Let’s Encrypt Certificate generation

WARNING: This feature is frozen and will be removed in early 2023. The “get-certs” command (renews certs via Let’s Encrypt) has no maintainer. There are other projects that do a better job. If you don’t use this feature, please do not start. If you do use this feature, please plan on migrating to something else. See discussion in #1400

DNSControl will generate/renew Let’s Encrypt certificates using DNS validation. It is not a complete certificate management system, but can perform the renewal steps for the system you create. If you are looking for a complete system, we recommend certbot.

The dnscontrol get-certs command will obtain or renew TLS certificates for your managed domains via Let’s Encrypt. This can be extremely useful in situations where other acme clients are problematic. Specifically, this may be useful if:

At Stack Overflow we have dual-hosted DNS i.e. zones having nameservers at two different DNS providers. Most Let’s Encrypt systems do not support DNS validation in that case. DNSControl’s get-certs command leverages the core DNSControl commands when issueing certificates, therefore dual-hosted DNS is supported.

General Process

The get-certs command does the following steps:

  1. Determine which certificates you would like issued, and which names should belong to each one.
  2. Look for existing certs on disk, and see if they have sufficient time remaining until expiration, and that the names match.
  3. If updates are needed:
    1. Request a new certificate from the acme server.
    2. Receive a list of validations to fill.
    3. For each validation (usually one per name on the cert):
      1. Create a TXT record on the domain with a given secret value.
      2. Wait until the authoritative name servers all return the correct value (polls locally).
      3. Tell the acme server to validate the record.
    4. Receive a new certificate and save it to disk

Because DNS propagation times vary from provider to provider, and validations are (currently) done serially, this process may take some time.


This file should be provided to specify which names you would like to get certificates for. You can specify any number of certificates, with up to 100 SAN entries each. Subject names can contain wildcards if you wish.

The format of the file is a simple json array of objects:

        "cert_name": "mainCert",
        "names": [
        "cert_name": "wildcardCert",
        "names": [

dnscontrol get-certs will attempt to issue any certificates referenced by this file, and will renew or re-issue if the certificate we already have is close to expiry or if the set of subject names changes for a cert.

Working directory layout

The get-certs command is designed to be run from a working directory that contains all of the data we need, and stores all of the certificates and other data we generate.

You may store this directory in source control or wherever you like. At Stack Overflow we have a dedicated repository for certificates, but we take care to always encrypt any private keys with black box before committing.

The working directory should generally contain:

┃  ┗━(*Let's Encrypt* account keys and metadata)
┃  ┣━━mainCert
┃  ┃  ┣━mainCert.crt
┃  ┃  ┣━mainCert.json
┃  ┃  ┗━mainCert.key
┃  ┗━━wildcardCert
┃     ┣━wildcardCert.crt
┃     ┣━wildcardCert.json
┃     ┗━wildcardCert.key

Command line flags

Required Flags

Optional Flags


This command is intended to be just a small part of a full certificate automation workflow. It only issues certificates, and explicitly does not deal with certificate storage or deployment. We urge caution to secure your private keys for your certificates, as well as the Let’s Encrypt account private key. We use black box to securely store private keys in the certificate repo.

This command is intended to be run as frequently as you desire. One workflow would be to check all certificates into a git repository and run a nightly build that:

  1. Clones the cert repo, and the dns config repo (if separate).
  2. Decrypt or otherwise obtain the Let’s Encrypt account private key. Dnscontrol does not need to read any certificate private keys to check or issue certificates.
  3. Run dnscontrol get-certs with appropriate flags.
  4. Encrypt or store any new or updated private keys.
  5. Commit and push any changes to the cert repo.
  6. Take care to not leave any plain-text private keys on disk.

The push to the certificate repo can trigger further automation to deploy certs to load balancers, cdns, applications and so forth.

Example script


set -e

# get and decrypt the files
[ insert your own code here ]

dnscontrol get-certs \
-email "CHANGE_THIS@example.com" \
--acme live \
--skip bind --renew 31 \
--verbose \
--agreeTOS --vault --notify

# Encrypt and save the files
[ insert your own code here ]