What I’m working on now: saving $69 a year on my certificate costs

Intro
I recently turned off my GoDaddy web site certificate and implemented one that cost me nothing. This will save me $69 per year.

I wrote up my experience in this article: Idea for free web server certificates: Let’s Encrypt

When I originally wrote that article it was a theoretical concept, but since then I’ve encountered web sites using those certificates so I realized that their CA must be widely accepted now and I decided to try for myself. The ACME (automated certificate management environment) environment was something completely new to me and the terminology a little confusing (as a user I don’t “issue” certificates, so whose perspective does the description take anyway?), but I got it to work in the end with the help of a command-line-based utility called acme.sh. I am actually more comfortable with command-line than with GUI programs. You get greater control and greater understanding.

Example of issuing a certificate using the manual DNS method
If you have full control over DNS but not the web server this approach is a good one.

$ sudo acme.sh ‐‐issue ‐‐dns ‐d www2.drjohnstechtalk.com

[Thu Feb 23 11:55:52 EST 2017] Single domain='www2.drjohnstechtalk.com'
[Thu Feb 23 11:55:52 EST 2017] Getting domain auth token for each domain
[Thu Feb 23 11:55:52 EST 2017] Getting webroot for domain='www2.drjohnstechtalk.com'
[Thu Feb 23 11:55:52 EST 2017] _w='dns'
[Thu Feb 23 11:55:52 EST 2017] Getting new-authz for domain='www2.drjohnstechtalk.com'                                     [Thu Feb 23 11:55:54 EST 2017] The new-authz request is ok.
[Thu Feb 23 11:55:54 EST 2017] Add the following TXT record:
[Thu Feb 23 11:55:54 EST 2017] Domain: '_acme-challenge.www2.drjohnstechtalk.com'
[Thu Feb 23 11:55:54 EST 2017] TXT value: '7kU6pGgcNRtrPKuN2Wu1TIGS7YZDBhuiumLb9aEJwqc'
[Thu Feb 23 11:55:54 EST 2017] Please be aware that you prepend _acme-challenge. before your domain
[Thu Feb 23 11:55:54 EST 2017] so the resulting subdomain will be: _acme-challenge.www2.drjohnstechtalk.com
[Thu Feb 23 11:55:54 EST 2017] Please add the TXT records to the domains, and retry again.
[Thu Feb 23 11:55:54 EST 2017] Please add '--debug' or '--log' to check more details.
[Thu Feb 23 11:55:54 EST 2017] See: https://github.com/Neilpang/acme.sh/wiki/How-to-debug-acme.s/drjohnstechtalk.com/drjohnstechtalk.com/g

Make the requested DNS entry in the zone file (do not include the quotes around the TXT value). Verify your entry with a command like this:

$ dig txt www2.drjohnstechtalk.com

Then run acme.sh again like this
$ sudo acme.sh ‐‐renew ‐d www2.drjohnstechtalk.com

[Thu Feb 23 12:02:18 EST 2017] Renew: 'www2.drjohnstechtalk.com'
[Thu Feb 23 12:02:18 EST 2017] Single domain='www2.drjohnstechtalk.com'
[Thu Feb 23 12:02:18 EST 2017] Getting domain auth token for each domain
[Thu Feb 23 12:02:19 EST 2017] Verifying:www2.drjohnstechtalk.com
[Thu Feb 23 12:02:22 EST 2017] Success
[Thu Feb 23 12:02:22 EST 2017] Verify finished, start to sign.
[Thu Feb 23 12:02:23 EST 2017] Cert success.
-----BEGIN CERTIFICATE-----
MIIFDjCCA/agAwIBAgISAzFs92uVHvnQCId6qFoaui9gMA0GCSqGSIb3DQEBCwUA
MEoxCzAJBgNVBAYTAlVTMRYwFAYDVQQKEw1MZXQncyBFbmNyeXB0MSMwIQYDVQQD
ExpMZXQncyBFbmNyeXB0IEF1dGhvcml0eSBYMzAeFw0xNzAyMjMxNjAyMDBaFw0x
NzA1MjQxNjAyMDBaMCAxHjAcBgNVBAMTFXd3dzIucmVmaW5pc2guYmFzZi51czCC
ASIwDQYJKoZIhvcNAQEBBQADggEPADCCAQoCggEBALa9QjcqPSZxXrJmt7kxV9ii
AAI7W0fQdWIk6aDHLfkhsSt55eASOAe05oxnZNqEmcJgXd+2+xUUmm8T5F92l4co
TFiIcMIQ5Jr7Gwg61RnDUe87vI4gctechhhnGcE//4iaJ8Va19exg8HD19dfpdGg
9J2DVnUBqKh4pvItUVe3h8KZOmftQZlLy1QXnEfwEyTj4kGo3phBgOIqh2x15/8Q
tKtM9yr4TKO8clgKLeyXV90ftg4t7kjCdtPx6oRIIq27CO3nwzFq/vFqg6HprE4b
RziUv1yajjw7aHkyhsjWmxdXBlIrokxK3EBrNUo3FUzlLHGGFT2RM1rkbhdaHB0C
AwEAAaOCAhYwggISMA4GA1UdDwEB/wQEAwIFoDAdBgNVHSUEFjAUBggrBgEFBQcD
AQYIKwYBBQUHAwIwDAYDVR0TAQH/BAIwADAdBgNVHQ4EFgQUCvxAhkhpo5Elmge/
3fz5asbprXEwHwYDVR0jBBgwFoAUqEpqYwR93brm0Tm3pkVl7/Oo7KEwcAYIKwYB
BQUHAQEEZDBiMC8GCCsGAQUFBzABhiNodHRwOi8vb2NzcC5pbnQteDMubGV0c2Vu
Y3J5cHQub3JnLzAvBggrBgEFBQcwAoYjaHR0cdrjo2NlcnQuaW50LXgzLmxldHNl
bmNyeXB0Lm9yZy8wIAYDVR0RBBkwF4IVd3d3Mi5yZWZpbmlzaC5iYXNmLnVzMIH+
BgNVHSAEgfYwgfMwCAYGZ4EMAQIBMIHmBgsrBgEEAYLfEwEBATCB1jAmBggrBgEF
BQcCARYaaHR0cDovL2Nwcy5sZXRzZW5jcnlwdC5vcmcwgasGCCsGAQUFBwICMIGe
DIGbVGhpcyBDZXJ0aWZpY2F0ZSBtYXkgb25seSBiZSByZWxpZWQgdXBvbiBieSBS
ZWx5aW5nIFBhcnRpZXMgYW5kIG9ubHkgaW4gYWNjb3JkYW5jZSB3aXRoIHRoZSBD
ZXJ0aWZpY2F0ZSBQb2xpY3kgZm91bmQgYXQgaHR0cHM6Ly9sZXRzZW5jcnlwdC5v
cmcvcmVwb3NpdG9yeS8wDQYJKoZIhvcNAQELBQADggEBADHFgJ3O8v/0zdG48Y1D
ci4wSQqZQSRtalknubVLRC12cr8ct1m0nZ7bxxQnZ/bSFShhcjepFowOfjfdY2ar
GzKP9IRgWavwm259WX5gM5FKUeN/Pjcz++vwUB8ci2+DpZu1tBf0eZcZ6JKsehij
A3lSPb4Ttq/GqDodumeJmvH4/FjCsjIqCJfQQYlz42QdZsLcA2l3oQ8smX0ZK8gh
sIm0SX4RggfiNGuNjw/tkfeC4xfjVNUSjKepUqgsVe63F6gRNjjm+/zsIlPLTdw3
AXGxE71Ww68avev7vRCvp+zPa43DQfVfV98v5M4i0M1/bT0Qh/4hLECma9wBBXb8
jXM=
-----END CERTIFICATE-----
[Thu Feb 23 12:02:23 EST 2017] Your cert is in  /root/.acme.sh/www2.drjohnstechtalk.com/www2.drjohnstechtalk.com.cer
[Thu Feb 23 12:02:23 EST 2017] Your cert key is in  /root/.acme.sh/www2.drjohnstechtalk.com/www2.drjohnstechtalk.com.key
[Thu Feb 23 12:02:23 EST 2017] The intermediate CA cert is in  /root/.acme.sh/www2.drjohnstechtalk.com/ca.cer
[Thu Feb 23 12:02:23 EST 2017] And the full chain certs is there:  /root/.acme.sh/www2.drjohnstechtalk.com/fullchain.cer

More complex example of issuing a SAN certificate using the manual DNS approach

$ ./acme.sh ‐‐issue ‐d johnstechtalk.mobi ‐‐dns ‐d www.johnstechtalk.mobi ‐d drjohnstechtalk.mobi ‐d www.drjohnstechtalk.mobi

[Mon Jan 23 09:21:55 EST 2017] Multi domain='DNS:www.johnstechtalk.mobi,DNS:drjohnstechtalk.mobi,DNS:www.drjohnstechtalk.mobi'
[Mon Jan 23 09:21:55 EST 2017] Getting domain auth token for each domain
[Mon Jan 23 09:21:55 EST 2017] Getting webroot for domain='johnstechtalk.mobi'
[Mon Jan 23 09:21:55 EST 2017] _w='dns'
[Mon Jan 23 09:21:55 EST 2017] Getting new-authz for domain='johnstechtalk.mobi'
[Mon Jan 23 09:21:57 EST 2017] The new-authz request is ok.
[Mon Jan 23 09:21:57 EST 2017] Getting webroot for domain='www.johnstechtalk.mobi'
[Mon Jan 23 09:21:57 EST 2017] _w='dns'
[Mon Jan 23 09:21:57 EST 2017] Getting new-authz for domain='www.johnstechtalk.mobi'
[Mon Jan 23 09:21:57 EST 2017] The new-authz request is ok.
[Mon Jan 23 09:21:57 EST 2017] Getting webroot for domain='drjohnstechtalk.mobi'
[Mon Jan 23 09:21:57 EST 2017] _w='dns'
[Mon Jan 23 09:21:57 EST 2017] Getting new-authz for domain='drjohnstechtalk.mobi'
[Mon Jan 23 09:21:58 EST 2017] The new-authz request is ok.
[Mon Jan 23 09:21:58 EST 2017] Getting webroot for domain='www.drjohnstechtalk.mobi'
[Mon Jan 23 09:21:58 EST 2017] _w='dns'
[Mon Jan 23 09:21:58 EST 2017] Getting new-authz for domain='www.drjohnstechtalk.mobi'
[Mon Jan 23 09:21:58 EST 2017] The new-authz request is ok.
[Mon Jan 23 09:21:58 EST 2017] Add the following TXT record:
[Mon Jan 23 09:21:58 EST 2017] Domain: '_acme-challenge.johnstechtalk.mobi'
[Mon Jan 23 09:21:58 EST 2017] TXT value: 'CDK_dACa_29apV30lc68Vo-mAx3e923ZOh6u-kyhXLo'
[Mon Jan 23 09:21:58 EST 2017] Please be aware that you prepend _acme-challenge. before your domain
[Mon Jan 23 09:21:58 EST 2017] so the resulting subdomain will be: _acme-challenge.johnstechtalk.mobi
[Mon Jan 23 09:21:58 EST 2017] Add the following TXT record:
[Mon Jan 23 09:21:58 EST 2017] Domain: '_acme-challenge.www.johnstechtalk.mobi'
[Mon Jan 23 09:21:58 EST 2017] TXT value: 'UC6JLg1hbXo0oRlYwSyrSRMD5nZgEKgdcIDZfhlqCrU'
[Mon Jan 23 09:21:58 EST 2017] Please be aware that you prepend _acme-challenge. before your domain
[Mon Jan 23 09:21:58 EST 2017] so the resulting subdomain will be: _acme-challenge.www.johnstechtalk.mobi
[Mon Jan 23 09:21:58 EST 2017] Add the following TXT record:
[Mon Jan 23 09:21:58 EST 2017] Domain: '_acme-challenge.drjohnstechtalk.mobi'
[Mon Jan 23 09:21:58 EST 2017] TXT value: 'y8ZCkJ-PXxGbeQFxh7RULCLGKyHH3G7FMFhKpMNF7ow'
[Mon Jan 23 09:21:58 EST 2017] Please be aware that you prepend _acme-challenge. before your domain
[Mon Jan 23 09:21:58 EST 2017] so the resulting subdomain will be: _acme-challenge.drjohnstechtalk.mobi
[Mon Jan 23 09:21:58 EST 2017] Add the following TXT record:
[Mon Jan 23 09:21:58 EST 2017] Domain: '_acme-challenge.www.drjohnstechtalk.mobi'
[Mon Jan 23 09:21:58 EST 2017] TXT value: '8nyb_V7AKaxy0U5pGTKmUejKEXgPv66VKne8yZYZMDg'
[Mon Jan 23 09:21:58 EST 2017] Please be aware that you prepend _acme-challenge. before your domain
[Mon Jan 23 09:21:58 EST 2017] so the resulting subdomain will be: _acme-challenge.www.drjohnstechtalk.mobi
[Mon Jan 23 09:21:59 EST 2017] Please add the TXT records to the domains, and retry again.
[Mon Jan 23 09:21:59 EST 2017] Please add '--debug' or '--log' to check more details.
[Mon Jan 23 09:21:59 EST 2017] See: https://github.com/Neilpang/acme.sh/wiki/How-to-debug-acme.sh

Then you add the DNS records they requested in the zone file, for instance,

_acme-challenge.johnstechtalk.mobi IN TXT CDK_dACa_29apV30lc68Vo-mAx3e923ZOh6u-kyhXLo

Then you rerun acme.sh, but with the renew argument:
$ ./acme.sh ‐‐renew ‐d johnstechtalk.mobi
and you should get your SAN certificate issued to you! All the files – private key, intermediate CERT, newly-issued SAN certificate – in ~/.acme.sh/johnstechtalk.mobi/

Of course just put in your own domain names in place of mine. I don’t know how quickly you have to act to put in your TXT records for the DNS authentication challenge. I edited zone files by hand and got them in within a few minutes.

And note the order of the arguments in the original acme.sh command. Often the switch order is immaterial in Linux, but for this command it matters a bit. You have your first mentioned domain, then the dns switch, then your other domain names.


References and related

Idea for free web server certificates: Let’s Encrypt
Info about acme.sh

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