Automate Let's Encrypt Certificates on BIG-IP

To quote the evil emperor Zurg: "We meet again, for the last time!" It's hard to believe it's been six years since my first rodeo with Let's Encrypt and BIG-IP, but (uncompromised) timestamps don't lie. And maybe this won't be my last look at Let's Encrypt, but it will likely be the last time I do so as a standalone effort, which I'll come back to at the end of this article. The first project was a compilation of shell scripts and python scripts and config files and well, this is no different. But it's all updated to meet the acme protocol version requirements for Let's Encrypt. Here's a quick table to connect all the dots:

Description What's Out What's In
acme client dehydrated
python library f5-common-python bigrest
BIG-IP functionality creating the SSL profile utilizing an iRule for the HTTP challenge

The f5-common-python library has not been maintained or enhanced for at least a year now, and I have an affinity for the good work Leo did with bigrest and I enjoy using it. I opted not to carry the SSL profile configuration forward because that functionality is more app-specific than the certificates themselves. And finally, whereas my initial project used the DNS challenge with the API, in this proof of concept I chose to use an iRule on the BIG-IP to serve the challenge for Let's Encrypt to perform validation against.

Whereas my solution is new, the way Let's Encrypt works has not changed, so I've carried forward the process from my previous article that I've now archived. I'll defer to their how it works page for details, but basically the steps are:

  1. Define a list of domains you want to secure
  2. Your client reaches out to the Let’s Encrypt servers to initiate a challenge for those domains.
  3. The servers will issue an http or dns challenge based on your request
  4. You need to place a file on your web server or a txt record in the dns zone file with that challenge information
  5. The servers will validate your challenge information and notify you
  6. You will clean up your challenge files or txt records
  7. The servers will issue the certificate and certificate chain to you
  8. You now have the key, cert, and chain, and can deploy to your web servers or in our case, to the BIG-IP

Before kicking off a validation and generation event, the client registers your account based on your settings in the config file. The files in this project are as follows:


/etc/dehydrated/config # Dehydrated configuration file
/etc/dehydrated/domains.txt # Domains to sign and generate certs for
/etc/dehydrated/dehydrated # acme client
/etc/dehydrated/challenge.irule # iRule configured and deployed to BIG-IP by the hook script
/etc/dehydrated/ # Python script called by dehydrated for special steps in the cert generation process
# Environment Variables
export F5_HOST=x.x.x.x
export F5_USER=admin
export F5_PASS=admin


You add your domains to the domains.txt file (more work likely if signing a lot of domains, I tested the one I have access to). The dehydrated client, of course is required, and then the hook script that dehydrated interacts with to deploy challenges and certificates. I aptly named that For my hook, I'm deploying a challenge iRule to be applied only during the challenge; it is modified each time specific to the challenge supplied from the Let's Encrypt service and is cleaned up after the challenge is tested. And finally, there are a few environment variables I set so the information is not in text files. You could also move these into a credential vault. So to recap, you first register your client, then you can kick off a challenge to generate and deploy certificates. On the client side, it looks like this:


./dehydrated --register --accept-terms
./dehydrated -c


Now, for testing, make sure you use the Let's Encrypt staging service instead of production. And since I want to force action every request while testing, I run the second command a little differently:


./dehydrated -c --force --force-validation


Depicted graphically, here are the moving parts for the http challenge issued by Let's Encrypt at the request of the dehydrated client, deployed to the F5 BIG-IP, and validated by the Let's Encrypt servers. The Let's Encrypt servers then generate and return certs to the dehydrated client, which then, via the hook script, deploys the certs and keys to the F5 BIG-IP to complete the process.

 And here's the output of the dehydrated client and hook script in action from the CLI:


# ./dehydrated -c --force --force-validation
# INFO: Using main config file /etc/dehydrated/config
 + Checking expire date of existing cert...
 + Valid till Jun 20 02:03:26 2022 GMT (Longer than 30 days). Ignoring because renew was forced!
 + Signing domains...
 + Generating private key...
 + Generating signing request...
 + Requesting new certificate order from CA...
 + Received 1 authorizations URLs from the CA
 + Handling authorization for
 + A valid authorization has been found but will be ignored
 + 1 pending challenge(s)
 + Deploying challenge tokens...
 + (hook) Deploying Challenge
 + (hook) Challenge rule added to virtual.
 + Responding to challenge for authorization...
 + Challenge is valid!
 + Cleaning challenge tokens...
 + (hook) Cleaning Challenge
 + (hook) Challenge rule removed from virtual.
 + Requesting certificate...
 + Checking certificate...
 + Done!
 + Creating fullchain.pem...
 + (hook) Deploying Certs
 + (hook) Existing Cert/Key updated in transaction.
 + Done!


This results in a deployed certificate/key pair on the F5 BIG-IP, and is modified in a transaction for future updates.

This proof of concept is on github in the f5devcentral org if you'd like to take a look. Before closing, however, I'd like to mention a couple things:

  1. This is an update to an existing solution from years ago. It works, but probably isn't the best way to automate today if you're just getting started and have already started pursuing a more modern approach to automation.
  2. A better path would be something like Ansible. On that note, there are several solutions you can take a look at, posted below in resources.




Updated Mar 31, 2022
Version 2.0

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