obsessive facts blog

[TAGGED: html5]
  1. Parsing OpenPGP Key Export Format with JavaScript

    If you tuned in last time to my post about scalar numbers and multiprecision integers, you might think that I'm just writing a book report for the OpenPGP spec. That’s not actually the case. My goal is to write a JavaScript app that allows encryption and decryption of OpenPGP messages, and I’m trying to document my progress as it happens. Reading the spec and obsessing over every definition will only get us so far. I’m tired of reading, so now it’s time to write some code.

    In this post, I will be walking through the process of reading OpenPGP public key files with JavaScript. Before we can get on to the more glamorous work of encrypting and decrypting OpenPGP messages, we need a way to get public and private keys into our app. And even before we can do this, we need a way of getting JavaScript to simply read data from the files themselves.

    OpenPGP data files and JavaScript

    OpenPGP data files—which can include public key, private key or encrypted messages (among other things)—can be stored as raw binary or as, what the spec calls, ASCII Armored data. “ASCII Armor” (see section 6.2 in the spec) is a fancy way of saying that the binary data is Base64-encoded and saved as ASCII along with a checksum and some particular headers. When you decode an ASCII Armored data file, you should get the exact same binary data as if you had opened an equivalent binary file. (That’s part of what we’re going to prove today.)

    Unfortunately, Javascript makes it a bitch to work with binary files, so that’s why I’m devoting a post solely to reading files into JavaScript and Base64 decoding ASCII Armor into binary. We’ll actually parse the binary into meaningful data structures at a later time. In order to properly decode ASCII Armored data, we’ll need JavaScript functions to Base64 decode/encode as well as a CRC24 checksum function. The spec helpfully describes how all of this will work, and we’re going to implement it!

    Export your Public Key files with GNUPG

    GnuPG is what all the cool kids use for PGP encryption these days, and ensuring interoperability with their export files and messages is a big priority for my project (although they can keep their license). If you don’t already have it set up, check out this excellent intro to OpenPGP by Zachary Voase, which includes installation instructions and usage tips for GnuPG. Once you have it set up and you have at least one entry in your public keyring (probably your own personal public key/subkey), export your keyring to both binary and ASCII Armored files using the following commands:

    gpg2 --export > pubkeys.gpg
    gpg2 --armor --export > pubkeys.asc

    Opening ASCII Armored keyfiles with JavaScript’s File API

    The previous commands exported two files: pubkeys.gpg, which is binary, and pubkeys.asc, which is ASCII Armored. Using a relatively new “HTML5” feature in JavaScript, (namely the File API) we can read the data from these files directly in the browser without first posting them to a server or anything ugly like that. This might not work on older browsers, so everyone using those browsers can cry me a river.

    In order to open a file with JavaScript, we need one of those file uploader form input elements. I shall give it the id ascii_keyfile.

    <input type="file" id="ascii_keyfile"/>

    Next we use JavaScript to bind an event to the file input so we can call a function when it changes. Note that I’m using MooTools for the event binding and document.getElementById shortcutting, but you can easily substitute your own favorite JavaScript framework as needed.

    window.addEvent('domready', function() {
        $('ascii_keyfile').addEvent('change', open_ascii_keyfile);
    var open_ascii_keyfile = function() {
        var file = $('ascii_keyfile').files[0];
        read_file(file, parse_ascii_keyfile);
    var read_file = function(file, callback) {
        var reader = new FileReader();
        reader.onload = function(evt) {
            var binary = evt.target.result;
    var parse_ascii_keyfile = function(data) {

    This code binds a change event to the ascii_keyfile input. When you open your file via the uploader button, this event fires and triggers the open_ascii_keyfile function. This pulls the File object for the attachment out of the input and sends it into the read_file function along with the parse_ascii_keyfile callback function. Since reading data from the file may take awhile, it happens asynchronously. The read_file function starts this process and, when it completes, it sends the file’s data into the parse_ascii_keyfile callback.

    If all goes well, the file will be read and passed into parse_ascii_keyfile as ASCII text. It should look something like this:

    Version: GnuPG v2.0.19 (Darwin)

    There are two parts to this data that we care about. First we have the big block of ASCII characters grouped 76 to a line. That’s the actual data encoded as Base64. Then, the second to last line is 4 more Base64 characters preceded by an equal sign—in this case it’s =a7UR. That’s our CRC24 checksum (stay tuned for more on that).

    Isolating and decoding our Base64 data

    The first thing to do is to isolate the Base64-encoded payload data from the block above. We can do that with regular expressions:

    var parse_ascii_keyfile = function(data) {
        // Our data begins at the first character index preceded by a blank line.
        var body_begin_index    = data.search(/^(\r\n|\n|\r)/m) + 1;
        // Our data ends right before the checksum line which starts with an "="
        var body_end_index      = data.search(/^\=/m);
        // Both of these indexes need to exist for the file to be readable.
        if (body_begin_index == -1 || body_end_index == -1) {
            alert('This is not a valid ASCII-Armored OpenPGP export file.');
            return false;
        // Pull the body out of the data and strip all newlines from it
        var body        = data.substring(body_begin_index, body_end_index);
        var body        = body.replace(/(\r\n|\n|\r)/gm, '');
        // Grab the checksum while we're at it...
        var body_checksum   = data.substr(body_end_index + 1, 4);

    Now we’ve isolated our Base64-encoded data into the body variable. It’s time to decode it! Some browsers natively support Base64 encoding and decoding respectively via the btoa(data) and atob(text) functions, but I don’t trust them. I’ve seen Base64 implementations that try to “helpfully” UTF8-encode/decode the incoming/outgoing data, and this will actually break our binary data. Plus I was geeking out on this awesome guide to Base64 in JavaScript (if you don’t know what Base64 is or roughly how it works, check it out), so I decided to write my own:

    var base_64 = {
        chars: 'ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZabcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz0123456789+/',
        encode: function(data) {
            var output = '';
            for (i=0, c=data.length; i<c; i += 3)
                var char1 = data.charCodeAt(i) >> 2;
                var char2 = ((data.charCodeAt(i) & 3) << 4) | data.charCodeAt(i+1) >> 4;
                var char3 = ((data.charCodeAt(i+1) & 15) << 2) | data.charCodeAt(i+2) >> 6;
                var char4 = data.charCodeAt(i+2) & 63;
                output  +=  this.chars.charAt(char1)
                            +   this.chars.charAt(char2)
                            +   this.chars.charAt(char3)
                            +   this.chars.charAt(char4);
            if (c % 3 == 1)
                output = output.substr(0, output.length - 2) + '==';
            else if (c % 3 == 2)
                output = output.substr(0, output.length - 1) + '=';
            return output;
        decode: function(str) {
            var data = '';
            for (i=0, c=str.length; i<c; i += 4)
                var char1 = this.chars.indexOf(str.charAt(i));
                var char2 = this.chars.indexOf(str.charAt(i+1));
                var char3 = this.chars.indexOf(str.charAt(i+2));
                var char4 = this.chars.indexOf(str.charAt(i+3));
                data += String.fromCharCode(char1 << 2 | char2 >> 4);
                if (char3 != -1)
                    data += String.fromCharCode((char2 & 15) << 4 | char3 >> 2)
                if (char4 != -1)
                    data += String.fromCharCode((char3 & 3) << 6 | char4);
            return data;

    Now, getting back to our parse_ascii_keyfile function, Base64-decoding the data is as simple as:

    var decoded_body = base_64.decode(body);

    Computing the CRC24 checksum

    The previous code should return a string of 8-bit binary characters. But how do we know this is the correct string of 8-bit binary characters? That’s where our CRC24 checksum function comes in to play. The CRC24 checksum is sort of like a cheap hash function. Given a certain input (in our case the binary data), it should provide an output which is somewhat uniquely mapped to the input and consistent (non-random). This output is in the form of 24 binary bits. If we then Base64 encode the output, we should get 4 characters which precisely match the CRC24 checksum near the bottom of our ASCII Armored keyfile. If you’re confused, check out Section 6 of the OpenPGP spec—it explains this pretty well.

    The spec also includes a very helpful example of a CRC24 function written in C, which translates very easily to JavaScript:

    var crc24 = function(data) {
        var crc = 0xb704ce;
        var len = data.length;
        while (len--) {
            crc ^= (data.charCodeAt((data.length-1) - len)) << 16;
            for (i=0; i<8; i++) {
                crc <<= 1;
                if (crc & 0x1000000)
                    crc ^= 0x1864cfb;
        return number_to_binstring(crc, 24);
    var number_to_binstring = function(bin, bits) {
        bits || (bits = 32);
        var text = Array();
        var i = (bits < 32 && bits > 0 && bits % 8 == 0) ? (bits / 8) : 4;
        while (i--) {
            if (((bin>>(i*8))&255) || text.length) {
        return text.join('')

    The major difference between this and the spec is my addition of the number_to_binstring function. In the crc24 function, JavaScript is performing a bunch of bitwise operations on the crc integer variable as it iterates over the 8-bit ASCII character codes associated with each byte of the input data. These operations are performed numerically, even though the data itself is in the form of a string (JavaScript is kind of janky here with its spotty support for ByteArrays). The number_to_binstring function simply converts the resulting 24-bit crc number value back to a string composed of 3 8-bit ASCII bytes.

    We previously read the ASCII Armor checksum into the body_checksum variable. Now we can take our decoded data and compute its checksum, then Base64-encode that checksum and compare to body_checksum. If it’s a match then we can do a victory dance, because the data was not corrupted and it decoded properly!

    var decoded_checksum    = base_64.encode(crc24(decoded_body));
    if (body_checksum != decoded_checksum) {
        alert('Checksum mismatch! (Expected '+body_checksum+', got '+decoded_checksum+')');
        return false;
    // Our data decoded successfully

    Opening binary files is easier. The checksums should match!

    We can repeat the same basic steps as far as the read_file function to read a binary file into JavaScript. There’s no special decoding required once you get the file data, but one useful result is to compute the checksum. If you’re working with the binary version of the same key export as you opened previously in ASCII Armored format, then the checksum on the data should be the same. This is useful for proving this whole process is sane.

    After all this work, all we got was some lousy binary data in JavaScript. Actually reading the data and doing something useful with it is a whole ‘nother can of worms. But not to despair—we have to crawl before we can walk, and walk before we can run, and I really need some whiskey so I’m done for now.

    Posted 2013-02-03 00:00:00 PST by henriquez. 1 comment