Kontact has, in contrast to Thunderbird, integrated crypto support (OpenPGP and S/MIME) out-of-the-box.
That means on Linux you can simply start Kontact and read crypted mails (if you have already created keys).
After you select your crypto keys, you can immediately start writing encrypted mails. With that great user experince I never needed to dig further in the crypto stack.
But on Windows there is no GnuPG installed as default, so I need to dig into the whole world of crypto layers,
that are between Kontact and the actual part that does the de-/encryption.
Kontact uses a number of libraries that the team has written around GPGME.
The lowest level one is gpgmepp which is an object oriented wrapper for gpgme. This lets us avoid having to write code in C for KMail. Than we have libkleo which is a library built on top of gpgmepp that KMail uses to trigger de-/encryption in the lower levels. GPGME is the only required dependency to compile Kontact with crypto support.
But this is not enough to send and receive encrypted mail with Kontact on Windows, as I mentioned earlier. There are still runtime dependencies that we need to have in place. Fortunatelly the runtime crypto stack is already packaged by the GPG4Win team. Simply installing is still not enough to have crypto support, though. With GPG4Win, it is possible to select OpenPGP keys, create and read encrypted mails, but unfortunatelly it doesn't work with S/MIME.
So I had to dig futher into how GnuPG is actually working.
OpenPGP is handled by the
gpg binary and for S/MIME we have
gpgsm. Both are directly called from GPGME, using libassuan. Both application than talk to gpg-agent, which is actually the only programm that interacts with the key data. Both application can be used from the commandline, so it was easy to verify, that they were working and that we have no problems with GnuPG setup.
So first we start by creating keys (
gpg --gen-key and
gpgsm --gen-key) and than further testing what works with GPG4Win and what does not. We found a bug in GnuPG in the used version, but this one was closed in a newer version. Still Kontact didn't want to communicate with GPG4Win. The reason was a wrong standard path, preventing gpgme from finding gpgsm. With that fixed, we now have a working crypto stack under windows.
But to be honest, there are more application involved in a working crypto stack. At first we need
gpgme-w32-spawn to be available in the Kontact directory.
gpgconf helps gpgme to find gpg and gpgsm and is responsible to modify the content of .gnupg in the user's home directoy. Additionally, it infoms you about changes in config files.
gpgme-w32-spawn is responsible for creating the other needed processes.
For having a UI where you can enter ypur password you need
pinentry. S/MIME needs another agent, that does the CRL / OCSP checks. This is done by
dirmgnr. In GnuPG 2.1
dirmgnr is the only component that performs connections to the outside. So every request that requires the Internet is done via
This is, in short, the crypto stack that needs to work together to give you working encrypted mail support.
We are happy, that we now have a fully working Kontact under windows (again!). There are rumours, that Kontact was working also before that under windows with crypto support, but unfortunatelly when we started the crypted part was not working.
This work has done in the kolabsys branch, which is based on KDE Libraries 4. The next steps are to merge changes over to make sure that the current master branch of Kontact, which uses KDE Frameworks 5, is also working.
Coming up next week is the yearly Randa meeting where we will have the chance to sit together for a week and work on the future of Kontact. This meetings help tremendously in injecting momentum into the project, and we have a variety of topics to cover to direct the development for the time to come (and of course a lot of stuff to actively hack on). If you’d like to contribute to that you can help us with some funding. Much appreciated!