Nginx (Reverse Proxy)

Using Mutual TLS on the Client Side with Nginx (Reverse Proxy)

How to use TLS, client authentication, and CA certificates in Nginx (Reverse Proxy)

Create a private key and request a certificate for your Nginx (Reverse Proxy) client

Before you can teach your client to speak TLS, you will need a certificate issued by a trusted certificate authority (CA). If your organization already runs its own CA and you have a private key and certificate for your Nginx (Reverse Proxy) client, along with your CA's root certificate, you can skip to the next step.

To request a certificate from your CA using the step CLI, bootstrap your CA with step ca bootstrap and run the following command (sub the client name for the actual name / DNS name of your Nginx (Reverse Proxy) client).

$ step ca certificate "myuser" client.crt client.key

Your certificate and private key will be saved in client.crt and client.key respectively.

Request a copy of your CA root certificate, which will be used to make sure each application can trust certificates presented by other applications.

$ step ca root ca.crt

Your certificate will be saved in ca.crt.

Make a request from Nginx (Reverse Proxy) using mutual TLS

Now, we need only to configure our Nginx (Reverse Proxy) client to make authenticated requests using our certificate and private key. The CA root certificate will be used to verify that the client can trust the certificate presented by the server.

Configure your upstream location to use a certificate for TLS communication when it proxies traffic to the backend. We'll specify the TLS protocol and some preferred ciphers:

location /upstream {
    proxy_pass      ;
    proxy_ssl_certificate     client.crt;
    proxy_ssl_certificate_key client.key;
    proxy_ssl_protocols       TLSv1.2 TLSv1.3;
    proxy_ssl_ciphers         HIGH:!aNULL:!MD5;
    # ...

Further, configure your Nginx proxy to verify the server using your CA root certificate along with a verification depth for the server's certificate chain:

location /upstream {
    # ...
    proxy_ssl_trusted_certificate /etc/nginx/ca.crt;
    proxy_ssl_verify              on;
    proxy_ssl_verify_depth        2;
    # ...

Automate certificate renewal

By default, step-ca issues certificates with a 24 hour expiration. Short-lived certificates have many benefits but also require that you renew your certificates each day before they expire. How you renew certificates is often dependent on how you deploy your application. See the step-ca certificate lifecycle management docs for more information.

All documentation content from the Hello mTLS project is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).

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Connect to a Server from Nginx (Reverse Proxy)