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V4/RFC 2818 certificate compliance

Work in progress
This design is not complete yet.

Name: V4/RFC 2818 certificate compliance
Tickets: #4970 , #5706
Author: Ftweedal
Incomplete.png Pending review
Last updated: 2016-08-16 by Pspacek


RFC 2818 - HTTP Over TLS deprecates the practice of carrying the subject hostname in the Subject DN Common Name (CN) field. Pursuant to RFC 2818 some TLS libraries now issue warnings when they encounter certificates that do not have the DNS name at which the service was accessed in the subjectAltName (SAN) extension. FreeIPA currently does not take measures to ensure that host or service certificates it issues are compliant with RFC 2818. This design proposes a measure to, where appropriate, copy the contents of the CN into the subjectAltName extension as a dNSName, resulting in an RFC 2818-compliant certificate.

RFC 6125 - Best Practices for Checking of Server Identities in the Context of Transport Layer Security (TLS) further clarifies that certificates SHOULD include a DNS-ID and that CAs SHOULD NOT issue certificates with a CN-ID unless another specification explicitly requires or encourages it. RFC 6125 has greater scope than this design, all work for this design should comply with RFC 6125.

RFC 5280 defines the maximum length of the CN to be 64 characters (the maximum size in bytes depends on the string encoding used). It is now common to encounter DNS names longer than 64 characters, particularly in cloud infrastructure (see ticket #4415 for an example of an issue caused by hostnames exceeding this limit). To support service and host certificates where the hostname is longer than 64 characters, FreeIPA must support carrying the subject information in the subjectAltName extension only (the subjectAltName extension must be marked critical in this scenario).

Use Cases

Per the overview, the goal of this design is to avoid deprecated ways of providing subject naming information in a certificate (which some TLS libraries are now warning about) and to support subject DNS names longer than 64 characters.


Copying CN to SAN dNSName

This measure involves the creation of a new Dogtag profile component that, on profiles that enable it, performs the following steps:

  1. Retrieve the Subject Common Name from the certificate data.
  2. Retrieve the subjectAltName extension from the certificate data, or create an empty subjectAltName extension if it does not exist.
  3. Search the subjectAltName extension for a dNSName value that matches the Common Name. If not found, add the Common Name to the subjectAltName extension as a dNSName.

The component shall be called SubjectAltNameCopyCNDefault. Its instantiation shall be called subjectAltNameCopyCNDefaultImpl. The caIPAserviceCert profile shall be updated to use this profile component.


The profile component that performs these steps must execute after other profile components that add or modify the Common Name and subjectAltName extension. It is preferable that this condition be encoded as part of the definition of the component itself, such that Dogtag can enforce it. However, if this is not possible, it would be required that the profile configuration introduce the component after the other components which must run first; any such requirement must be clearly documented.

SAN-only certificate support

Let's first clarify the requirement for SAN-only certificates:

  1. A DNS name longer than 64 characters cannot be carried in the CN but can (and therefore must) be carried as a dNSName value in the subjectAltName extension.
  2. In the absense of other distinguishing data in the Subject DN, the entire Subject DN must be the empty sequence, because RFC 5280 states:

    Where it is non-empty, the subject field MUST contain an X.500 distinguished name (DN). The DN MUST be unique for each subject entity certified by the one CA as defined by the issuer field.

  3. If the Subject DN is empty, the subjectAltName extension must be marked critical.

The existing subject name profile policy component, SubjectNameDefault, does not offer enough flexibility to handle either the presence or absense of a Subject DN field (e.g. CN). For example, the caIPAserviceCert profile configuration:

policyset.serverCertSet.1.default.name=Subject Name Default

shows that:

  • The "substituted" Subject DN will be invalid if there is no CN in the CSR. (The "CN=" key is an immutable part of the template string), and;
  • There is no mechanism that provides for "optional" fields in the Subject DN. (A separate profile would be needed).

SubjectNameFieldsDefault profile policy component

It is clear that a new Subject Name profile policy component is needed to handle the case of possibly-absent Subject DN fields. This component would need to support configuration that allows a profile to define:

  • Which Subject DN fields, if any, are optional (if any)
  • Which Subject DN fields, if absent, cause the final Subject DN to be the empty sequence (i.e. fields that distinguish the subject).

With these requirements in mind, a configuration suitable to replace the above configuration would be:

policyset.serverCertSet.1.default.name=Subject Name Fields Default

Breaking this configuration down:

  • A template is provided for each field (cn, o, etc.) that may be included in the final Subject DN. The existing template substitution mechanism is used to format the value for each field.
  • The excludeIfEmpty parameter is a (possibly empty) comma-separated list of fields that shall be omitted from the final Subject DN if their values (after substitution) are empty. It is an error if a field that is not included in the list is empty (after substitution). This parameter is optional and defaults to the empty list.
  • The emptySubjectIfFieldEmpty parameter is a (possibly empty) comma-separated list of fields that if empty (after substitution) cause the final Subject DN to be the empty list. This parameter is optional and defaults to the empty list.
  • The order parameter is a comma-separated list defining the order (from "most specific" to "least specific") of the RDNs in the final Subject DN. This parameter is required. Each listed field must have a corresponding template in the configuration.

The profile policy component shall be called SubjectNameFieldsDefault. Its instantiation shall be called subjectNameFieldsDefaultImpl. The caIPAserviceCert profile shall be updated to use this component instead of SubjectNameDefault.

Marking the SAN extension as critical

The SAN extension must be marked critical when subject naming information is present only the subjectAltName extension.

TODO need to define mechanism to achieve this. It would definitely be possible with another profile component to run at the end, but a less intrusive mechanism would be better.

ipa cert-request changes

The ipa cert-request command must be updated to handle CSRs where no subject information is carried in CSR Subject DN (CN field in particular). This will be achieved with the following changes.

  • Initialise an empty DNS names list.
  • The existing "CN matches principal name" check is deferred for certificate requests where the target principal is a host or service. (The check is retained for user principals).
  • For hosts and services, the CN, if present, is appended to the list of DNS names.
  • For each dNSName in the subjectAltName extension, ensure that the name corresponds to a principal that is managed by the target principal, then append the name to the list of DNS names.
  • For hosts and services, after processing of the SAN extension is complete, ensure that one name in the DNS names list matches the target principal. This is to prevent issuance of a certificate that omits the target principal.

Wildcard certificates

FreeIPA currently does not support wildcard certificates, although ticket #3475 is an RFE to support them. It should also be noted that RFC 6125 essentially deprecates the issuance of wildcard certificates, but several established use cases still require them.

Regarding this design, no special handling of names containing wildcards is required. Enforcement of restrictions on where wildcards may appear in names is assumed. The SubjectAltNameCopyCNDefault component, if used, will copy a CN whether or not it contains a wildcard. Wildcards are also allowed in SAN dNSNames, so there is no bearing on SAN-only certificates.


Feature Management

No UI or CLI is required to manage these features.

The certutil instructions "New certificate for Host/Service" dialog in the Web UI should be updated to indicate how to add a DNS names to the subjectAltName request extension, e.g.:

# certutil -R -d <database path> -a -g <key size>
  -s 'CN=f23-2.ipa.local,O=IPA.LOCAL' -8 'f23-2.ipa.local'

The new Dogtag profile policy components must be documented so that administrators can understand their purpose and how to use them in custom profiles.


Each CA clone has the file /etc/pki/pki-tomcat/ca/registry.cfg, which defines the name and class of each profile policy component to instantiate. This file must be updated to instantiate the new profile policy components. This should be done as part of Dogtag's upgrade procedure.

The caIPAserviceCert profile configuration must be updated to use the new profile policy components. Because FreeIPA now owns its profiles, this shall be done as part of the FreeIPA upgrade procedure.

How to Test

Test Plan

RFC 2818 certificate compliance V4.4 test plan