Manage secrets

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes


When deploying and orchestrating services, you often need to configure those services with sensitive information like passwords, TLS certificates, or private keys.

Universal Control Plane allows you to store this sensitive information, also know as secrets, in a secure way. It also gives you role-based access control so that you can control which users can use a secret in their services and which ones can manage the secret.

UCP extends the functionality provided by Docker Engine, so you can continue using the same workflows and tools you already use, like the Docker CLI client.

In this example we’re going to deploy a WordPress application that’s composed of two services:

  • wordpress: The service that runs Apache, PHP, and WordPress
  • wordpress-db: a MySQL database used for data persistence

Instead of configuring our services to use a plain text password stored in an environment variable, we’re going to create a secret to store the password. When we deploy those services we’ll attach the secret to them, which creates a file with the password inside the container running the service. Our services will be able to use that file, but no one else will be able to see the plain text password.

To make things simpler, we’re not going to configure the database service to persist data. When the service stops, the data is lost.

Create a secret

In the UCP web UI, navigate to Resources, and click Secrets.

Click Create Secret to create a new secret. Once you create the secret, you won’t be able to edit it or see the secret data again.

Assign a unique name to the secret and set its value. You can optionally define a permission label so that other users have permission to use this secret. Also note that a service and secret must have the same permission label (or both must have no permission label at all) in order to be used together.

In this example our secret is named wordpress-password-v1, to make it easier to track which version of the password our services are using.

Use secrets in your services

Before creating the MySQL and WordPress services, we need to create the network that they’re going to use to communicate with one another.

Navigate to the Networks page, and create the wordpress-network with the default configurations.

Start by creating the MySQL service. Navigate to the Services page, click Create Service, and choose Use Wizard. Use the following configurations:

Field Value
Service name wordpress-db
Image name mysql:5.7
Attached network wordpress-network
Secret wordpress-password-v1
Environment variable name MYSQL_ROOT_PASSWORD_FILE
Environment variable value /run/secrets/wordpress-password-v1

Remember, if you specified a permission label on the secret, you must also set the same permission label on this service. If the secret does not have a permission label, then this service must also not have a permission label.

This creates a MySQL service that’s attached to the wordpress-network network, and that uses the wordpress-password-v1, which by default will create a file with the same name at /run/secrets/<secret-name> inside the container running the service.

We also set the MYSQL_ROOT_PASSWORD_FILE environment variable to configure MySQL to use the content of the /run/secrets/wordpress-password-v1 file as the root password.

Click the Deploy Now button to deploy the MySQL service.

Now that the MySQL service is running, we can deploy a WordPress service that uses MySQL has a storage backend. Deploy a service with the following configurations:

Field Value
Service name wordpress
Image name wordpress:latest
Published ports target: 80, ingress:8000
Attached network wordpress-network
Secret wordpress-password-v1
Environment variable WORDPRESS_DB_HOST=wordpress-db:3306
Environment variable WORDPRESS_DB_PASSWORD_FILE=/run/secrets/wordpress-password-v1

This creates the WordPress service attached to the same network as the MySQL service so that they can communicate, and maps the port 80 of the service to port 8000 of the swarm routing mesh.

Click the Deploy Now button to deploy the WordPress service.

Once you deploy this service, you’ll be able to access it using the IP address of any node in your UCP cluster, on port 8000.

Update a secret

If the secret gets compromised you’ll need to rotate it so that your services start using a new secret. In this case we need to change the password we’re using and update the MySQL and WordPress services to use the new password.

Since secrets are immutable in the sense that you cannot change the data they store after they are created, we can use the following process to achieve this:

  1. Create a new secret with a different password
  2. Update all the services that are using the old secret to use the new one instead
  3. Delete the old secret

So let’s rotate the secret we’ve created. Navigate to the Secrets screen and create a new service called wordpress-password-v2.

This example is simple and we know which services we need to update, but in the real world that might not always be the case. If you navigate to the secret wordpress-password-v1 details page, you can see which services you need to update.

Start by updating the wordpress-db service to stop using the secret wordpress-password-v1 and use the new version instead.

The MYSQL_ROOT_PASSWORD_FILE environment variable is currently set to look for a file at /run/secrets/wordpress-password-v1 which won’t exist after we update the service. So we have two options:

  1. Update the environment variable to have the value /run/secrets/wordpress-password-v2
  2. Instead of mounting the secret file in /run/secrets/wordpress-password-v2 (the default), we can customize it to be mounted in /run/secrets/wordpress-password-v1 instead. This way we don’t need to change the environment variable. This is what we’re going to do.

When adding the secret to the services, instead of leaving the ‘Target Name’ field with the default value, set it with wordpress-password-v1. This will make the file with the content of wordpress-password-v2 be mounted in /run/secrets/wordpress-password-v1.

Then do the same thing for the WordPress service. After this is done, the WordPress application is running and using the new password.

Managing secrets through the CLI

You can find additional documentation on managing secrets through the CLI at How Docker manages secrets.

Where to go next

Grant access to secrets

Docker, UCP, secrets, secrets management