Setting up Let’s Encrypt on DreamCompute with Nginx

What is Let’s Encrypt?

Let’s Encrypt is a new certificate authority that provides absolutely free secure certificates to help get to 100% HTTPS on the Internet. DreamHost has integrated Let’s Encrypt support into our panel for hosted services, but if you want to set up automatically-renewing certificates for domains you host on a DreamCompute instance, you’ll need to do a little bit of manual installation. But the good news is, it doesn’t take long, and once you finish the setup, you should never have to worry about renewing a certificate ever again!

Get the code

You’ll need to SSH to your DreamCompute instance. It shouldn’t matter too much which distribution of Linux you’re running, but make sure you have the git package installed so that you can clone the letsencrypt repository, like so:

[user@server]$ sudo -s
[root@server]# cd /opt
[root@server]# git clone git://

Get your first certificate

Before you do this, you’ll need to make sure that your domain is actually pointing at your DreamCompute instance’s IP address, and that your webserver is configured to respond to requests for your domain name. Let’s Encrypt performs checks to make sure that you control domain names that you request certificates for.

But, let’s say that you have configured with a DNS A record pointing at the IP address for your instance, and you have nginx already configured properly to respond to requests for (Configuring your webserver is kind of out of the scope of this guide, but there are plenty of tutorials out there.)

These sample snippets assume that the webserver is configured to serve files for from the location /srv/ on your instance. Make sure to update that location to match your domain’s document root!

If you’re using nginx, or any other webserver that supports HTTPS, it’s a good idea to use the certonly plugin:

[root@server]# cd /opt/letsencrypt
[root@server]# ./letsencrypt-auto certonly --webroot --webroot-path /srv/ -d

Either way, this will prompt you for some information including your email address. Fill it in with valid information and you should get a shiny new certificate! Nginx and other users will need to update configurations by hand to point at the new SSL certificate and key files. A sample nginx snippet is included below (insert something like this into the server { stanza for your domain):

listen 443 ssl;
ssl_certificate /etc/letsencrypt/live/;
ssl_certificate_key /etc/letsencrypt/live/;

Adding a subdomain to an existing certificate

If you just realized that you also need a certificate for a subdomain, don’t worry! You can add a new subdomain to your existing cert at any time, by simply calling letsencrypt-auto again like so...

[root@server]# cd /opt/letsencrypt
[root@server]# ./letsencrypt-auto certonly --webroot --webroot-path /srv/ -d --webroot-path /srv/ -d

This is, of course, assuming that you have a different document root for the files for your subdomain. You can omit the additional --webroot-path argument if the document root is the same for the top-level domain and the subdomain. Always remember to specify the --webroot-path before each -d argument, because the -d argument uses the most-recently-specified webroot-path variable supplied.

Automatic renewal

Now, the best part about using Let’s Encrypt (well, aside from the free certificates): You can have your system automatically renew all of the certificates for you. I wrote a small shell script I called /usr/local/bin/update_certs which looks like this:


/opt/letsencrypt/letsencrypt-auto renew

systemctl reload nginx.service

Using cron, I have this scheduled like so:

30 0 * * 0 /usr/local/bin/update_certs

And now, my system attempts to renew all of my certificates once a week. If there are no certificates in danger of expiring soon, nothing bad happens, but if they would otherwise expire, then they get renewed and I don’t have to think about it.


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