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I’ve been a certbot user since ever and never realized that the default method for SSL-only domain validation was going to reach it’s EOL. Because there wasn’t a viable way of using HTTP-01 or DNS-01 challenges, a decision was made to adopt the newly implemented TLS-ALPN-01 method.

ALPN is a next generation protocol of negotiating TLS handshakes. It makes less roundtrips on the certificate negotiation phase, and connection can be handled earlier by reverse proxies.

Certbot wasn’t going to cut it, so I rolled up my sleeves and began reading - until I found an article talking about dehydrated. I just had to run a python script that responded the ALPN challenges correctly and badabim-badabum certificates were issued. It is nothing like just running certbot, but I was adopting one of the most secure and fast validation methods.

Basically what Sam Decrock says is that I have to stop my NGINX and start the ALPN challenges script - every time I needed to renew a certificate. This is a bad idea in a production environment, so I had to adapt those instructions into a more reliable solution.

I came out with something using a NGINX module called ngx_stream_ssl_preread_module. With it you can use your proxy as a TCP/UDP traffic intercepter that prereads your SSL connections, enabling redirection based on the ALPN protocol list sent by the client. So now I’m able to redirect ACME-TLS requests through dehydrated and all other SSL connections to port 4433 back to the server:

# /etc/nginx/nginx.conf
# Bottom of file, don't erase previous configuration.
stream {
        map $ssl_preread_alpn_protocols $tls_port {
                ~\bacme-tls/1\b 10443; # If it is a challenge use python script port
                default 4433; # Default behavior is to redirect to port 4433
        server {
                listen 443;
                listen [::]:443;
                proxy_pass$tls_port; # Goes back to the server in the correspondent port
                ssl_preread on;

This way I can keep the default setup on dehydrated python script, and just run it on my server with:

$ sudo /path/to/

Then after that I had to change all SSL server blocks to listen to that non-default port and voilà, no need to stop or restart anything:

# /etc/nginx/sites-available/
server {
    # other stuff...
    listen 4433; # Instead of => listen 443;
    listen [::]:4433; # Instead of => listen [::]:443;
    # other stuff...

To generate your certificates with TLS-ALPN just clone dehydrated somewhere and configure it to deploy keys using that method:

# /etc/dehydrated/config

Then, add your domains and subdomains into domains.txt and turn dehydrated on:

$ /path/to/dehydrated -c -f /etc/dehydrated/config

Your keys will live under /etc/nginx/certs, just configure your server blocks to use them and that’s it.

Making things easier on Ubuntu

This proccess is a little manual, but you can make it more automatic. First, add dehydrated as a cronjob by running $ sudo crontab -e and adding this to the end of the file:

15 3 * * * /path/to/dehydrated -c -f /etc/dehydrated/config

Then, to avoid your ALPN validation script not being executed, add this to /etc/init/alpn-script.conf (Use /etc/systemd/alpn-script.conf in Ubuntu 15.x):

# /etc/init/alpn-script.conf
start on runlevel [2345]
stop on runlevel [!2345]

exec /path/to/

This way your server can start your ALPN validation script on boot and use administrative commands like:

$ sudo service alpn-script start
$ sudo service alpn-script stop

If by any chance you have to renew certificates with dehydrated and your ALPN script is not running all challenges will fail.

Known Caveat

There is something you have to keep in mind: Since your server is redirecting traffic to itself, the NGINX variable $binary_remote_addr will always be your own IP. So you if there is any configuration depending on it (like rate limiting or upstreams) you should use another method to do it.

What do you think about the solution, do you have any doubts, comments or you can help me make a better tutorial? Reach out on the comments below, I’ll be glad to discuss it with you.

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