Using Let’s Encrypt manual mode

Let’s Encrypt is a service sponsored by web giants such as Facebook, Google Chrome, and Cisco (https://letsencrypt.org/). Let’s Encrypt has recently gone into public beta and is extremely easy to use. It has some modules already built in to integrate directly with popular webservers like Apache. In my case, I had two use cases where I needed to use manual mode – Installing the certificate on a Citrix Netscaler and on an NGINX reverse proxy. This necessitates using let’s encrypt in manual, standalone mode, which is still very easy to use. First, make sure you have the following requirements installed (I was using a linux machine):

  • Git client
  • Python 2.7

The process from here is very simple:

  1. Install letsencrypt-auto (the command line client for let’s encrypt) by using the git clone command as specified here: https://letsencrypt.readthedocs.org/en/latest/intro.html#about-the-let-s-encrypt-client
  2. Cd into the “letsencrypt” folder and run the following command:
    ./letsencrypt-auto certonly --manual

This will set off a text based wizard which will guide you through the process. It will first ask for the domain you wish to encrypt:

dvas0004@dvas0004-HP-ProBook-450-G2: ~-letsencrypt_349

Next, it will give instructions on how to write a simple script that will run a simple python-based webserver. The purpose of this is so that the let’s encrypt system can verify that you do really own the servers that respond to the domain just entered. As you can see from the code below, this simply creates a randomly generated filename under the url “http://your-domain.com/.well-known/acme-challenge”

dvas0004@dvas0004-HP-ProBook-450-G2: ~-letsencrypt_350

Pretty simple and elegant. You run the above command on your webserver – so obviously make sure your DNS hosts and NAT forwarding is setup correctly. You do not necessarily have to run the python webserver, if another webserver like IIS is already setup, you can manually copy/paste the contents into the file in the .well-known/acme-challenge folder.

PS, another tip that will avoid you thinking you went crazy, when importing the certificates into Netscaler, it wont recognize the private key without some OpenSSL magic. First off, to install the certificate, I used: Traffic Management > SSL > Certificates

Selection_352

And click the “install” button. From here you can upload the “fullcertchain.pem” and “privkey.pem” files, however, first please transform the privkey.pem file using the following:

All that said, it took 2 minutes to generate a free, 90 day SSL certificate… much easier, cheaper, and trustworthy than the normal SSL providers in my opinion… Kudos to Let’s Encrypt!!