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SelfSigned

The SelfSigned issuer doesn't represent a certificate authority as such, but instead denotes that certificates will "sign themselves" using a given private key. In other words, the private key of the certificate will be used to sign the certificate itself.

This Issuer type is useful for bootstrapping a root certificate for a custom PKI (Public Key Infrastructure), or for otherwise creating simple ad-hoc certificates.

There are important caveats - including security issues - to consider with SelfSigned issuers; in general you'd likely want to use a CA issuer rather than a SelfSigned issuer. That said, SelfSigned issuers are really useful for initially bootstrapping a CA issuer.

Note: a CertificateRequest that references a self-signed certificate must also contain the cert-manager.io/private-key-secret-name annotation since the private key corresponding to the CertificateRequest is required to sign the certificate. This annotation is added automatically by the Certificate controller.

Deployment

Since the SelfSigned issuer has no dependency on any other resource, it is the simplest to configure. Only the SelfSigned stanza is required to be present in the issuer spec, with no other configuration required:

apiVersion: cert-manager.io/v1
kind: Issuer
metadata:
name: selfsigned-issuer
namespace: sandbox
spec:
selfSigned: {}
---
apiVersion: cert-manager.io/v1
kind: ClusterIssuer
metadata:
name: selfsigned-cluster-issuer
spec:
selfSigned: {}

Once deployed, you should be able to see immediately that the issuer is ready for signing:

$ kubectl get issuers -n sandbox -o wide selfsigned-issuer
NAME READY STATUS AGE
selfsigned-issuer True 2m
$ kubectl get clusterissuers -o wide selfsigned-cluster-issuer
NAME READY STATUS AGE
selfsigned-cluster-issuer True 3m

Bootstrapping CA Issuers

One of the ideal use cases for SelfSigned issuers is to bootstrap a custom root certificate for a private PKI, including with the cert-manager CA issuer.

The YAML below will create a SelfSigned issuer, issue a root certificate and use that root as a CA issuer:

apiVersion: v1
kind: Namespace
metadata:
name: sandbox
---
apiVersion: cert-manager.io/v1
kind: ClusterIssuer
metadata:
name: selfsigned-issuer
spec:
selfSigned: {}
---
apiVersion: cert-manager.io/v1
kind: Certificate
metadata:
name: my-selfsigned-ca
namespace: sandbox
spec:
isCA: true
commonName: my-selfsigned-ca
secretName: root-secret
privateKey:
algorithm: ECDSA
size: 256
issuerRef:
name: selfsigned-issuer
kind: ClusterIssuer
group: cert-manager.io
---
apiVersion: cert-manager.io/v1
kind: Issuer
metadata:
name: my-ca-issuer
namespace: sandbox
spec:
ca:
secretName: root-secret

CRL Distribution Points

You may also optionally specify CRL Distribution Points as an array of strings, each of which identifies the location of a CRL in which the revocation status of issued certificates can be checked:

...
spec:
selfSigned:
crlDistributionPoints:
- "http://example.com"

Caveats

Trust

Clients consuming SelfSigned certificates have no way to trust them without already having the certificates beforehand. This becomes hard to manage when the client of the server using the certificate exists in a different namespace. This limitation can be tackled by using trust to distribute the ca.crt to other namespaces. The alternative is to use "TOFU" (trust on first use), which has security implications in the event of a man-in-the-middle attack.

Certificate Validity

One side-effect of a certificate being self-signed is that its Subject DN and its Issuer DN are identical. The X.509 RFC 5280, section 4.1.2.4 requires that:

The issuer field MUST contain a non-empty distinguished name (DN).

However, self-signed certs don't have a subject DN set by default. Unless you manually set a certificate's Subject DN, the Issuer DN will be empty and the certificate will technically be invalid.

Validation of this specific area of the spec is patchy and varies between TLS libraries, but there's always the risk that a library will improve its validation - entirely within spec - in the future and break your app if you're using a certificate with an empty Issuer DN.

To avoid this, be sure to set a Subject for SelfSigned certs. This can be done by setting the spec.subject on a cert-manager Certificate object which will be issued by a SelfSigned issuer.

Starting in version 1.3, cert-manager will emit a Kubernetes warning event of type BadConfig if it detects that a certificate is being created by a SelfSigned issuer which has an empty Issuer DN.