementations can choose to not make the Index methods accessible. The only method that is required for HAKP is retrieving the public key for a single user. In AKS's implementation, the option useIndex can be set to false to disable these methods. In addition, implemenations may choose to use rate limits, API keys, or other methods to attempt to stop spammers from accessing the keyserver.

Multiple Users for a Single Key

Multiple unique email addresses can be associated with a single PGP key. HKP approached the key as the fundamental unit, and listed all of the users for which the key was applicable. Since there are very few applications for which it would be useful to know all the users of a particular key, instead of the key for a particular user, HAKP takes a fundamentally different approach.

However, one of the instances in which it would be useful to know all the users for a single key would be communicating with a large group that all shared a single PGP key. This scenario is one in which the members of the group corresponded about the shared group key ahead of time, and as a result, a Keyserver is not a necessity.

If this scenario (or others like it) do turn out to be an important use for HAKP Keyservers, the protocol can be expanded, perhaps through a /groups endpoint.

Key Database Drivers

AKS is implemented such that it is agnostic to how keys are stored/retrieved and interacts with any storage mechanism through a driver that implements the methods required by AKS.

Two database drivers are included with this distribution:

  1. A filesystem driver intended as a local demonstration of an AKS, and
  2. A Mongo driver intended as a basic MongodDB interface for an Authoritative Key Server.

Compliant Key Database Drivers implement the following methods:

  • findOne
    The findOne method calls back with a single key object when supplied with a valid email address as the first parameter. The key object should have at least the following properties defined:

    • keytext - The Public Key Block
    • uid - The email address which uniquely identifies this key
    • user - Portion of the email address prior to the @
    • domain - The domain of the user (portion of the email address after the @)
  • find
    The find method should take the domain as an optional first parameter. If supplied, it should call back with an array of keys corresponding to users of the domain. If domain is admitted, it should call back with an array of keys for all users on the keyserver. The key objects in the array should have the same properties defined as for the findOne method with the exception of keytext.

  • add
    The add method should store a key object when supplied with an email address as the first parameter and the Public Key Block as the second parameter. While this method is not currently used by the Public API, it will likely be implemented in the near future.

A generic driver is included with this distribution as a starting point for future database drivers.




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