Archive for October, 2016

Sunday, October 30th, 2016

Let’s Encrypt on Gentoo

I was always a fan of CACert but unfortunately, Gentoo recently decided to no longer trust CACert by default which caused our overlay to become unavailable for a few weeks without us noticing it (thanks for not notifying users about that unexpected move…). Gentoo thus forced us to switch to Let’s Encrypt immediately (or pay for a commercial certificate) if we wanted to keep our repository easily accessible. While we could have issued a LE certficate manually, that method is completely impractical as certificates issued by LE expire after just 90 days, while CACert’s certificates lasted 6 months or even 2 years if you passed the assurance tests.

Choosing an ACME client, aka “bot”

The implied requirement for automated renewal means you have to install a client for the so-called ACME protocol and allow it to generate a key & CSR, submit it to LE, somehow provide a domain-based verification, finally reload your server application and repeat that whole process periodically on its own. As we want to install certificates into an Apache web server but there’s no module to handle LE certificate issuance directly from within Apache yet, we have to use some tool to perform the necessary tasks for us. The first client published by LE themselves (”Certbot” or app-crypt/acme on Gentoo) had a terrible reputation as it was heavily modifying the system it was being installed on. Soon after the initial start last year, multiple alternate implementations became available, more or less system-specific and more or less disruptive in the way they hook into the system.

I wanted to avoid that. The client I would choose for our server should not manipulate any configs on its own and it shouldn’t install extra dependencies outside the regular package management provided by the system (portage on Gentoo). It should just handle certificate creation/registration and renewal, nothing else. And it should have a comprehensive documentation.

Judging from just the documentation, my personal favourites so far have been acme.sh and acmetool. While acme.sh would have had the big advantage that it requires basically no (unusual) dependencies as it’s “just a shell script”, that was also the reason why I decided against deploying it on my server. While there’s no rational reason against that script, I, as well as the friend I’m sharing the server with, had a gut instinct that didn’t allow us to trust an externally developed shell script to perform some periodic task in processing external data (i.e. interaction with LE’s ACME server). I therefore decided to try acmetool instead, which has been developed in Go.

This article thus details the installation of acmetool on Gentoo but most steps should apply to other clients as well.

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