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REQUEST_KEY(2) Linux Key Management Calls REQUEST_KEY(2)


     request_key - request a key from the kernel's key management facility


     #include <sys/types.h>
     #include <keyutils.h>
     key_serial_t request_key(const char *type, const char *description,
                              const char *callout_info,
                              key_serial_t dest_keyring);
     No glibc wrapper is provided for this system call; see NOTES.


     request_key()  attempts to find a key of the given type with a descrip-
     tion (name) that matches the specified  description.   If  such  a  key
     could  not be found, then the key is optionally created.  If the key is
     found or created, request_key() attaches it to the keyring whose ID  is
     specified in dest_keyring and returns the key's serial number.
     request_key()  first  recursively searches for a matching key in all of
     the keyrings  attached  to  the  calling  process.   The  keyrings  are
     searched   in  the  order:  thread-specific  keyring,  process-specific
     keyring, and then session keyring.
     If request_key() is called from a program invoked by  request_key()  on
     behalf  of  some  other process to generate a key, then the keyrings of
     that other process will be searched next, using  that  other  process's
     user  ID,  group  ID,  supplementary group IDs, and security context to
     determine access.
     The search of the keyring tree  is  breadth-first:  the  keys  in  each
     keyring  searched are checked for a match before any child keyrings are
     recursed into.  Only keys for which the caller has search permission be
     found, and only keyrings for which the caller has search permission may
     be searched.
     If the key is not found and callout is NULL, then the call  fails  with
     the error ENOKEY.
     If  the  key  is  not  found  and  callout is not NULL, then the kernel
     attempts to invoke a user-space program to instantiate  the  key.   The
     details are given below.
     The dest_keyring serial number may be that of a valid keyring for which
     the caller has write permission, or it may be one of the following spe-
     cial keyring IDs:
            This specifies the caller's thread-specific keyring (see thread-
            This  specifies  the  caller's  process-specific  keyring   (see
            This  specifies  the caller's session-specific keyring (see ses-
            This specifies the  caller's  UID-specific  keyring  (see  user-
            This  specifies  the caller's UID-session keyring (see user-ses-
     When the dest_keyring is specified as 0 and  no  key  construction  has
     been performed, then no additional linking is done.
     Otherwise,  if  dest_keyring is 0 and a new key is constructed, the new
     key will be linked to the "default" keyring.  More precisely, when  the
     kernel  tries  to  determine to which keyring the newly constructed key
     should be linked, it tries the following keyrings, beginning  with  the
     keyring  set  via the keyctl(2) KEYCTL_SET_REQKEY_KEYRING operation and
     continuing in the order shown below until it finds  the  first  keyring
     that exists:
     o  The   requestor  keyring  (KEY_REQKEY_DEFL_REQUESTOR_KEYRING,  since
        Linux 2.6.29).
     o  The  thread-specific  keyring  (KEY_REQKEY_DEFL_THREAD_KEYRING;  see
     o  The  process-specific  keyring (KEY_REQKEY_DEFL_PROCESS_KEYRING; see
     o  The session-specific keyring  (KEY_REQKEY_DEFL_SESSION_KEYRING;  see
     o  The     session     keyring    for    the    process's    user    ID
        (KEY_REQKEY_DEFL_USER_SESSION_KEYRING; see user-session-keyring(7)).
        This keyring is expected to always exist.
     o  The  UID-specific  keyring  (KEY_REQKEY_DEFL_USER_KEYRING; see user-
        keyring(7)).  This keyring is also expected to always exist.
     If  the   keyctl(2)   KEYCTL_SET_REQKEY_KEYRING   operation   specifies
     performed), then the kernel looks  for  a  keyring  starting  from  the
     beginning of the list.
 Requesting user-space instantiation of a key
     If  the  kernel  cannot  find  a key matching type and description, and
     callout is not NULL, then the kernel attempts to  invoke  a  user-space
     program  to  instantiate a key with the given type and description.  In
     this case, the following steps are performed:
     a)  The kernel creates an uninstantiated key,  U,  with  the  requested
         type and description.
     b)  The  kernel creates an authorization key, V, that refers to the key
         U and records the facts that the caller of request_key() is:
         (1) the context in which the  key  U  should  be  instantiated  and
             secured, and
         (2) the  context  from  which associated key requests may be satis-
         The authorization key is constructed as follows:
  • The key type is ".request_key_auth".
  • The key's UID and GID are the same as the corresponding filesys-

tem IDs of the requesting process.

  • The key grants view, read, and search permissions to the key

possessor as well as view permission for the key user.

  • The description (name) of the key is the hexadecimal string rep-

resenting the ID of the key that is to be instantiated in the

            requesting program.
  • The payload of the key is taken from the data specified in call-


  • Internally, the kernel also records the PID of the process that

called request_key().

     c)  The kernel creates a process that  executes  a  user-space  service
         such  as  request-key(8) with a new session keyring that contains a
         link to the authorization key, V.
         This program is supplied with the following command-line arguments:
         [0] The string "/sbin/request-key".
         [1] The string "create" (indicating that a key is to be created).
         [2] The ID of the key that is to be instantiated.
         [3] The filesystem UID of the caller of request_key().
         [4] The filesystem GID of the caller of request_key().
         [5] The  ID  of  the thread keyring of the caller of request_key().
             This may be zero if that keyring hasn't been created.
         [6] The ID of the process keyring of the caller  of  request_key().
             This may be zero if that keyring hasn't been created.
         [7] The ID of the session keyring of the caller of request_key().
         Note:  each  of  the  command-line  arguments  that  is a key ID is
         encoded in decimal (unlike the key IDs shown in  /proc/keys,  which
         are shown as hexadecimal values).
     d)  The program spawned in the previous step:
  • Assumes the authority to instantiate the key U using the

keyctl(2) KEYCTL_ASSUME_AUTHORITY operation (typically via the

            keyctl_assume_authority(3) function).
  • Obtains the callout data from the payload of the authorization

key V (using the keyctl(2) KEYCTL_READ operation (or, more com-

            monly,  the  keyctl_read(3)  function)  with  a  key ID value of
  • Instantiates the key (or execs another program that performs

that task), specifying the payload and destination keyring.

            (The destination keyring that the requestor specified when call-
            ing  request_key()  can  be  accessed  using  the special key ID
            KEY_SPEC_REQUESTOR_KEYRING.)  Instantiation is  performed  using
            the  keyctl(2)  KEYCTL_INSTANTIATE operation (or, more commonly,
            the  keyctl_instantiate(3)  function).   At  this   point,   the
            request_key()  call  completes,  and  the requesting program can
            continue execution.
     If these steps are unsuccessful, then an ENOKEY error will be  returned
     to the caller of request_key() and a temporary, negatively instantiated
     key will be installed in the keyring specified by  dest_keyring.   This
     will  expire  after  a  few seconds, but will cause subsequent calls to
     request_key() to fail until it does.  The purpose  of  this  negatively
     instantiated  key  is  to prevent (possibly different) processes making
     repeated requests (that require expensive request-key(8) upcalls) for a
     key that can't (at the moment) be positively instantiated.
     Once   the   key   has   been   instantiated,   the  authorization  key
     (KEY_SPEC_REQKEY_AUTH_KEY) is  revoked,  and  the  destination  keyring
     (KEY_SPEC_REQUESTOR_KEYRING)  is no longer accessible from the request-
     key(8) program.
     If a key is created, then--regardless of whether it is a valid key or a
     negatively  instantiated  key--it  will displace any other key with the
     same type and description from the keyring specified in dest_keyring.


     On success, request_key() returns the serial number of the key it found
     or  caused to be created.  On error, -1 is returned and errno is set to
     indicate the cause of the error.


     EACCES The keyring wasn't available for modification by the user.
     EDQUOT The key quota for this user would be exceeded by  creating  this
            key or linking it to the keyring.
     EFAULT One  of  type,  description,  or callout_info points outside the
            process's accessible address space.
     EINTR  The request was interrupted by a signal; see signal(7).
     EINVAL The size of the string (including  the  terminating  null  byte)
            specified  in  type  or description exceeded the limit (32 bytes
            and 4096 bytes respectively).
     EINVAL The size of the string (including  the  terminating  null  byte)
            specified in callout_info exceeded the system page size.
            An  expired key was found, but no replacement could be obtained.
            The attempt to generate a new key was rejected.
            A revoked key was found, but no replacement could be obtained.
     ENOKEY No matching key was found.
     ENOMEM Insufficient memory to create a key.
     EPERM  The type argument started with a period ('.').


     This system call first  appeared  in  Linux  2.6.10.   The  ability  to
     instantiate keys upon request was added in Linux 2.6.13.


     This system call is a nonstandard Linux extension.


     No  wrapper  for  this  system call is provided in glibc.  A wrapper is
     provided in the libkeyutils package.  When  employing  the  wrapper  in
     that library, link with -lkeyutils.


     The  program  below  demonstrates  the use of request_key().  The type,
     description, and callout_info arguments for the system call  are  taken
     from the values supplied in the command-line arguments.  The call spec-
     ifies the session keyring as the target keyring.
     In order to demonstrate this program, we first create a suitable  entry
     in the file /etc/request-key.conf.
         $  sudo sh # echo 'create user mtk:* *   /bin/keyctl instantiate %k
         %c %S' \
                   > /etc/request-key.conf # exit
     This entry specifies that when a new "user" key with the prefix  "mtk:"
     must  be  instantiated, that task should be performed via the keyctl(1)
     command's instantiate operation.  The arguments supplied to the instan-
     tiate operation are: the ID of the uninstantiated key (%k); the callout
     data supplied to the request_key() call (%c); and the  session  keyring
     (%S)  of  the  requestor  (i.e.,  the  caller  of  request_key()).  See
     request-key.conf(5) for details of these % specifiers.
     Then we run the program and check the contents of /proc/keys to  verify
     that the requested key has been instantiated:
         $  ./t_request_key  user  mtk:key1 "Payload data" $ grep '2dddaf50'
         /proc/keys 2dddaf50 I--Q---   1  perm  3f010000   1000   1000  user
         mtk:key1: 12
     For another example of the use of this program, see keyctl(2).
 Program source
      /* t_request_key.c */
     #include   <sys/types.h>   #include   <keyutils.h>  #include  <stdio.h>
     #include <stdlib.h> #include <string.h>
     int main(int argc, char *argv[]) {
         key_serial_t key;
         if (argc != 4) {
             fprintf(stderr, "Usage: %s type description callout-data\n",
         key = request_key(argv[1], argv[2], argv[3],
         if (key == -1) {
         printf("Key ID is %lx\n", (long) key);
         exit(EXIT_SUCCESS); }


     keyctl(1), add_key(2), keyctl(2), keyctl(3), capabilities(7),
     keyrings(7), keyutils(7), persistent-keyring(7), process-keyring(7),
     session-keyring(7), thread-keyring(7), user-keyring(7),
     user-session-keyring(7), request-key(8)
     The kernel source files Documentation/security/keys/core.rst and
     Documentation/keys/request-key.rst (or, before Linux 4.13, in the files
     Documentation/security/keys.txt and


     This page is part of release 4.16 of the Linux man-pages project.  A
     description of the project, information about reporting bugs, and the
     latest version of this page, can be found at

Linux 2017-09-15 REQUEST_KEY(2)

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