cert-manager has the concept of Certificates that define a desired X.509 certificate which will be renewed and kept up to date. A Certificate is a namespaced resource that references an Issuer or ClusterIssuer that determine what will be honoring the certificate request.

When a Certificate is created, a corresponding CertificateRequest resource is created by cert-manager containing the encoded X.509 certificate request, Issuer reference, and other options based upon the specification of the Certificate resource.

Here is one such example of a Certificate resource.

apiVersion: cert-manager.io/v1
kind: Certificate
  name: acme-crt
  secretName: acme-crt-secret
  - example.com
  - foo.example.com
    name: letsencrypt-prod
    # We can reference ClusterIssuers by changing the kind here.
    # The default value is Issuer (i.e. a locally namespaced Issuer)
    kind: Issuer
    group: cert-manager.io

This Certificate will tell cert-manager to attempt to use the Issuer named letsencrypt-prod to obtain a certificate key pair for the example.com and foo.example.com domains. If successful, the resulting TLS key and certificate will be stored in a secret named acme-crt-secret, with keys of tls.key, and tls.crt respectively. This secret will live in the same namespace as the Certificate resource.

When a certificate is issued by an intermediate CA and the Issuer can provide the issued certificate’s chain, the contents of tls.crt will be the requested certificate followed by the certificate chain.

Additionally, if the Certificate Authority is known, the corresponding CA certificate will be stored in the secret with key ca.crt. For example, with the ACME issuer, the CA is not known and ca.crt will not exist in acme-crt-secret.

cert-manager intentionally avoids adding root certificates to tls.crt, because they are useless in a situation where TLS is being done securely. For more information, see RFC 5246 section 7.4.2 which contains the following explanation:

Because certificate validation requires that root keys be distributed independently, the self-signed certificate that specifies the root certificate authority MAY be omitted from the chain, under the assumption that the remote end must already possess it in order to validate it in any case.

The dnsNames field specifies a list of Subject Alternative Names to be associated with the certificate.

The referenced Issuer must exist in the same namespace as the Certificate. A Certificate can alternatively reference a ClusterIssuer which is non-namespaced and so can be referenced from any namespace.

You can read more on how to configure your Certificate resources here.

Certificate Lifecycle

This diagram shows the lifecycle of a Certificate named cert-1 using an ACME / Let’s Encrypt issuer. You don’t need to understand all of these steps to use cert-manager; this is more of an explanation of the logic which happens under the hood for those curious about the process.

Life of a Certificate