Secure Nginx with Let’s Encrypt

Let’s Encrypt is a free Certificate Authority (CA). It provides a simple way to obtain, install and renew free TLS/SSL certificates. This guide will help you to obtain and install free SSL certificate and Secure Nginx with Let’s Encrypt on Ubuntu

It is recommended that to use a separate Nginx server block file instead of the default file. In this tutorial, we will create new Nginx server block files for each domain. Thus, we can avoid common mistakes and maintains the default files as a fallback configuration.


Install Let’s Encrypt on Ubuntu

Following are the steps to install and use Certbot tool to obtain a free SSL certificate for Nginx on Ubuntu server. Now a days, certificates issued by Let’s Encrypt are trusted by almost all browsers.

Install Certbot

Using Certbot client package, you can easily obtain, install and renew Let’s Encrypt SSL certificates. It’s useful for configuring web servers to use the SSL certificates. The certbot package is included in the default Ubuntu repositories.

Update the packages list and install the certbot package by following commands:

sudo apt update

Next, you need to install dependencies for python3-certbot-nginx package by executing below command:

sudo apt install python3-acme python3-certbot python3-mock python3-openssl python3-pkg-resources python3-pyparsing python3-zope.interface

Now install certbot client by executing following command:

sudo apt install certbot python3-certbot-nginx

You can verify that certbot is installed successfully or not by typing:

certbot --version

Adjusting Firewall

If on server UFW firewall enabled then you need to adjust firewall to allow HTTPS traffic.

You can see the current setting by typing:

sudo ufw status
Status: active
To                         Action      From
--                         ------      ----
OpenSSH                    ALLOW       Anywhere                  
Nginx HTTP                 ALLOW       Anywhere                  
OpenSSH (v6)               ALLOW       Anywhere (v6)             
Nginx HTTP (v6)            ALLOW       Anywhere (v6)

To let in HTTPS traffic, you need to allow the Nginx Full profile and delete the redundant Nginx HTTP profile allowance:

sudo ufw allow 'Nginx Full'
sudo ufw delete allow 'Nginx HTTP'

Now status should look like as below:

Status: active
To                         Action      From
--                         ------      ----
OpenSSH                    ALLOW       Anywhere                  
Nginx Full                 ALLOW       Anywhere                  
OpenSSH (v6)               ALLOW       Anywhere (v6)             
Nginx Full (v6)            ALLOW       Anywhere (v6)

Obtaining an SSL Certificate

There are many ways to obtain SSL certificates through plugins. Here, we will use certbot client to obtain a SSL certificate:

sudo certbot --nginx -d -d

Using above command, we are requesting for and domains. If you are installing certificate first time then it will ask you enter email address and agree terms and conditions.

Saving debug log to /var/log/letsencrypt/letsencrypt.log
Plugins selected: Authenticator apache, Installer apache
Enter email address (used for urgent renewal and security notices) (Enter 'c' to

Entered email address will be used for sending email alerts related to SSL renewal and expiration.

After doing so, certbot will communicate with the Let’s Encrypt server and then run a challenge to verify that you are the owner of domain for which you’re requesting a certificate.

Once the validation complete, it will ask you how you would like to configure your HTTPS settings:

Please choose whether or not to redirect HTTP traffic to HTTPS, removing HTTP access.
1: No redirect - Make no further changes to the webserver configuration.
2: Redirect - Make all requests redirect to secure HTTPS access. Choose this for
new sites, or if you're confident your site works on HTTPS. You can undo this
change by editing your web server's configuration.
Select the appropriate number [1-2] then [enter] (press 'c' to cancel):

Select your choice and hit Enter to go ahead. Your nginx server block will be update based on your selected option and will reload Nginx to take new settings effect.

After this step, Certbot configuration is finished and you will be presented with Congratulations message as following:

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Congratulations! You have successfully enabled https://your_domain and

You should test your configuration at:
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Finally, your domain is secure with Let’s Encrypt SSL certificate. You can verify by visiting your site with HTTPS protocol.

Auto Renew Let’s Encrypt SSL certificate

Let’s Encrypt SSL certificates have short-life period of 90 days so you need to renew it before it expire. You can use certbot auto-renew facility to avoid from SSL expiration. By default, Certbot package creates a cronjob script at /etc/cron.d which runs twice in a day and will automatically renew any certificate 30 days before its expiration. You can check renewal process by type :

sudo certbot renew --dry-run

If it will not show any errors means your installation is successful. Now on wards Certbot will take care of your SSL expiration and renew your certificates automatically and reload Apache to pick up the changes automatically.

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