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Let's encrypt: automated renewal procedure

Today I learned how to use Let’s encrypt certificate program to automatically and periodically renew HTTPS/SSL certificates at @Galeoconsultig. I hear you loudly wondering “Why?”. The reason is the Let’s encrypt initiative provides you free of charge certificates with limited lifespan. At the moment of writing the certificates are valid for 3 months. Manual update procedure is slow and painfull; hence the automation and this post.

Given the length, here’s a helpful table of contents.


I would recommend to take a look into Let’s encrypt docker image; however in this particular case it’s 32bit box, so no Docker support at this moment.

Proceed with Let’s encrypt official client installation procedure.

Prepare Webserver (nginx) for the acme challenge

Part of Let’s encrypt automatic renewal process is Automatic Certificate Management Environment or ACME challenge.

In course of our work we don’t want to restart web-server just to be able to serve ACME challenge; so we will use webroot method to serve particular well-known verification locations from webserver directory.

When succeed - we will gracefully reload the server configuration with updated SSL certificates.

server {
  listen      80;     server_name imaginary-domain;

  location /.well-known/acme-challenge {
    root /var/www/letsencrypt/;

  location / {
    return 301;

  access_log /var/log/nginx/imaginary-domain_access.log combined buffer=32k flush=5m;
  error_log /var/log/nginx/imaginary-domain_error.log warn;

What’s happened? What did you do?

We instructed HTTP:80 website (which we use to perform HTTP 301 Permanent redirect to HTTPS/SSL version) to treat a special and “well-known” /.well-known/acme-challenge location specially and to serve static content from Let’s encrypt managed webroot directory /var/www/letsencrypt/.

Create automatic renewal script

File: /var/lib/letsencrypt/


set -e
set -u
set -o pipefail

/var/lib/letsencrypt/letsencrypt/letsencrypt-auto \
  --text \
  --agree-tos \
  --renew-by-default \
  --webroot  \
  --webroot-path /var/www/letsencrypt/ \
  -m '' \
  certonly -d "${1}"

What does it do?

  • --text specifies we want the script to interact to us using text interface (not ncurses dialogs).
  • --agree-tos we agree to Let’s Encrypt Subscriber Agreement. Please find the actual version at
  • --renew-by-default forces SSL cert renewal even if not expired.
  • --webroot specifies we will use the Apache/Nginx webroot to host and serve Let’s encrypt generated challenge.
  • --webroot-path path for client to put generated challenge file to.
  • -m <<email>> DNS administrator email.
  • certonly specifies we only need the client to get the certificates; we will do the rest.
  • -d <domain> -d <another-domain> domains to generate SSL certificates for.

Let’s call it once, so we get our seed SSL certificates.

I would do it here and paste the result; unfortunately I reached the maximum renewal quota (5 in 7 days or 7 in 5; something between those lines. Basically I just got Error creating new cert :: Too many certificates already issued for: error.

So, please try on your own and report your findings / misconfigurations if you do happen to stumble on something.

Ok. It was easy.

Let’s encrypt it then (Pun intended)

server {
  listen      443 ssl;
  server_name imaginary-domain;

   ssl on;
   ssl_certificate /etc/letsencrypt/live/;
   ssl_certificate_key /etc/letsencrypt/live/;
   ssl_session_timeout 5m;
   ssl_protocols TLSv1 TLSv1.1 TLSv1.2;

  ## I have that configured globally
  # ssl_session_cache shared:SSL:50m;
  # ssl_dhparam /etc/nginx/certs/imaginary-domain.galeoconsulting.com_ssl_dhparam.pem;
  ssl_prefer_server_ciphers on;

Let’s put it all together

The easiest way to perform the auto-renewal is to put it in cronjob (which also will notify us with email if something went wrong)

7    2 _ _   root    cd /tmp/ && /var/lib/letsencrypt/ && service nginx reload

Try it. Enjoy it. Vuala.

NB. If you've found typos or errors, please suggest a correction or edit on github.
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