Renewing Let's Encrypt Certificates with NGINX Unit

Recently, I moved the DjangoTricks website and started PyBazaar on servers with Nginx Unit. One thing that was left undone was SSL certificate renewals. Let's Encrypt has special certbot parameters for renewing certificates for websites on Apache or Nginx servers, but they don't work out of the box with the Nginx Unit. In this blog post, I will tell you how to do that.

The certificate bundle

Nginx Unit doesn't use the fullchain.pem and privkey.pem generated by certbot directly from the location where they were generated. Instead, one has to create a bundle (like bundle1.pem) by concatenating them and then uploading it to the Nginx Unit configuration endpoint.

The bash script

For that, I created a bash script:

#!/usr/bin/env bash

echo "=== Renewing Letsencrypt Certificate ===" > ${CRON_LOG_FILE}
date >> ${CRON_LOG_FILE}

echo "Renewing certificate..." >> ${CRON_LOG_FILE}
certbot --renew-by-default certonly -n --webroot -w /var/www/letsencrypt/ -m hello@pybazaar.com --agree-tos --no-verify-ssl -d pybazaar.com -d www.pybazaar.com

echo "Creating bundle..." >> ${CRON_LOG_FILE}
cat /etc/letsencrypt/live/pybazaar.com/fullchain.pem /etc/letsencrypt/live/pybazaar.com/privkey.pem > /var/webapps/pybazaar/unit-config/bundle1.pem

echo "Temporarily switching the Unit configuration to a dummy one..." >> ${CRON_LOG_FILE}
curl -X PUT --data-binary @/var/webapps/pybazaar/unit-config/unit-config-pre.json --unix-socket /var/run/control.unit.sock http://localhost/config

echo "Deleting old certificate from Nginx Unit..." >> ${CRON_LOG_FILE}
curl -X DELETE --unix-socket /var/run/control.unit.sock http://localhost/certificates/certbot1

echo "Installing new certificate to Nginx Unit..." >> ${CRON_LOG_FILE}
curl -X PUT --data-binary @/var/webapps/pybazaar/unit-config/bundle1.pem --unix-socket /var/run/control.unit.sock http://localhost/certificates/certbot1

echo "Switching the Unit configuration to the correct one..." >> ${CRON_LOG_FILE}
curl -X PUT --data-binary @/var/webapps/pybazaar/unit-config/unit-config.json --unix-socket /var/run/control.unit.sock http://localhost/config

echo "Finished." >> ${CRON_LOG_FILE}
echo "$(($duration / 60)) minutes and $(($duration % 60)) seconds elapsed." >> ${CRON_LOG_FILE}

Once you have adapted the script, you can run it manually as a root user to test it:

$ chmod +x renew_certificate.sh
$ ./renew_certificate.sh

Note that the certbot command will try to validate your website's URL by attempting to reach a temporary file that it will create on http://example.com/.well-known/acme-challenge/, so make sure that this location is accessible and serving the static files.

For more details about the Nginx Unit, check my previous blog post.

The cron job

If everything works as expected, you can add it to the root user's cron jobs to be executed weekly.

Export the current root cron jobs to a crontab.txt:

$ crontab -l > crontab.txt

Then edit it and add the weekly script to update the SSL certificate:

@weekly /var/webapps/pybazaar/unit-config/renew_certificate.sh

Then run the following as the root user to apply it:

$ crontab crontab.txt

The good thing about not editing the cron job with crontab -e is that you can choose the editor and even put the crontab.txt under Git version control.

Happy web development with WSGI or ASGI!

Cover picture by Gotta Be Worth It

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