The current method to install a replica requires a 2 phases approach where an admin physically logs into a master and generates an installation package, then transfers it to a new server and performs the replica install procedure. This method is cumbersome, require interaction (the ipa-replica-prepare command wants the Directory Manager password) and is generally hard to deal with in an automated fashion. A new method to promote a regular client to a replica and in general simplify replica installs will make a number of maintenance operations easier. A new replica promotion sequence will allow easier provisioning via an external infrastructure management system, while retaining a reasonable level of security (or increasing the security of the solution in some areas).

Use Cases#

  • Automatic provisioning and installation of replicas (automatic load balancing for example) will be simpler to drive, without direct access to the Directory Manager credentials by the provisioning system.

  • Admins will be able to stand up and then immediately promote servers to replicas without having to interactively log in as root into an existing master, a single command will be able to install a full replica.


Bootstrapping problem#

The only real issue in allowing a streamlined installation for a replica is that we need “some” trusted credentials that allow to create the chain of trust necessary to allow a “self-join” to happen. So no matter what is the technical “transport” mechanism, eventually a secret need to be landed in the replica before it can be joined to a domain. There are 2 possible approaches with different properties:

  • A privileged account (and related credentials) that is provided to the replica

  • A pre-created set of credentials for a specific replica (OTP or keytab)

The following is a pro’s and con’s tab of using a special privileged “Replica enrollment” account versus creating short term temporary credentials

Privileged Account

Preset credentials

Pre-install step

Not required


Orchestration access to master

Not required


Re-installation on failure

Always possible

Requires interaction with master to reset OTP / Keytab

Credentials handling

Long term secure storage required

Short term secure storage required

The downside of using a privileged account is that it is critical to keep these credentials locked up and disclosed exclusively to the replica image at install time. However this also means external provisioning software needs no access to the credentials (it merely needs a way to make them available which could be accomplished by a separate privileged process dedicated to this kind of operations). The use of a OTP/Keytab prepared ad hoc for the new replica may look safer. But it is not so, an OTP or a keytab that has been given the power to escalate all the way to become a replica is extremely sensitive as those credentials, if stolen, can be used to get access to all keys in the domain. The situation is completely different from a OTP client install where the consequence of stealing such credentials is a limited access to the directory and no access to any important key material. On top of this preparing an OTP requires the orchestration service to have privileged access to an IPA server.

Both methods are useful, a manual installation performed by an administrator can do all operations in one sweep, while a provisioning system might prefer to provide only credentials that are temporarily valid to an unattended system, so that provisioning failures do not risk exposing long term, privileged credentials in logs or on disks.

Bootstrapping Workflows#



Secrets sharing problem#

Regardless which bootstrapping method is chosen there are a number of secrets/keys known by an IPA server that need to be shared between all masters.

Secrets that need to be shared in a safe way:

  • Currently the Directory Manager password is shared among all servers, this proposal will try to eliminate any reason to obtain the domain clear text Directory Manager password for setting up a replica, but it is possible that some operation will require it.

  • The RA agent and other certificates, currently are copied from master to replica and again each time they are renewed they need to be shared. This design document aims at eliminating private keys sharing as much as possible, but it will still be needed in some cases.

  • Kerberos Master key (though this can be deferred, it would be really nice if we could move it out of LDAP and store it in the file system so that only the KDC/Kadmin process has access to it).

  • CA private key (for CA replicas only)

  • DNSSEC keys (already implemented ?)

A mechanism needs to be provide such that only legitimate replicas can get access to private keys and other highly sensitive secrets.

New replica install workflow#

This feature may depend on a new features, like a plugin to manage the replication topology. It requires changes in the order in which tasks are performed as part of the ipa-replica-install tool, but some changes will be conditional to the Domain Level (a Level 0 domain will still need to use prepare files for example).

Installation tools in FreeIPA are built as group of steps performed to install a subsystem instance. Each subsystem installation is usually self-contained but ordered such that each macro-step has all necessary dependencies installed in previous ones.

The new workflow aims at simplifying replica bootstrap and reducing the amount of data to be gathered upfront in a “prepare” step to a single set of credentials, either a privileged admin account or a keytab.

Once we have credentials the ipa-replica-install tool will be employed to install all parts as usual, but the installation order will be substantially changed from the current one in order to harmonize installation regardless of which type of initial credentials are provided.

A key change in the workflow will be that the CA and DNS (and in future Vault and other) components will be considered optional and pushed to the end of the installation phase. They will also not be directly integrate within the ipa-replica-install tool per-se but rather the DNS, CA, etc.. own installer will be invoked at the end of a fully successful and functional basic replica install. This will allow a failure in an optional component to be remediated separately and will not force a full reinstall of the replica.


Currently, ipa-replica-conncheck is being run at the start of the replica installation process. The goal is to verify that both replica-server and server-replica communication works for all required protocols. Without this check, ipa-replica-install may fail in unexpected ways.

ipa-replica-conncheck tests the replica-server part by simply opening ports to the remote server. To check the server-replica direction, it SSH’s as admin to the remote server and then run the checker from the server to replica. However, this does not run well with streamlining the replica installation and avoiding passing additional secrets to the installer.

The connection check should be instead transformed in an API call that will check server-replica part. Note that SELinux policy will need to be updated to allow httpd connecting to the remote FreeIPA ports [or a new service that can be instantiated via the system message bus be created]. As this is FreeIPA specific, the additional policy should be based on httpd_manage_ipa conditional.


The very first step will involve calling ipa-client-install (unless we are promoting an already installed client). The final step of the client install procedure will be to rotate the host keytab if the install credentials were keytab based.

Directory Server initialization#

The first step of the new replica install procedure will involve installing the Directory Server, however given the Kerberos infrastructure is already available, and a host keytab is available, the Directory Server install does not depend on having LDAPS available. Instead the new topology work will be leveraged to join the 389 server directly using GSSAPI for setting up replication agreements. This will avoid replication agreements conversions later on. The new Directory Server instance installation procedure will perform the following steps:

  • Retrieve ldap/fqdn keytab and drop it in /etc/dirsrv/ds.keytab

    Will be used to setup replication agreements

  • Generate random Directory Manager password

    Will be used to perform local installation steps that may still require a Directory Manager password. The random Directory Manager password will be discarded when the installation is over.

  • Stand up the Directory Server Instance using the new replication topology facilities

  • Make sure that the replication agreements are set up by the Topology plugin and initialize the tree from remote server

    • When assigning a replica ID to the replica, make sure that the change is done as add&delete LDAP update and not LDAP replace to make sure that there is not a race when multiple replicas are being installed (#4378). When the update fails, script may retry for defined number of times (e.g. 10). This does not cover the case when replicas are being installed against different masters, this situation does not need to be solved in this RFE.

  • Finally use Kerberos credentials to request a X509 cert and configure Directory Server to also provide TLS support

Kerberos KDC initialization#

The current KDC instance setup will be simplified, mostly removing code that retrieves the LDAP and host keys, which we already have at this point.

Other core components initialization#

Most other core components like, the HTTP framework, memcache service, NTP server, will need no or minor changes. For example:

  • The HTTP instance will copy the preference.html file from another master by simply fetching it via HTTPS, the configure.jar file will also be copied or regenerated the same way. Note: configure.jar and preferences.html are used for configuration of Kerberos of ancient Firefox versions (<10). It could be safely removed. Manual configuration steps are provided.

  • The default.conf installed by ipa-client-install will need to be updated to also contain the server settings.

  • The necessary DNS records (SRV, TXT, NS) will have to be added during this phase too, as there is no “prepare phase” in which to add them anymore. Note that forward (A, AAAA) DNS records are expected to be created during ipa-client-install phase.

  • The CA server and ports will need to be detected via checking in LDAP and probing and stored in this phase as well.

Key sharing component initialization#

The last step of the main replica installation phase will involve installing a new internal service that handles the management and transfer of core key material. Fundamental installation steps for this component:

  • generate public/private key-pair for the replica (to be stored in HSM/SoftHSM)

  • store the public key in LDAP so that all master have access to it.

  • request any necessary secrets using own key

For example we may want to request a hash of the Directory Manager password so that all servers have the same password for admins convenience.

DNS Installation#

If required the normal ipa-dns-install script is executed

  • changes to this script are TBD

CA installation#

The CA installation procedure will be changed to require less secrets be shared between clones and also avoid the need for obtaining the Directory Manager password.

No clear text DM password for the install#

In order to set up the necessary schema and options in the replica cn=config database the CA install scripts need access as the Directory Manager. Most of this process is not done as the root user but rather as the pkiuser after the tomcat VM has been bootstrapped. Options to avoid obtaining the real Directory Manager password for the Directory Server instillation step:

  • Enhance Directory Server to be able to map no-root users to the Directory Manager, in order to use LDAPI from the pkiuser

  • Allow multiple Directory Manager password and generate a new random one

  • Save the real password hash and temporarily replace with a new random one

  • Externalize configuration servlet into a standalone tool that can be run as root (LDAPI)

Temporarily replacing the Directory Manager password with a random one at CA install time is a bit hackish, but can be done todaywithout any changes to Directory Server or CS.

Multiple Admin users#

The ipa install scripts will create a new CS Admin (Security Domain User) user for each CA replica, will assign this user a random password and add the user to the CS Admins group. This will avoid the current practice of assigning the Directory Manager password as the Admin user password and having to share it with the clone in order for the clone to obtain an installation token. In future we may need to store the admin user password into the key service process, but for now we can simply destroy the password at the end of the install procedure as the admin user is not used for now. (It may be needed in future to allow the creation of subCAs, but we can generate a new secret on updates if needed).

Certificates and public key wrapping#

Given secrets will be transferred via the privileged key service, there will be no need to use the Directory Manager password to wrap the p12 file containing the CA and other certs.

CA Certificates#

Currently most of the internal certificates (and their keys) used by the CA are copied to replicas. This is not strictly necessary and from an auditing/security point of view it may even be desirable to avoid. Keeping keys private to replicas also makes it much easier to renew expiring certificates and avoid the need to transfer certificates around every time one is renewed, each replica is responsible for its own on its own schedule.

The following certificates will be generated on each replica:

  • Subsystem certificate: this certificate is used for internal CA communications and there can be one per replica

  • Audit certificate: the audit certificate is used to sign the audit log, having a certificate per replica will insure the auditors can verify which replica generated each auditable event, improving the auditability of the CA.

  • Server certificate: this is already per server today, no changes

  • RA Agent Certificate: A new agent user will be created on each replica, added to the RAs group, and a new certificate per replica will be created

  • OCSP certificate: some more research needs to be done, but it appears that multiple OCSP certificates can coexist. This certificate is optional (necessary only when the CRL/OCSP role is transferred) so this cert will be generated only when needed and not copied over from the initial CA

Certificates/keys that still need to be transferred to replicas:

  • CA signing key: in order to be the same CA all replicas need a copy of the CA key

  • KRA certificates: The storage certificate must be shared between KRA/Vault servers so that all servers can encrypt/decrypt the storage. The transport key certificate could be generate per replica but that would make clients more complex as they would need to know which one to use for each replica making load-balancing and fallback clients much harder.

Sharing Secrets Securely#


  • All secrets must be encrypted so that only the target replica can get access to them. The most straightforward way to achieve that is to use public key crypto and a replica’s public key to wrap a package containing secrets to be shared.

  • Replicas must be able to get a secret on demand.


  • A replica is promoted to be a DNS server (needs access to the master DNSKEY for the first time)

  • A replica is promoted to be a CA server (needs access to CA private key)

  • A replica is promoted to be a Vault server (needs KRA storage and transport keys)

Secrets Sharing Service (Custodia)#

A Custodia service is needed to handle encryption/decryption and delivery on both the sending side and the receiving side; this service is the only component that have access to the replica’s own private keys/secrets. (this might also be based on softHSM work already done).

An authenticated communication mechanism between a remote replica and the Custodia service is required. There are two options:

  • A request using a specific principal using a GSSAPI channel

  • A request package, signed by the remote replica private key [this may be preferable given everything else in the mechanism also uses public-key crypto]

A good solution is to actually use both:

  • one to secure/authenticate the transport layer between servers

  • the other to secure and add an additional authorization level to the exchange

Transport mechanisms#


  • authentication and access control

  • do not expose the Custodia service directly to the network



The API is exposed via mod_proxy which takes care of Negotiate authentication for additional access control and forwards requests to a local Custodia process listening on a Unix Socket.


The Custodia daemon will listen for HTTP requests on a local Unix Socket. Requests will be partially authenticated by the frontend mod_proxy process, and all communication will depend on additional signature verification on each request. The verification will be done via public key published in IPA’s LDAP server and retrieved based on the Kerberos Principal used to authenticate to the apache server.

Exchange Flow#

  1. Requesting replica prepares a request package and signs it with the private key. The package is a JOSE object, signed by the client and encrypted to the server’s public key. The payload is a JWT Claims Set with the following claims

    • A timestamp to prevent replay attacks (“exp” claim)

    • The name of the key being requested (“sub” claim)

  2. Authenticate to other master using host keytab and send package. The key being sought determines the request path (see #Handlers (reading and writing keys) for details).

  3. The receiver checks credentials and passes the package to the privileged key service

    • The credentials must be of a principal in the master’s group

  4. The privileged key service gathers the requested data and creates a reply package The package is a JOSE object that includes:

    • A timestamp

    • The requested key material

  5. The package is encrypted with the replica public key and sent back

  6. The replica decrypts and verifies the package and store the keys in the local (soft)HSM or where appropriate, based on the secret type.



LDAP DIT Layout#

Two objects for each for each IPA Server: one signing key, and one encryption key.

dn: cn={sig,enc}/{fqdn},cn=custodia,cn=ipa,cn=etc,dc=ipa,dc=local
objectClass: nsContainer
objectClass: ipaKeyPolicy
objectClass: ipaPublicKeyObject
objectClass: groupOfPrincipals
objectClass: top
cn: {sig,enc}/rhel76-1.ipa.local
ipaKeyUsage: {digitalSignature,dataEncipherment}
memberPrincipal: host/{fqdn}@{realm}
ipaPublicKey:: <DER encoded SubjectPublicKeyInfo>

Handlers (reading and writing keys)#

In the original implementation the ipa-custodia server and Custodia client code ran as root and was not properly confined by SELinux (see Ticket 6888). As of FreeIPA 4.8.0, server and client key database handlers are run as separate processes, as a non-root user where possible, and the DAC_OVERRIDE capability is no longer required for either the main process or the handler processes.

Request path (/ipa/keys/…)

Handler (/usr/lib/ip a/custodia/…)


Run as


ipa- custodia-dmldap

Directory Manager password



ipa-cust odia-pki-tomcat

CA, OCSP, subsystem, audit and KRA keys


ca_wrappe d/{nickname}* [/{alg-oid}]*

i pa-custodia-pki -tomcat-wrapped

Lightweight CA (sub-CA) key replication



ipa-cu stodia-ra-agent

IPA RA agent key


The optional {alg-oid} parameter for Lightweight CA signing keys requests the specified encryption algorithm be used. This was implemented as part of Ticket 8020 - Support AES in Lightweight CA key replication. This “parameters as additional path components” facility is available to all handlers, but only ca_wrapped uses it (as of September 2019).


To make sure that upgraded replicas can be used as the source servers for spawning replicas, all necessary infrastructure will need to be prepared during the upgrade phase, including replica private/public key generation.

Backward Compatibility#

Backport candidates for better compatibility with older FreeIPA or Directory Server versions:

Feature Management#

There are no new UI or CLI features associated with replica promotion or management of Custodia keys or secrets. The replica installation user experience is simplified compared to the old procedure (i.e. ipa-replica-prepare is not needed, nor is the replica-file option).

How to Test#


Two machines that will become IPA masters.


1. Install a first IPA server - or - upgrade an existing one to the bits including this feature and raise the domain level to 1.

For better coverage install the DNS server and KRA servers too.

2. Join the future replica as an ipa client with the normal ipa-client-install command

2.b(optional) kinit as admin and check everything works fine

3. Run ipa-replica-install for better coverage feel free to pass in –setup-dns –setup-ca –setup-kra or any combination of these flags.

3.b(optional) kinit as a user, check the logs to verify it was authenticated by the KDC running on the replica.

3.c(optional) turn off the initial master and verify every major subsystem (KDC, DNS, CA, KRA) keeps working as expected.

Test Plan#

Test plan is here