Naive guide to generating development certificates

Jun 10, 2019

The easy way: mkcert.

Recently I was working on an Ansible role to provision Nginx with TLS already configured and enabled, however to test it effectively, I needed to have valid certificates installed in the testing container. This was my brief foray into OpenSSL.

Setting up

Before we can set up a CA and start signing certificates, there are a few requirements. We need a place to store the certificates, we need some configuration, and we need a database for CA lookups. Fortunately, that is all readily available.

Create a directory somewhere on your machine where you'd like your certificates to be stored:

mkdir -p ~/.local/share/certs
cd ~/.local/share/certs

Add in your OpenSSL configuration, here's the config I used to generate my certicates for the Ansible role:


When generating a signed certificate with openssl ca, OpenSSL will try to update a database file which, depending on your configuration, might be index.txt.

touch index.txt

Create a Certificate Authority

First generate a key:

openssl genrsa -out ca.key 2048

Then create a certificate signed with that key:

openssl req -new -x509 -key ca.key -out ca.crt

Note that the key and certificate filenames are important here. They should match the names in your configuration file.

To avoid prompts when generating the certificate, an extra -subj argument can be passed:

openssl req -new -x509 -key ca.key -out ca.crt -subj "/C=ZA/ST=Western Cape/L=Cape Town/O=Bush Co/OU=Tech/"

The fields passed to the subject argument correspond with:

[C] Country Name (2 letter code) 	The two-letter country code where your company is legally located.
[ST] State or Province Name (full name) 	The state/province where your company is legally located.
[L] Locality Name (e.g., city) 	The city where your company is legally located.
[O] Organization Name (e.g., company) 	Your company's legally registered name (e.g., YourCompany, Inc.).
[OU] Organizational Unit Name (e.g., section) 	The name of your department within the organization. (You can leave this option blank; simply press Enter.)
[CN] Common Name (e.g., server FQDN) 	The fully-qualified domain name (FQDN) (e.g.,

Generate your certificate

Create your site key:

openssl genrsa -out localhost.key 2048

Generate a signing request:

openssl req -new -key localhost.key -out localhost.csr -subj "/C=ZA/ST=Western Cape/L=Cape Town/O=Bush Co/OU=Tech/CN=localhost"

And finally, sign the key and generate your certificate:

openssl ca -config openssl.cnf -in localhost.csr -out localhost.cer -create_serial -batch

Using the certificates

Install your CA on Firefox

In Firefox, navigate to Preferences -> Privacy & Security -> Certificates. Click "View Certificates" and under "Authorities" click Import and import your ca.crt file.


In your vhosts file for your site:

ssl_certificate_path: "/etc/path/to/your/localhost.cer"
ssl_certificate_key_path: "/etc/path/to/your/localhost.key"


In my case, I was using Molecule which runs tests against a Docker container. I needed to make a call to my test site over TLS and verify the response:

curl --cacert /etc/path/to/my/ca.crt -I -H "Host:" https://localhost

HTTP/2 200
date: Mon, 10 Jun 2019 20:22:57 GMT
expires: Wed, 10 Jul 2019 20:22:57 GMT
server: nginx
x-xss-protection: 0
x-frame-options: SAMEORIGIN

To dive into more details around setting up a CA, Igor Soarez has an in-depth guide here: