Jump to: navigation, search


FreeIPAv2 Development Documentation

Please note that this content was made during FreeIPAv2 development and it may no longer be relevant for current versions of FreeIPA. We left the content here for study and archaeological purposes.

Please check our Documentation for a recent list of topics.


SSL is used in a lot of different places within IPA. This is an attempt to explain where it is used, where the certificates come from, and how everything inter-operates.

We use two different SSL libraries within IPA: NSS and OpenSSL.

The following servers are configured with SSL server certificates:

  • Apache, using the NSS database in /etc/httpd/alias
  • 389-ds, using the NSS database in /etc/dirsrv/slapd-INSTANCE
  • dogtag uses an NSS database for its LDAP server and the CA itself but we don't need visibility into those.

Certificate Authorities

There are two options for Certificate authorities in IPA: dogtag and selfsign.


dogtag gives us a full CA that can do all the things you'd expect a CA to do:

  • Issue certificates
  • Revoke certificates
  • Be an OCSP responder
  • Generate CRLs
  • and lots more that we don't necessarily use


selfsign self-signed CA using certutil to generate certificates. This CA resides in the Apache NSS database (/etc/httpd/alias). This also uses the file /var/lib/ipa/ca_serialno in an attempt to guarantee unique serial numbers.

Certificate Subjects

dogtag allows us to have great control over the subject of the certificates we issue. The profile /var/lib/pki-ca/profiles/ca/caIPAserviceCert.cfg controls how certificates are issued. This is controlled using the policyset.serverCertSet.1.default.params.name directive. It is set with the --subject argument to the IPA server installer and defaults to CN=fqdn, O=IPA. Regardless of the certificate subject requested we pull the CN out of the request and use only that.

selfsign does not allow for a configurable subject. The request must match the expected subject configured.



Apache uses the NSS database in /etc/httpd/alias. mod_nss is the SSL engine.

At a minimum you'll find 3 certificates here:

  • CA certificate: the IPA CA certificate (for selfsign the private key also resides here)
  • Server-Cert: the SSL server cert for Apache
  • Signing-Cert: the SSL object signing certificate for signing the jar file that allows the browser to be automatically configured

If using dogtag then the RA agent certificate will also reside here.


389-ds uses the NSS database in /etc/dirsrv/slapd-INSTANCE.

There should be only two certificates here:

  • CA certificate: the IPA CA certificate
  • Server-Cert: the SSL server cert for Apache

Signing Certificate

In order to modify a browser configuration using javascript the code must be signed by a signing certificate of a trusted CA. We issue an object signing certificate to sign the code in /usr/share/ipa/html/configure.jar during installation. This is signed with the nickname 'Signing-Cert' from the Apache NSS database.

Client authentication

The only client authentication done is done by the IPA XML-RPC server connecting to dogtag to do agent commands (request, revoke, etc). This uses python-nss and the RA agent certificate created during dogtag installation.

LDAP replication

LDAP replication must use SSL. Because all replicas are provided with an SSL certificate (by ipa-replica-prepare) this is straightforward.

What happens during installation?

Regardless of the CA type we install a copy of the CA into two places on disk:

  • /usr/share/ipa/html/ca.crt: so clients can download the CA
  • /etc/ipa/ca.crt: for the command-line tools and other clients

This duplication only exists on servers, on client machines the CA is only put into /etc/ipa/ca.crt.



What happens during an ipa command request?

We use Kerberos to authenticate to the web server but this authentication is done in the clear over HTTP. For LDAP we can use SASL which provides encryption as well as authentication.

The basic process is:

  • Get Kerberos credentials
  • Stick then into the Authorization header of the HTTP request we will make
  • Make an SSL connection
  • Send the request over this SSL connection

Most HTTP authentication is a two-step process. You make an HTTP request and the server responds with a 401 if it needs authentication. We know in advance that authentication is required so we always include the Authorization header.

The connection occurs in ipalib/rpc.py. The xmlrpclib ServerProxy() class takes as an argument the transport class to use. Transport is a class in xmlrpclib that makes requests using httplib. There is also a SafeTransport that makes requests over SSL but it doesn't fit our needs (it doesn't verify CAs, for one thing). Instead we override the methods in Transport() that we need to make an SSL connection.

The simple SSLSocket() class does this for us. It returns an SSLConnection object. This class does all the SSL heavy lifting. We pass it the location of the IPA CA (/etc/ipa/ca.crt) so we can validate the request.

Newer versions of httplib have dropped some classes we need, notably SSLFile and FakeSocket. We have slurped in a copy of what we need in ipapython/ipasslfile.py for those systems that don't have it.