Certbot is software that can be used to automatically issue free SSL certificates for websites to be able to access them via secure HTTPS protocol. It is provided by https://letsencrypt.org/ certificate authority. It is currently widely used on the internet as an alternative to paid certificates.

To issue certificates using Let’s Encrypt you typically need the Certbot script https://certbot.eff.org/. It is written in Python programming language and lets you manage free certificates on your server. Typically you install Certbot using your operating system package manager. For example, installation can be done by issuing this command:

pip install certbot

In this blog post, I will present a way to run Certbot using a docker container. This approach is better than installation in the system because it will not suffer from dependency management issues and it will allow us to update the Certbot script with ease. We will use acme over HTTP protocol to prove that we are the owner of the domain and the owner of the server. You can read more about it here: https://letsencrypt.org/docs/challenge-types/#http-01-challenge.


We will start with creating a directory structure for holding certificate files scripts and configuration.

mkdir -p /var/certbot/etc
mkdir -p /var/certbot/bin
mkdir -p /var/certbot/renew_detect

Next, we will create the first script that will be used to issue new certificates. Subcommand used in Certbot that will be used here is certonly. We will use the built-in HTTP server by providing --standalone parameter. This server will be available on the standard docker0 network interface address on port 8080 as set by parameter -p You can verify that this IP address is valid on your system by running this command

ip a show dev docker0

I will talk more about it when we will configure the HTTP server to pass traffic to Certbot script.

Create file named certbot_certonly.sh in /var/certbot/bin directory with following content:


docker run --rm -p \
    -v /var/certbot/etc:/etc/letsencrypt \
    -v /var/certbot/renew_detect:/renew_detect \
    certbot/certbot:v1.25.0 \
    certonly \
    --standalone \
    -m [email protected] \
    --agree-tos \
    --keep \
    -d example.com

There are two important parameters that I will explain. First is -m. Using it we specify email address that will receive email if certificate is due to expire. Next is -d used to specify our domain name. Here I will use example.com. Replace this domain with your own everywhere where you will see this domain in this post. What is important to see here is how easy it is to specify the version of Certbot that we are going to use. We are doing it by giving the docker image tag to our docker run command. In this case, the version is 1.25.0 and this is the newest one available right now when I am writing this blog post (April 2022).

The next script will be used to renew certificates that are due to expire. Sometimes we need to execute some action if a certificate is renewed. For example, we need to build a certificate bundle file that will be used in the HAProxy server.

Create file named certbot_renew.sh in `/var/certbot/bin/ directory with following content:


docker run --rm -p \
    -v /var/certbot/etc:/etc/letsencrypt \
    -v /var/certbot/renew_detect:/renew_detect \
    certbot/certbot:v1.25.0 \
    renew \
    --deploy-hook "touch /renew_detect/renew" \

[[ ! -f /var/certbot/renew_detect/renew ]] && exit 0

cat /var/certbot/etc/live/example.com/fullchain.pem /var/certbot/etc/live/example.com/privkey.pem > /docker/certbot/etc/live/example.com/cert-privkey-chain.pem

docker restart haproxy
rm -f /docker/certbot/renew_detect/renew

In this script, we are using --deploy-hook parament with the touch command. This approach will allow us to create file outside docker container in directory mounted via -v /var/certbot/renew_detect:/renew_detect parameter.

Next, we are checking if this file exists and it this is the case we are concatenating the certificate chain and private key files for usage in haproxy. This cat command is the only example of possible things that we can run if the certificate is renewed.

The last two commands are restart of haproxy docker container needed to load new certificate and removal of renew file to mark that we executed all things that need to run after a new certificate is created.

We also added --no-random-sleep-on-renew parameter to prevent the Certbot from sleeping the random number of seconds. This is used to prevent you from overloading certbot servers by issuing frequent renew requests. This can cause a temporary ban if you are not respecting the no-DDoS rule. We are planning to use renew in cron and run it every day so there is no risk of blocking us.

The last command is utility one that will be used to list certificates managed by certbot. This can be used to see what domain names currently have certificates and how long those certificates will be valid.

Create file named certbot_list.sh in /var/certbot/bin directory with following content:


docker run --rm -p \
    -v /docker/certbot/etc:/etc/letsencrypt \
    -v /docker/certbot/renew_detect:/renew_detect \
    certbot/certbot:v1.25.0 certificates

Configuration in HAProxy

I will assume that you are serving your web page using the HAProxy web server. The first step to being able to use our Certbot scripts in that scenario is to add some configuration snippets to haproxy.conf. First of all, let’s proxy all traffic that goes to the path starting with /.well-known/acme-challenge/ to Certbot standalone server.

Add following config snipped to HAproxy frontend that is listening on port 80.

listen http
    bind *:80
    use_backend acme if { path_beg /.well-known/acme-challenge/ }

Next, add backend to config using the following content.

backend acme
    mode http
    server acme

Here we are using ip and port specified in our certonly and renew scripts.

After configuration in HAProxy, we are ready to issue our certificate using certonly script. Run it to check if everything is ok.


Cron job

Next, we will add the renew script to crontab to automatically check and renew our certificate. Add the following line to the root user crontab file.

0 0 * * * /var/certbot/bin/certbot_renew.sh

Renew command will every day at midnight and check if the certificate is due to expire.


In this blog post, I presented a solution to running certbot via docker container. Using this approach you can keep the Certbot script up to date just by changing the Docker tag version number in scripts. This solution is also easy to port to other systems and will not pollute the package list with the dependencies needed only for the Certbot script.