Deploying a PGP SKS server on Ubuntu 18.04


While the venerable Matt Rude has a great write up on compiling the latest SKS server for Ubuntu 18.04, using the one that ships with Ubuntu 18.04 is considerably easier. Given I just did this for work, this blog post has already been 99% written – handy!

The prerequisite for this guide is that you have root on an Ubuntu 18.04 server with a static, public IP address.


This is out of scope for this guide, but you should secure your server. I recommend only allowing SSH with public keys, no passwords. If possible, only allow SSH from your subnet, or from behind a VPN/firewall. Only open the ports to the internet for the keyserver (11371) and SSH (22) if you must. Keep your software up to date – consider turning on automatic updates for security releases.

Initial install

Given that there’s a native Ubuntu SKS package, this one command gets you a LOT. All your config files are put in place, your user is created, a cronjob is added and there’s no compiling from source. While compiling is nice for knowing exactly what code you’re runnig, it’s slower and more laborious to get set up.

Run this as root:

apt-get update
apt-get -y install sks gnupg wget apache2 xz-utils

Configure Apache

Apache functions as a reverse HTTP proxy for the SKS HTTP interface, and so binds to the SKS HTTP port (11371) only on the public IP addresses.

Create the file /etc/apache2/sites-available/100-keyserver.conf with the following contents. Be sure to update the SERVER_IP_HERE to be the real IP:

# Configuration for SKS reverse proxy #

Listen SERVER_IP_HERE:11371
<VirtualHost *:11371>
    <Proxy *>
            Order deny,allow
            Allow from all
    ProxyPass /
    ProxyPassReverse /
    ProxyVia On
    SetEnv proxy-nokeepalive 1

Run the following commands as root to set up apache with the new vhost and enable the right config. The last command should yield no errors:

a2enmod proxy
a2enmod proxy_http
a2enmod proxy_balancer
a2enmod lbmethod_byrequests
systemctl restart apache2
systemctl status apache2

Configure SKS

As everything was prepped for you with the apt-get install sks call from above, you only have to define server_contact: and hostname:in the /etc/sks/sksconf file. The contact should be your PGP key ID. Mine is 0xA105C2764BF2C4CB, for example. The hostname is the FQDN for your server.

Initialize the SKS Database

Run the following commands to download a recent dump of the SKS database, decompress it, update permissions and import it. This puts less of a load on other SKS servers as we won’t need to synchronize much when we come online.

When running, select the ”normalbuild” option. This loads all keys into the database, unlike the ”fastbuild” option, which uses the key dump files as a basis over which to operate, but loads the keys much faster. The bunzip2 and load process will take **several hours to complete**.

Run this as root:

mkdir -p /var/lib/sks/dump/
cd /var/lib/sks/dump/
wget -e robots=off -r --no-parent
mv*pgp .
unxz *
cd /usr/lib/sks/
chown -R debian-sks:debian-sks /var/lib/sks
systemctl enable sks

Note: The source of the key dump for our installation is However, a key dump may be obtained from any up-to-date SKS key server, since each is a mirror of all the others. Key dumps from public key servers are listed on sks-keyserver’s wiki on GitHub. If required, any of the sources listed on this page may be used to obtain the key dump.

If you need to rebuild the database from a fresh download for some reason, be sure to fully delete the DB file with rm -rf /var/lib/sks/DB first.

Membership File

For your keyserver to be known by others and have it’s keys be up to date via synchronizatoin, you need to contact the keyserver operators so they they list you in their membership file. That way when you list them, the servers will not not error out.

The format of /var/lib/sks/membership is simply KEYSERVER_URL PORT

After you create it, ensure it can be read by SKS:

chown -R debian-sks:debian-sks /etc/sks/memberships

Start and Test

Start your server with systemctl start sks. That’s it! You’re done.

Monitor the log files for any problems during startup and testing: tail -f /var/log/syslog. As well, check the output of systemctl status sks.

To test, open a browser window to http://YOUR_SERVER:11371. Search for a few different keys to verify that key information is being retrieved correctly.

Check the SKS stats page to verify the number of keys loaded: http://YOUR_SERVER:11371/pks/lookup?op=stats

If you have peered with other servers, verify that it is showing up properly in the pool.



  1. Great article, but one small update. is currently using unxz and not bunzip2.


    1. Jeff – awesome – thanks for the tip! I’ve updated the post accordingly.


        1. Anon – oh, cool – thanks for the tip!


  2. Love the article, but your list of servers at bitbucket is dead. Bitbucket no longer supports Mercurial repositories.


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