Cert-Manager

Cert-Manager is a very popular open source certificate management tool, specifically designed to work with Kubernetes. It can handle all the required operations for obtaining, renewing and using SSL/TLS certificates. Cert-Manager is able to talk with various certificate authorities (or CAs), like: Let’s Encrypt, HashiCorp Vault, and Venafi, and issue valid certificates for you automatically. On top of that, it can also take care of automatic certificate renewal before expiration.

Why do you need SSL/TLS certificates ?

First, and the most important aspect is verifying the identity of a host or site. You need to make sure that the person or company holding a website is to be trusted. This is a very important aspect, because you do not want to give your personal data (or even credit card details) to anyone.

Second important aspect deals with sensitive data which must be encrypted. The communication channel should never use a simple HTTP scheme, which is basically a plain-text protocol under the hood. In other words, data must travel encrypted between the two parties (meaning you, and the website).

Where does all this fit?

Cert-Manager goes hand in hand with your Ingress Controller resource. An Ingress Controller is the main entrypoint of your Kubernetes cluster, and sits in front of your backend services. So, by securing your ingress resources (e.g. Nginx), sensitive data never goes in or out un-encrypted. On top of that, you provide identity information to users, by presenting them a valid SSL/TLS certificate whenever they visit your website(s). Self-signed certificates are not to be trusted, and should never be used in production systems.

Please make sure to visit the Cert-Manager official documentation page to study more.

Note:

DigitalOcean is using Helm v3 to deploy Cert-Manager to your DOKS cluster.

Software Included

Package Version License
cert-manager 1.13.3 Apache 2.0

Creating an App using the Control Panel

Click the Deploy to DigitalOcean button to install a Kubernetes 1-Click Application. If you aren’t logged in, this link will prompt you to log in with your DigitalOcean account.

Deploy to DO

Creating an App using the API

In addition to creating Cert-Manager using the control panel, you can also use the DigitalOcean API. As an example, to create a 3 node DigitalOcean Kubernetes cluster made up of Basic Droplets in the SFO2 region, you can use the following doctl command. You need to authenticate with doctl with your API access token) and replace the $CLUSTER_NAME variable with the chosen name for your cluster in the command below.

doctl kubernetes clusters create --size s-4vcpu-8gb $CLUSTER_NAME --1-clicks cert-manager

Getting Started After Deploying Cert-Manager

How to Connect to Your Cluster

Follow these instructions to connect to your cluster with kubectl and doctl. Additional instructions for connecting to your cluster are included in the DigitalOcean Control Panel.

How to confirm that Cert-Manager is running

First, check if the Helm installation was successful, by running below command:

helm ls -n cert-manager

The output looks similar to (the STATUS column value should be deployed):

NAME            NAMESPACE       REVISION        UPDATED                                 STATUS          CHART                   APP VERSION
cert-manager    cert-manager    1               2022-02-21 18:49:08.264191 +0200 EET    deployed        cert-manager-v1.13.3     v1.13.3

Next, verify if the Cert-Manager Pods are up and running:

kubectl get pods -n cert-manager

The output looks similar to (all Pods should be in a READY state, and STATUS should be Running):

NAME                                       READY   STATUS    RESTARTS   AGE
cert-manager-57d89b9548-94r5z              1/1     Running   0          3m24s
cert-manager-cainjector-5bcf77b697-hkv2k   1/1     Running   0          3m24s
cert-manager-webhook-9cb88bd6d-mxhgh       1/1     Running   0          3m24s

Tweaking Helm Chart Values

The cert-manager stack provides some custom values to start with. Please have a look at the values file from the main GitHub repository (explanations are provided inside, where necessary).

You can always inspect all the available options, as well as the default values for the cert-manager Helm chart by running below command:

helm show values jetstack/cert-manager --version 1.13.3

After tweaking the Helm values file (values.yml) according to your needs, you can always apply the changes via helm upgrade command, as shown below:

helm upgrade cert-manager jetstack/cert-manager --version 1.13.3 \
  --namespace cert-manager \
  --values values.yml

Configuring TLS Certificates via Cert-Manager

Cert-Manager expects some typical CRDs to be created in order to operate. You start by creating a certificate Issuer CRD. Next, the Issuer CRD will try to fetch a valid TLS certificate for your Ingress Controller (e.g. Nginx) from a known authority, such as Let’s Encrypt. To accomplish this task, the Issuer is using the HTTP-01 challenge (it also knows how to perform DNS-01 challenges as well, for wildcard certificates).

Next, a Certificate CRD is needed to store the actual certificate. The Certificate CRD doesn’t work alone, and needs a reference to an Issuer CRD to be able to fetch the real certificate from the CA (Certificate Authority).

Typical Issuer manifest looks like below (explanations for each relevant field is provided inline):

apiVersion: cert-manager.io/v1
kind: Issuer
metadata:
  name: letsencrypt-nginx
  namespace: backend
spec:
  # ACME issuer configuration
  # `email` - the email address to be associated with the ACME account (make sure it's a valid one)
  # `server` - the URL used to access the ACME server’s directory endpoint
  # `privateKeySecretRef` - Kubernetes Secret to store the automatically generated ACME account private key
  acme:
    email: <YOUR_VALID_EMAIL_ADDRESS_HERE>
    server: https://acme-v02.api.letsencrypt.org/directory
    privateKeySecretRef:
      name: letsencrypt-nginx-private-key
    solvers:
      # Use the HTTP-01 challenge provider
      - http01:
          ingress:
            class: nginx

Next, you need to configure each Nginx ingress resource to use TLS termination. Typical manifest looks like below:

apiVersion: networking.k8s.io/v1
kind: Ingress
metadata:
  name: ingress-echo
  namespace: backend
  annotations:
    cert-manager.io/issuer: letsencrypt-nginx
spec:
  tls:
  - hosts:
    - echo.my-domain.org
    secretName: letsencrypt-nginx
  rules:
    - host: echo.my-domain.org
...

Explanation for the above configuration:

  • cert-manager.io/issuer: Annotation that takes advantage of cert-manager ingress-shim to create the certificate resource on your behalf.
  • spec.tls.hosts: List of hosts included in the TLS certificate.
  • spec.tls.secretName: Name of the secret used to terminate TLS traffic on port 443.

Notice that the Nginx Ingress Controller is able to generate the Certificate CRD automatically via a special annotation: cert-manager.io/issuer. This saves work and time, because you don’t have to create and maintain a separate manifest for certificates as well (only the Issuer manifest is required). For other ingresses you may need to provide the Certificate CRD as well.

Upgrading Cert-Manager Stack

You can check what versions are available to upgrade, by navigating to the cert-manager official releases page from GitHub. Alternatively, you can also use ArtifactHUB, which provides a more rich and user friendly interface.

Then, to upgrade the stack to a newer version, please run the following command (make sure to replace the &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt; placeholders first):

helm upgrade cert-manager jetstack/cert-manager \
  --version <CERT_MANAGER_NEW_VERSION> \
  --namespace cert-manager \
  --values <YOUR_HELM_VALUES_FILE>

See helm upgrade for command documentation.

Also, please make sure to check the official recommendations for various upgrade paths, from an existing release to a new major version of cert-manager.

Uninstalling Cert-Manager Stack

To delete your installation of cert-manager, please run the following Helm command:

helm uninstall cert-manager -n cert-manager

Note:

Above command will delete all the associated Kubernetes resources installed by the cert-manager Helm chart, except the namespace itself. To delete the cert-manager namespace as well, please run below command:

kubectl delete ns cert-manager

Additional Resources

You can visit the Starter Kit set of guides provided by DigitalOcean for further study. Specifically for Cert-Manager, you can access the following content:

To further enrich your experience, you can also browse the list of available tutorials from the official Cert-Manager documentation site.