Password Based Key Derivation

Often one needs to convert a human readable password into a cryptographic key. It is useful to slow down the computation of these computations in order to reduce the speed of brute force search, thus they are parameterized in some way which allows their required computation to be tuned.


PBKDF is the older API for this functionality, presented in header pbkdf.h. It does not support Scrypt, nor will it be able to support other future hashes (such as Argon2) that may be added in the future. In addition, this API requires the passphrase be entered as a std::string, which means the secret will be stored in memory that will not be zeroed.

class PBKDF
void pbkdf_iterations(uint8_t out[], size_t out_len, const std::string &passphrase, const uint8_t salt[], size_t salt_len, size_t iterations) const

Run the PBKDF algorithm for the specified number of iterations, with the given salt, and write output to the buffer.

void pbkdf_timed(uint8_t out[], size_t out_len, const std::string &passphrase, const uint8_t salt[], size_t salt_len, std::chrono::milliseconds msec, size_t &iterations) const

Choose (via short run-time benchmark) how many iterations to perform in order to run for roughly msec milliseconds. Writes the number of iterations used to reference argument.

OctetString derive_key(size_t output_len, const std::string &passphrase, const uint8_t *salt, size_t salt_len, size_t iterations) const

Computes a key from passphrase and the salt (of length salt_len bytes) using an algorithm-specific interpretation of iterations, producing a key of length output_len.

Use an iteration count of at least 10000. The salt should be randomly chosen by a good random number generator (see Random Number Generators for how), or at the very least unique to this usage of the passphrase.

If you call this function again with the same parameters, you will get the same key.


New in version 2.8.0.

This API has two classes, one representing the algorithm (such as “PBKDF2(SHA-256)”, or “Scrypt”) and the other representing a specific instance of the problem which is fully specified (say “Scrypt” with N=8192,r=64,p=8).

class PasswordHash
void derive_key(uint8_t out[], size_t out_len, const char *password, const size_t password_len, const uint8_t salt[], size_t salt_len) const

Derive a key, placing it into output

std::string to_string() const

Return a descriptive string including the parameters (iteration count, etc)

The PasswordHashFamily creates specific instances of PasswordHash:

class PasswordHashFamily
static std::unique_ptr<PasswordHashFamily> create(const std::string &what)

For example “PBKDF2(SHA-256)”, “Scrypt”, “OpenPGP-S2K(SHA-384)”. Returns null if not available.

std::unique_ptr<PasswordHash> default_params() const

Create a default instance of the password hashing algorithm. Be warned the value returned here may change from release to release.

std::unique_ptr<PasswordHash> tune(size_t output_len, std::chrono::milliseconds msec) const

Return a password hash instance tuned to run for approximately msec milliseconds when producing an output of length output_len. (Accuracy may vary, use the command line utility botan pbkdf_tune to check.)

std::unique_ptr<PasswordHash> from_params(size_t i1, size_t i2 = 0, size_t i3 = 0) const

Create a password hash using some scheme specific format. Eg PBKDF2 and PGP-S2K set iterations in i1 Scrypt uses N,r,p in i{1-3} Bcrypt-PBKDF just has iterations Argon2{i,d,id} would use iterations, memory, parallelism for i{1-3}, and Argon2 type is part of the family.

Values not needed should be set to 0.

Available Schemes


PBKDF2 is the “standard” password derivation scheme, widely implemented in many different libraries. It uses HMAC internally.


Scrypt is a relatively newer design which is “memory hard” - in addition to requiring large amounts of CPU power it uses a large block of memory to compute the hash. This makes brute force attacks using ASICs substantially more expensive.

Scrypt is not supported through PBKDF, only PasswordHash, starting in 2.8.0. In addition, starting in version 2.7.0, scrypt is available with this function:

void scrypt(uint8_t output[], size_t output_len, const std::string &password, const uint8_t salt[], size_t salt_len, size_t N, size_t r, size_t p)

Computes the Scrypt using the password and salt, and produces an output of arbitrary length.

The N, r, p parameters control how much work and memory Scrypt uses. N is the primary control of the workfactor, and must be a power of 2. For interactive logins use 32768, for protection of secret keys or backups use 1048576.

The r parameter controls how ‘wide’ the internal hashing operation is. It also increases the amount of memory that is used. Values from 1 to 8 are reasonable.

Setting p parameter to greater than one splits up the work in a way that up to p processors can work in parallel.

As a general recommendation, use N=32768, r=8, p=1


New in version 2.11.0.

Argon2 is the winner of the PHC (Password Hashing Competition) and provides a tunable memory hard PBKDF.



The OpenPGP algorithm is weak and strange, and should be avoided unless implementing OpenPGP.

There are some oddities about OpenPGP’s S2K algorithms that are documented here. For one thing, it uses the iteration count in a strange manner; instead of specifying how many times to iterate the hash, it tells how many bytes should be hashed in total (including the salt). So the exact iteration count will depend on the size of the salt (which is fixed at 8 bytes by the OpenPGP standard, though the implementation will allow any salt size) and the size of the passphrase.

To get what OpenPGP calls “Simple S2K”, set iterations to 0, and do not specify a salt. To get “Salted S2K”, again leave the iteration count at 0, but give an 8-byte salt. “Salted and Iterated S2K” requires an 8-byte salt and some iteration count (this should be significantly larger than the size of the longest passphrase that might reasonably be used; somewhere from 1024 to 65536 would probably be about right). Using both a reasonably sized salt and a large iteration count is highly recommended to prevent password guessing attempts.


PBKDF1 is an old scheme that can only produce an output length at most as long as the hash function. It is deprecated and will be removed in a future release. It is not supported through PasswordHash.