Certbot offers a variety of ways to validate your domain, fetch certificates, and automatically configure Apache and Nginx. In this tutorial, we’ll discuss Certbot’s standalone mode and how to use it to secure other types of services, such as a mail server or a message broker like RabbitMQ.
We won’t discuss the details of SSL configuration, but when you are done you will have a valid certificate that is automatically renewed. Additionally, you will be able to automate reloading your service to pick up the renewed certificate.
Before starting this tutorial, you will need:
Certbot is packaged in an extra repository called Extra Packages for Enterprise Linux (EPEL). To enable this repository on CentOS 7, run the following
- sudo yum --enablerepo=extras install epel-release
certbot package can be installed with
- sudo yum install certbot
You may confirm your install was successful by calling the
- certbot --version
Now that we have Certbot installed, let’s run it to get our certificate.
Certbot needs to answer a cryptographic challenge issued by the Let’s Encrypt API in order to prove we control our domain. It uses ports
80 (HTTP) or
443 (HTTPS) to accomplish this. If you’re using a firewall, open up the appropriate port now. For
firewalld this would be something like the following:
- sudo firewall-cmd --add-service=http
- sudo firewall-cmd --runtime-to-permanent
http above if you’re using port 443.
We can now run Certbot to get our certificate. We’ll use the
--standalone option to tell Certbot to handle the challenge using its own built-in web server. The
--preferred-challenges option instructs Certbot to use port 80 or port 443. If you’re using port 80, you want
--preferred-challenges http. For port 443 it would be
--preferred-challenges tls-sni. Finally, the
-d flag is used to specify the domain you’re requesting a certificate for. You can add multiple
-d options to cover multiple domains in one certificate.
- sudo certbot certonly --standalone --preferred-challenges http -d example.com
When running the command, you will be prompted to enter an email address and agree to the terms of service. After doing so, you should see a message telling you the process was successful and where your certificates are stored:
- Congratulations! Your certificate and chain have been saved at:
Your key file has been saved at:
Your cert will expire on 2018-10-09. To obtain a new or tweaked
version of this certificate in the future, simply run certbot
again. To non-interactively renew *all* of your certificates, run
- Your account credentials have been saved in your Certbot
configuration directory at /etc/letsencrypt. You should make a
secure backup of this folder now. This configuration directory will
also contain certificates and private keys obtained by Certbot so
making regular backups of this folder is ideal.
- If you like Certbot, please consider supporting our work by:
Donating to ISRG / Let's Encrypt: https://letsencrypt.org/donate
Donating to EFF: https://eff.org/donate-le
We’ve got our certificates. Let’s take a look at what we downloaded and how to use the files with our software.
Configuring your application for SSL is beyond the scope of this article, as each application has different requirements and configuration options, but let’s take a look at what Certbot has downloaded for us. Use
ls to list out the directory that holds our keys and certificates:
- sudo ls /etc/letsencrypt/live/example.com
Outputcert.pem chain.pem fullchain.pem privkey.pem README
README file in this directory has more information about each of these files. Most often you’ll only need two of these files:
privkey.pem: This is the private key for the certificate. This needs to be kept safe and secret, which is why most of the
/etc/letsencrypt directory has very restrictive permissions and is accessible by only the root user. Most software configuration will refer to this as something similar to
fullchain.pem: This is our certificate, bundled with all intermediate certificates. Most software will use this file for the actual certificate, and will refer to it in their configuration with a name like ‘ssl-certificate’.
For more information on the other files present, refer to the “Where are my certificates” section of the Certbot docs.
Some software will need its certificates in other formats, in other locations, or with other user permissions. It is best to leave everything in the
letsencrypt directory, and not change any permissions in there (permissions will just be overwritten upon renewal anyway), but sometimes that’s just not an option. In that case, you’ll need to write a script to move files and change permissions as needed. This script will need to be run whenever Certbot renews the certificates, which we’ll talk about next.
Let’s Encrypt’s certificates are only valid for ninety days. This is to encourage users to automate their certificate renewal process. The
certbot package we installed includes a systemd timer to check for renewals twice a day, but it is disabled by default. Enable the timer by running the following command:
- sudo systemctl enable --now certbot-renew.timer
OutputCreated symlink from /etc/systemd/system/timers.target.wants/certbot-renew.timer to /usr/lib/systemd/system/certbot-renew.timer.
You may verify the status of the timer using
- sudo systemctl status certbot-renew.timer
Output● certbot-renew.timer - This is the timer to set the schedule for automated renewals
Loaded: loaded (/usr/lib/systemd/system/certbot-renew.timer; enabled; vendor preset: disabled)
Active: active (waiting) since Fri 2019-05-31 15:10:10 UTC; 48s ago
The timer should be active. Certbot will now automatically renew any certificates on this server whenever necessary.
Now that our certificates are renewing automatically, we need a way to run certain tasks after a renewal. We need to at least restart or reload our server to pick up the new certificates, and as mentioned in Step 3 we may need to manipulate the certificate files in some way to make them work with the software we’re using. This is the purpose of Certbot’s
To add a
renew_hook, we update Certbot’s renewal config file. Certbot remembers all the details of how you first fetched the certificate, and will run with the same options upon renewal. We just need to add in our hook. Open the config file with you favorite editor:
- sudo vi /etc/letsencrypt/renewal/example.com.conf
A text file will open with some configuration options. Add your hook on the last line:
renew_hook = systemctl reload rabbitmq
Update the command above to whatever you need to run to reload your server or run your custom file munging script. Usually, on CentOS, you’ll mostly be using
systemctl to reload a service. Save and close the file, then run a Certbot dry run to make sure the syntax is ok:
- sudo certbot renew --dry-run
If you see no errors, you’re all set. Certbot is set to renew when necessary and run any commands needed to get your service using the new files.
In this tutorial, we’ve installed the Certbot Let’s Encrypt client, downloaded an SSL certificate using standalone mode, and enabled automatic renewals with renew hooks. This should give you a good start on using Let’s Encrypt certificates with services other than your typical web server.
For more information, please refer to Certbot’s documentation.
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