Example use case

To briefly explain how to approach pyasn1, consider a quick workflow example.

Grab ASN.1 schema for SSH keys

ASN.1 is widely used in many Internet protocols. Frequently, whenever ASN.1 is employed, data structures are described in ASN.1 schema language right in the RFC. Take RFC2437 for example – we can look into it and weed out data structures specification into a local file:

# pkcs-1.asn

PKCS-1 {iso(1) member(2) us(840) rsadsi(113549) pkcs(1) pkcs-1(1) modules(0) pkcs-1(1)}

    RSAPrivateKey ::= SEQUENCE {
         version Version,
         modulus INTEGER,
         publicExponent INTEGER,
         privateExponent INTEGER,
         prime1 INTEGER,
         prime2 INTEGER,
         exponent1 INTEGER,
         exponent2 INTEGER,
         coefficient INTEGER
    Version ::= INTEGER

Compile ASN.1 schema into Python

In the best case, you should be able to automatically compile ASN.1 spec into Python classes. For that purpose we have the asn1ate tool:

$ asn1ate pkcs-1.asn > rsakey.py

Though it may not work out as, as it stands now, asn1ate does not support all ASN.1 language constructs.

Alternatively, you could check out the pyasn1-modules package to see if it already has the ASN.1 spec you are looking for compiled and shipped there. Then just install the package, import the data structure you need and use it:

$ pip install pyasn1-modules

As a last resort, you could express ASN.1 in Python by hand. The end result should be a declarative Python code resembling original ASN.1 syntax like this:

# rsakey.py

class Version(Integer):

class RSAPrivateKey(Sequence):
    componentType = NamedTypes(
        NamedType('version', Version()),
        NamedType('modulus', Integer()),
        NamedType('publicExponent', Integer()),
        NamedType('privateExponent', Integer()),
        NamedType('prime1', Integer()),
        NamedType('prime2', Integer()),
        NamedType('exponent1', Integer()),
        NamedType('exponent2', Integer()),
        NamedType('coefficient', Integer())

Read your ~/.ssh/id_rsa

Given we’ve put our Python classes into the rsakey.py module, we could import the top-level object for SSH keys container and initialize it from our ~/.ssh/id_rsa file (for sake of simplicity here we assume no passphrase is set on the key file):

from base64 import b64decode
from pyasn1.codec.der.decoder import decode as der_decoder
from rsakey import RSAPrivateKey

# Read SSH key from file (assuming no passphrase)
with open('.ssh/id_rsa') as key_file:
    b64_serialisation = ''.join(key_file.readlines()[1:-1])

# Undo BASE64 serialisation
der_serialisation = b64decode(b64_serialisation)

# Undo DER serialisation, reconstruct SSH key structure
private_key, rest_of_input = der_decoder(der_serialisation, asn1Spec=RSAPrivateKey())

Once we have Python ASN.1 structures initialized, we could inspect them:

>>> print('%s' % private_key)

Play with the keys

As well as use them nearly as we do with native Python types:

>>> pk = private_key
>>> pk['prime1'] * pk['prime2'] == pk['modulus']
>>> pk['prime1'] == pk['modulus'] // pk['prime2']
>>> pk['exponent1'] == pk['privateExponent'] % (pk['prime1'] - 1)
>>> pk['exponent2'] == pk['privateExponent'] % (pk['prime2'] - 1)

Technically, pyasn1 classes emulate Python built-in types.

Transform to built-ins

ASN.1 data structures exhibit a way more complicated behaviour compared to Python types. You may wish to simplify things by turning the whole tree of pyasn1 objects into an analogous tree made of base Python types:

>>> from pyasn1.codec.native.encoder import encode
>>> ...
>>> py_private_key = encode(private_key)
>>> py_private_key
{'version': 0, 'modulus': 280789907761334970323210643584308373, 'publicExponent': 65537,
 'privateExponent': 1704567874679144879123080924, 'prime1': 1780178536719561265324798296279384073,
 'prime2': 1577313184995269616049017780493740138, 'exponent1': 1193974819720845247396384239609024,
 'exponent2': 9240965721817961178848297404494811, 'coefficient': 10207364473358910343346707141115}

You can do vice-versa: initialize ASN.1 structure from a dict:

>>> from pyasn1.codec.native.decoder import decode
>>> py_private_key = {'modulus': 280789907761334970323210643584308373}
>>> private_key = decode(py_private_key, asn1Spec=RSAPrivateKey())

Write it back

Possibly not that applicable to the SSH key example, but you can of course modify any part of the ASN.1 data structure and serialise it back into the same or other wire representation:

from pyasn1.codec.der.encoder import encode as der_encoder

# Serialise SSH key data structure into DER stream
der_serialisation = der_encoder(private_key)

# Serialise DER stream into BASE64 stream
b64_serialisation = '-----BEGIN RSA PRIVATE KEY-----\n'
b64_serialisation += b64encode(der_serialisation)
b64_serialisation += '-----END RSA PRIVATE KEY-----\n'

with open('.ssh/id_rsa.new', 'w') as key_file: