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V4/Automatic Certificate Request Generation

Name: V4/Automatic Certificate Request Generation
Ticket: #4899
Author: benlipton
Incomplete.png Pending review
Last updated: 2016-10-3 by Benlipton


It is currently difficult to create a correct CSR to request a certificate from FreeIPA, especially when using uncommon certificate profiles. The user must coax tools such as openssl into generating a CSR that will pass validation by FreeIPA under the selected certificate profile. For profiles besides caIPAserviceCert, the user interface provides no guidance as to the correct commands or configs to be used for this task. This situation is especially disappointing considering that in many cases, nearly all of the information that should be included in the certificate is already available in LDAP (and in fact FreeIPA reads it from there during validation).

This design aims to improve this situation by automatically generating certificate field values from LDAP data where possible. In this model, the FreeIPA certificate profile will be augmented to contain a means of mapping from LDAP attributes to certificate fields. Additionally, in cases where the required data is not in LDAP we can still use the fields and constraints specified in the profile to request data from the user, validate the responses, and include the data in the correct place in the CSR.

This blog post outlines a vision for how this process could look in the long term. However, for the time being we will start with some smaller changes that should still make things easier for administrators.

Use Cases

TLS server authentication

Service (or host?) certificate used for authenticating during TLS handshake. Has the id-kp-serverAuth extended key usage enabled.

TLS client authentication

User certificate used for client authentication during a TLS handshake with mutual authentication. Has the id-kp-clientAuth extended key usage enabled.

S/MIME User Signing Certificates

User certificate with the id-kp-emailProtection extended key usage enabled. Must include an rfc822Name (email address) in the Subject Alternate Name extension.

Smart Card Authentication

This is a user certificate as well, but (as discussed here) may be intended for authentication only, not encryption, and therefore have the key and data encipherment usage types disabled. Significantly, all signing operations in this use case are performed by the smart card. Thus the user interface generating the fields in CSR will need to interact with the card to get the completed CSR with signature.

Key Escrow

A convenient web-based UI for cert generation would be to generate a keypair on the server, and then download it to the client along with the signed cert. This may even be a good practice; for encryption it is generally a good idea to maintain a copy of the private key so that data can still be retrieved if the main copy is lost. Such certs should not be used for non-repudiation, however.

Cert requiring a novel extension

An administrator has a need for user certificates containing an extension never before used in FreeIPA. They need the value of this extension to be constructed form several fields in the user object. (As a made-up example, say it should be the user's street address, city, state, and postal code fields, separated by | characters.) They should be able to add a profile for these certificates and have the new field be automatically populated when they make requests with that profile.


User certificate with added User Roles extension, OID 1.2.840.10070.8.1, for RBAC. This field is currently not understood by FreeIPA or Dogtag but is simply passed along from the CSR to the certificate. This is an example where user-provided data will be needed until additional components are written to store the User Roles data in LDAP.



  • New configuration language to specify mapping from stored data to certificate field values
  • Library to read mapping rules, get data for a principal, format it into a script that builds a CSR for a particular certificate profile
  • New UI to collect any unspecified values from user and generate CSR

Mapping data to fields

Goals: Each field in the certificate profile can be generated from the data stored by FreeIPA plus supplementary user input. However, the mapping can sometimes be nontrivial, and change in ways that are unanticipated by the FreeIPA developers. Thus, the profile must have control over:

  1. Which fields to set, how they should be encoded in the cert, and constraints on the values.
  2. Which of all the relevant object data to include in a field. For example, Subject Alternate Names can come from email addresses, LDAP object names, DNS names, and various other sources. A certificate issuer might want to include only some of the possible SAN types available for a particular principal in a particular type of cert.
  3. How object data is combined to get the field value. For example, the deployment may need the components of the Subject field to go in a specific order. Or, a profile may introduce a new certificate field that is formatted differently from those previously used; this flexibility would allow the profile to derive this field from the data without requiring code changes.

As described in the certificate profiles design, a certificate profile consists of a Dogtag profile (defining rules for verifying a CSR and transforming it into a cert) as well as some additional data stored within FreeIPA.

  • Requirement 1 is already provided by Dogtag certificate profiles, so we don't need to do much there.
  • Requirement 2 is the FreeIPA component of the profile. For each field (required field or extension) in the certificate profile, the CSR generation library will invoke a "mapping rule" that defines how to add that field using the chosen helper, plus one or more rules that define how FreeIPA object fields can be used to fill in the field value. A collection of mapping rules for all known fields and extensions will be provided with the FreeIPA client.
  • Requirement 3 means giving administrators/profile creators the ability to define their own mapping rules. This allows the CSR generation feature to handle advanced use cases that are not yet known, without requiring a code release.


The mapping rules will be specified via configuration files in JSON format. For the older design, in which mappings were stored in the IPA database, see V4/Automatic_Certificate_Request_Generation/Schema.

There are two types of configuration files meant to be accessible to users: Cert profile configurations contain a JSON array of:

  • Cert mapping rule (JSON object) with fields:
    • "syntax": name of "syntax" cert mapping rule - name of field and how values are combined
    • "data": JSON array of names of "data" cert mapping rules - defines values to include in field

Cert mapping rule configurations contain a JSON object with fields:

  • "rules": JSON array of rules with different formats for different helper utilities. Each is a JSON object with fields:
  • "options": JSON object of key-value pairs altering formatting behavior for all helpers


A profile for a user cert could have the following configuration:


        "syntax": "syntaxSubject",
        "data": [
        "syntax": "syntaxSAN",
        "data": [

Then, the definitions of a couple of these cert mapping rules (see V4/Automatic_Certificate_Request_Generation/Mapping_Rules for discussion of the template syntax):


  "rules": [
      "helper": "openssl",
      "template": "distinguished_name = {% call openssl.section() %}{{ datarules|reverse|join('\n') }}{% endcall %}"
      "helper": "certutil",
      "template": "-s {{ datarules|join(',') }}"
  "options": {
    "required": true,
    "data_source_combinator": "and"


  "rules": [
      "helper": "openssl",
      "template": "CN={{subject.uid.0}}"
      "helper": "certutil",
      "template": "CN={{subject.uid.0|quote}}"
  "options": {
    "data_source": "subject.uid.0"

Certificate data formatting

A new library will allow users to generate a script that will build a correct CSR. The parameters to the library call will be:

  • Certificate principal
  • Certificate profile
  • Target CSR generation helper

For each cert mapping rule in the chosen certificate profile, the process will look up the transformation rule matching the targeted generator. It will use the templates in these rules to format data from the principal's object in IPA into field values formatted to be accepted by that generator, and then use knowledge of the generator to construct a full command line or config file to generate the certificate.

For example, a request targeting openssl would produce a script which uses a config file like the following to generate the csr with the openssl command:

[ req ]
prompt = no
encrypt_key = no

distinguished_name = dn
req_extensions = exts

[ dn ]

[ exts ]

[ SAN ]

[ SANdn ]

The "req" section is required and defines parameters for the openssl req command. The "dn" and "exts" sections contain components of the distinguished name and x509v3 certificate extensions, respectively. Those sections can be named anything and those names are referenced by the distinguished_name and req_extensions parameters in the "req" section.

In contrast, a request targeting certutil would produce a command line like:

certutil -R -a -s "CN=user,O=DOMAIN.EXAMPLE.COM" --extSAN "email:user@example.com,dn:UID=user;CN=users;DC=example;DC=com"


There are no additional permissions required for this functionality. A principal will only be able to request data via this method that they would otherwise be able to read. If the mappings for the profile specify data to which the requesting principal does not have access, those fields will be left blank unless they have the "required" option set.

Certificate request workflows

FreeIPA command-line client

  1. User runs command to request cert with autogenerated CSR
  2. Command-line client requests principal object from server
  3. Client prompts for user input for each profile field defined as user-specified
  4. Client builds a script incorporating server and user data
  5. Client runs script, passing data to helper library or program (such as openssl or NSS)
  6. Helper generates private key and CSR
  7. Client submits CSR to server
  8. IPA server validates CSR against data in LDAP
  9. IPA server forwards CSR to Dogtag, which issues cert
  10. Cert is returned to the client
  11. Client presents private key and cert to user

FreeIPA Web UI

This flow works similarly to the command-line client, except that the web browser is not able to generate the CSR automatically (although this feature existed historically, support for it appears to be declining dramatically). So, the browser presents the config file and/or command line to the user, who runs the helper manually and enters the CSR back into the browser.


There are two workflows that could be implemented here, depending on whether we want certmonger to prompt for more information or just take everything on the command line.

Option 1 for collecting CSR data:

  1. User runs getcert command passing in alternate profile (-T flag)
  2. Getcert synchronously requests CSR data from IPA commandline
  3. IPA prompts for user input for each profile field defined as user-specified
  4. Getcert adds certmonger request including server-generated and user-specified data

Option 2 for collecting CSR data:

  1. User runs getcert command passing in alternate profile (-T flag) and any user-specified certificate fields
  2. Getcert adds certmonger request including user-specified data
  3. Certmonger asynchronously requests CSR data from IPA commandline
  4. Certmonger adds IPA-generated data to saved request

In either case, certmonger now proceeds to request certificate as in the other cases.


Mapping rules: see V4/Automatic_Certificate_Request_Generation/Mapping_Rules

Feature Management


Cert mapping rule management UI

In the initial prototype, rules will be added or modified by modifying config files and no UI is available.

Cert profile management UI

In the initial prototype, mappings for a profile will be added or modified by modifying config files and no UI is available.

Certificate request UI

The UI for issuing a new certificate should be updated according to the workflow described in the Design section. Once the principal and profile are specified, it should query the server for the CSR data and prompt the user for any missing information. It should then provide the user with the exact config file/command to run to generate the CSR to enter.


Cert mapping rule management UI

In the initial prototype, rules will be added or modified by modifying the config files on the client.

Cert profile management UI

In the initial prototype, mappings for a profile will be added or modified by modifying the config files on the client.

Certificate request UI

ipa cert-get-requestdata

This is a new method within the FreeIPA CLI that gathers the data needed to construct a certificate request, in the format appropriate for the specified helper program or library.

Request parameters:

Principal to be the subject of cert
Certificate profile to request
Output format for CSR data (e.g. "openssl" for openssl config file)

Response parameters:

Contents of config files needed to generate the request
Command lines to run to generate the request
Fields in the profile that can not be automatically filled and must be requested from the user

ipa cert-request

Automatically generate a CSR using server data
Tool to use for building CSR (e.g. openssl)
Options for specifying file/NSS database of existing or new key to use, where to write cert, key generation type and size, etc.


Profiles and mapping rules will be configured using JSON files in /usr/share/ipa/csr/{profiles,rules}, as described in Mapping data to fields.


As this feature is only part of the client, no special considerations for upgrades are necessary.

How to Use

TLS server authentication


 sudo ipa-getcert request <key/DB location opts> -K HTTP/`hostname` -N CN=`hostname`,O=EXAMPLE.COM


 ipa cert-request <key/DB location opts> --autofill --principal=HTTP/`hostname`

TLS client authentication


 sudo ipa-getcert request <key/DB location opts> -K ${USER} -N CN=${USER},O=EXAMPLE.COM -T caIPAUserCert


 ipa cert-request <key/DB location opts> --autofill --principal=${USER} --profile-id=caIPAUserCert

S/MIME User Signing Certificates


 sudo ipa-getcert request <key/DB location opts> -K ${USER} -N CN=${USER},O=EXAMPLE.COM -T caIPAUserCertSMIME


 ipa cert-request <key/DB location opts> --autofill --principal=${USER} --profile-id=caIPAUserCertSMIME

Smart Card Authentication

 $ ipa cert-get-requestdata --principal=${USER} --profile-id=caIPAUserCert --helper=openssl --out=user.conf  # Something like this, --out flag may be something else
 $ openssl
 OpenSSL> engine dynamic -pre SO_PATH:/usr/lib64/openssl/engines/engine_pkcs11.so -pre ID:pkcs11 -pre LIST_ADD:1 -pre LOAD -pre MODULE_PATH:opensc-pkcs11.so
 OpenSSL> req -engine pkcs11 -new -key <keyid> -keyform engine -out user.req -text -config user.conf
 $ ipa cert-request user.req --principal=${USER} --profile-id=caIPAUserCert

Thanks to Nathan Kinder for guidance on smart card interaction.

Key Escrow

Not directly supported by this design, but any project to add this could use the ipa cert-get-requestdata API for its CSR generation.

Cert requiring a novel extension


 sudo ipa-getcert request <key/DB location opts> -K ${USER} -N CN=${USER},O=EXAMPLE.COM -T FancyExtensionUserCert


 ipa cert-request <key/DB location opts> --autofill --principal=${USER} --profile-id=FancyExtensionUserCert



 sudo ipa-getcert request <key/DB location opts> -K ${USER} -N CN=${USER},O=EXAMPLE.COM -T IECUserRoles \
   -V IECUserRoles=<user-specified value>


 ipa cert-request <key/DB location opts> --autofill --principal=${USER} --profile-id=IECUserRoles
 <enter IECUserRoles value at prompt>

Test Plan

Certificate request API

  • Test that ipa cert-get-requestdata produces data for all included profiles.
  • Test that ipa cert-get-requestdata --helper=openssl output is accepted by openssl for all included profiles.
  • Test that ipa cert-request --autofill generates a certificate for all included profiles.
  • Test that ipa cert-get-requestdata --profile-id=IECUserRoles outputs IECUserRoles as a user-specified field
  • Test that ipa cert-request --autofill --profile-id=IECUserRoles prompts user for IECUserRoles value
  • Test that ipa cert-get-requestdata and ipa cert-request --autofill return an error on a profile with no mapping rules.

Certificate profile management API

  • Test import of profile with mapping rules
  • Test import of profile referencing nonexistent mapping rule
  • Test import of profile with malformed mapping rules
  • Test import of profile name that already exists
  • Test modification of profile with mapping rules
  • Test export of profile with mapping rules

Alternatives Considered


This was originally to be implemented as the ipa cert-get-requestdata API call, but the design was changed to a standalone library that can be used client-side. The standalone implementation will be easier for users to update, not requiring a server upgrade to pick up changes to the code. This will be useful if changes are needed to the syntax passed to the helper command, or to add new helpers. Since users will want to upgrade their helper utilities, or even use multiple versions at the same time, this flexibility may be needed.

It would seem to be most straightforward for the IPA server to submit data to Dogtag directly instead of sending it back to the client. Most of the data already comes from the server, and submitting data directly could hide some of the complexity around supporting multiple helpers. However, current Dogtag profiles only accept input in the form of a signed CSR, and the signature must happen on the client side because that is where the private key is. It is possible to create Dogtag profiles that include "profile inputs" other than CertReqInput, which is used in the existing profiles to read data from a CSR. For example, GenericInput seems to allow setting of arbitrary fields in the certificate before it gets signed. This might provide a mechanism for IPA to directly add additional data to a certificate, allowing the CSR to contain only the fields that are supposed to be user-specified. However, this requires much deeper integration with Dogtag and may not fit with the larger architectural goals for PKI in FreeIPA, so we will not pursue it for now.

Taking a different tactic, we could have Dogtag request any data that is missing from the CSR but is required by the certificate profile, either from LDAP directly or from IPA (as in the blog post mentioned earlier). However, as requests to Dogtag are currently all made with the same identity, there can be no user-specific privilege checking on the call from Dogtag back to LDAP. Thus until GSSAPI requests to Dogtag are implemented there is a risk that a misconfigured profile could expose data about a principal this way. Further, the necessary changes to Dogtag to implement this are too involved for the time allotted to the current project.

Mapping technique

An earlier concept of the mapping between IPA data and configs used for CSR generation did not include the abstraction of cert mapping rules. Instead, each cert profile would contain one or more templates describing how to construct a full configuration for different CSR generation helpers. This would be a simpler approach because it does't require a new object type for mapping rules. However, mapping rules provide a few advantages:

  • A wide variety of mapping rules can be provided with IPA, making it easier to create new profiles
  • Mapping rules can be made to support multiple CSR generation helpers, in which case profiles that use them automatically support multiple helpers as well
  • Formatting of the helper-specific config is moved from template into code, which can better handle complex formats and different output types (config file, command line)
  • Increased knowledge about the format of each field in the certificate may make it easier to autogenerate FreeIPA+Dogtag profiles from a single source.