Certificate Authority automation scripts
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A set of bash(1) scripts for working with SSL Certificate Authorities.

These scripts are designed to provide a configurable wrapping layer around openssl(1), similar to CA.pl. They're potentially a little heavyweight if you just need a single self-signed certificate to secure an HTTPs webserver, but they may come in handy if you want to:

  • Generate multiple service certificates signed by a single authority
  • Provide signed client certificates to end users for authentication purposes
  • Provide client certificates for S/MIME encrypted e-mail or code signing
  • Easily set extensions such as x509v3 subjectAltName in your certificates


Currently, these scripts are limited to systems with a recent install of openssl(1), GNU date(1) -- sorry BSD folks; patches welcome -- and version 3 or greater of bash(1).


There aren't any tarballs as yet. Nor will the make command below work until I've written a Makefile. It's coming, sometime. Sorry ;-)

$ git clone git://github.com/fluffle/ca-scripts
$ cd ca-scripts
$ make; sudo make install

This will by default install to /usr/local, either export PREFIX=/path or make PREFIX=/path; sudo make PREFIX=/path install to change this to an alternative location.

Creating a Certificate Authority

Before running ca-init(1), a configuration file for the CA scripts must be created. This configuration file sets up some templating variables that will be present in certificates created for this CA, such as the domain, CA name, and the root directory which will be populated with the generated certificates. An example configuration file is provided with the scripts, and the comments should be self-explanatory.

By default the CA scripts will read /etc/ca-scripts.conf. This is fine for creating a single CA serving a single domain with no intermediary certificates, but for a more complex setup a directory of configuration files will probably be needed. Some settings are required, namely the CA_HOME, CA_DOMAIN, and CA_DN_* variables, while others can be inferred from these or have sensible defaults set. See ca-scripts.conf(5) for more detail on these.

Once the configuration has been created the initial CA setup can be performed with ca-init(1), but please note that the path set in CA_HOME must exist and be writeable before it will run correctly. It is recommended (but not in an way required) to create an unprivileged "ssl" user to run all the scripts as, so the permissions are correctly set. A number of subdirectories will be set up underneath this root, and an openssl configuration file, certificate and private key will be generated. This key can be 3DES encrypted for security.

Optionally, it is possible to split the initial setup process so that the directory structure and openssl configuration generation can be done in a seperate step to the generation of the CA certificates, so that the config can be manually edited. To fully understand it's contents you're unfortunately going to need to read the following:

Particularly important are the x509v3 extensions present in the certificate, which are defined in the "ca_x509_extensions" section of the config file.

Creating a certificate

The ca-create-cert(1) script can generate three "types" of certificate: server certificates for securing a service with SSL/TLS; client certificates for authenticating a client to these services; and user certificates for authentication, S/MIME e-mail signing or encryption, and code signing. There are minor but important differences in the key usage extensions present in these different certificate types, details can be found in the documentation for ca-create-cert(1). In each case, a Common Name must be provided to give a unique name for the certificate.

ca-create-cert(1) takes a number of options to customise the generated certificate. The --type option defaults to creating server certs. It is likely that the --alt-name option (which sets X.509v3 subjectAltName DNS records for other hostnames for the server) will be useful; it may also be used when creating client certs. Both the server hostname and any alternative names will be fully-qualified to CA_DOMAIN if they do not contain any dots unless the --no-qualify option is used. If unqualified names are passed in they are preserved as alternative DNS names in the certificate. The private key may be encrypted with 3DES using the --encrypt option, and the certificate, key, and CA certificate can be bundled together into a PKCS#12 format certificate archive by passing --pkcs12. By default certificates are valid for 365 days from signing, but this may be changed with the --days option.

The certificate's DN can be completely changed from the defaults provided by ca-scripts.conf(5), but be wary as by default the generated openssl config file requires that the country (C) and organisation (O) fields match those of the CA certificate. A comment may also be set that will show up in user browsers when they click on their padlock icons to examine the certificate's properties. As with the CA setup, the steps to generate the certificate can be split up so that configurations that are created from templates can be edited beforehand.

Renewing a certificate

Certificates are renewed using ca-renew-cert(1). This script currently does some painful certificate manipulation that is not strictly necessary in most cases, and may in fact decrease SSL security slightly. This is done because the normal renewal process re-generates the certificate signing request and thus creates a new public/private keypair. If the certificates are used for S/MIME encryption or code signing, this renders all the encrypted e-mail unreadable and requires you to re-sign the code with your new private key.

To avoid this, ca-renew-cert(1) re-signs the old certificate request with a new expiry date using the extensions generated when the old certificate was signed. In the future it is possible (even likely) that this renewal method will only be used on user type certificates, and the server and client types will be renewed normally. If the current renewal method doesn't provide sufficient security, the current certificate should be revoked and a new one generated that is valid for the correct period of time using the --days option to ca-create-cert(1).

As with the certificate creation script a Common Name can be passed to identify the certificate to renew; alternatively the path to a previously created certificate can be given. Internally these will be both be resolved to the correct information required for certificate renewal.

Revoking a certificate

To revoke a certificate and re-generate the CA certficate revocation list in both PEM and DER encodings, invoke ca-revoke-cert(1), again providing a Common Name or the path to the certificate to be revoked. Along with ca-init(1) this script can optionally generate a basic HTML template to serve the CA certificate and CRL with verifiable MD5 and SHA1 checksums.