Verify repository client with certificates

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

In Running Docker with HTTPS, you learned that, by default, Docker runs via a non-networked Unix socket and TLS must be enabled in order to have the Docker client and the daemon communicate securely over HTTPS. TLS ensures authenticity of the registry endpoint and that traffic to/from registry is encrypted.

This article demonstrates how to ensure the traffic between the Docker registry (i.e., a server) and the Docker daemon (i.e., a client) traffic is encrypted and a properly authenticated using certificate-based client-server authentication.

We will show you how to install a Certificate Authority (CA) root certificate for the registry and how to set the client TLS certificate for verification.

Understanding the configuration

A custom certificate is configured by creating a directory under /etc/docker/certs.d using the same name as the registry’s hostname (e.g., localhost). All *.crt files are added to this directory as CA roots.

Note: As of docker 1.13, on Linux any root certificates authorities will be merged in with the system defaults (i.e., host’s root CA set). Prior to 1.13 and on Windows, the system default certificates will only be used when there are no custom root certificates provided.

The presence of one or more <filename>.key/cert pairs indicates to Docker that there are custom certificates required for access to the desired repository.

Note: If there are multiple certificates, each will be tried in alphabetical order. If there is an authentication error (e.g., 403, 404, 5xx, etc.), Docker will continue to try with the next certificate.

The following illustrates a configuration with custom certificates:

    /etc/docker/certs.d/        <-- Certificate directory
    └── localhost:5000          <-- Hostname:port
       ├── client.cert          <-- Client certificate
       ├── client.key           <-- Client key
       └── ca.crt               <-- Certificate authority that signed
                                    the registry certificate

The preceding example is operating-system specific and is for illustrative purposes only. You should consult your operating system documentation for creating an os-provided bundled certificate chain.

Creating the client certificates

You will use OpenSSL’s genrsa and req commands to first generate an RSA key and then use the key to create the certificate.

$ openssl genrsa -out client.key 4096
$ openssl req -new -x509 -text -key client.key -out client.cert

Note: These TLS commands will only generate a working set of certificates on Linux. The version of OpenSSL in macOS is incompatible with the type of certificate Docker requires.

Troubleshooting tips

The Docker daemon interprets .crt files as CA certificates and .cert files as client certificates. If a CA certificate is accidentally given the extension .cert instead of the correct .crt extension, the Docker daemon logs the following error message:

Missing key KEY_NAME for client certificate CERT_NAME. Note that CA certificates should use the extension .crt.

If the Docker registry is accessed without a port number, do not add the port to the directory name. The following shows the configuration for a registry on default port 443 which is accessed with docker login my-https.registry.example.com:

    /etc/docker/certs.d/
    └── my-https.registry.example.com          <-- Hostname without port
       ├── client.cert
       ├── client.key
       └── ca.crt
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