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gpg2.1 allows me to do gpg2 --quick-adduid old_id new_id.

There's no options to specify realname, email, and comment separately like in the interactive adduid.

Also, in listings, the three fields (realname, email, and comment) show up as merged into one line (realname (comment) <email>).

So are there really three fields or is it just a front?

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OpenPGP’s User ID Packet is "intended to represent the name and email address of the key holder".

As a convention (not a requirement!), it uses the name-addr syntax defined in RFC 2822: Internet Message Format.

Name (Comment) <[email protected]> is a possible variant that conforms to this syntax.

tl;dr: It is one field. The content is formatted like that because it’s a convention.

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