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MemberManual / ServingWebsites / SslCert

This is the page of the MemberManual that describes how to generate a valid SSL cert.


There are a few options for acquiring an SSL certificate to use with us.

The first option is to get a signed certificate from a trusted Certificate Authority ("CA" for short). If you want to make it so that visitors to your website never see an annoying nag dialog box, then this is your best option.

Alternatively, you can generate a self-signed certificate.

There are several good introductions to SSL and x509 certificates in general if you are unfamiliar with the subject:

Security Precautions

At some point, your certificate and private key will need to be stored in afs. Since afs is publicly accessible, you need to take a few precautions to ensure that your data remains private. For all key operations, keep the files in a directory that only you and the admins can read. We provide a script to create such a directory:

/afs/hcoop.net/common/bin/make-secure-directory certificates

Generating a Key and Certificate Signing Request

If you are creating an SSL certificate to use for a web virtual host via DomTool, then you need to create both a key file and a csr file. The csr file is called a "certificate signing request" (sometimes abbreviated "certificate request"), and you will want to specify that on the SSL form in the HCoop Portal. We'll also need access to your key.

Your key must be kept private. You supply the csr to any certification authorities you would like to sign your key, and later combine the certificate given by them with your private key to server a TLS site from our servers. It is highly recommended that you generate a private key specifically for use with HCoop.

To create a cerificate request in file.csr and a private key in file.key, do the following. These files should be readable only by you and the HCoop admins, so be sure to set permissions properly on the directory where you store the certificate request and key. The certificate should be placed somewhere in your home directory, like "~/certificates".

openssl req -sha256 -newkey rsa:4096 -keyout file.key -out file.csr -nodes

Here is an explanation of the parameters that you will be asked to provide. Replace yourdomain.org with your domain name.


FILE is the filename of the certificate that will be generated: it should end in ".pem". DAYS indicates the number of days that you want the certificate to be valid. It is recommended not to sign keys for longer than a year or two.

openssl req -x509 -newkey rsa:2048 -keyout FILE -out FILE -days DAYS -nodes

Having Your Certificate Signed

Having a certificate signed by a trusted CA

There are several options available. By far the largest providers are VeriSign and Thawte. Several members seem to like Gandi. You can also get a basic zero-cost certificate from StartSSL. We make no specific recommendations concerning which CA to choose: just make certain that their root CA certificates are included with the majority of web browsers.

Installing the Certificate

Now that you have a certificate, we need to install it.

Use the SSL permissions page on the portal to request installation of your new certificate. You need to provide us with either:

We will then verify the certificate and install it, providing you with a path that you can use to enable SSL using domtool.

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