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Let’s Encrypt is a free, automated, and open certificate authority (CA), run for the public’s benefit. It is a service provided by the Internet Security Research Group (ISRG).

We give people the digital certificates they need in order to enable HTTPS (SSL/TLS) for websites, for free, in the most user-friendly way we can. We do this because we want to create a more secure and privacy-respecting Web.

The key principles behind Let’s Encrypt are:

Free: Anyone who owns a domain name can use Let’s Encrypt to obtain a trusted certificate at zero cost.
Automatic: Software running on a web server can interact with Let’s Encrypt to painlessly obtain a certificate, securely configure it for use, and automatically take care of renewal.
Secure: Let’s Encrypt will serve as a platform for advancing TLS security best practices, both on the CA side and by helping site operators properly secure their servers.
Transparent: All certificates issued or revoked will be publicly recorded and available for anyone to inspect.
Open: The automatic issuance and renewal protocol will be published as an open standard that others can adopt.
Cooperative: Much like the underlying Internet protocols themselves, Let’s Encrypt is a joint effort to benefit the community, beyond the control of any one organization.

How it works :

The objective of Let’s Encrypt and the ACME protocol is to make it possible to set up an HTTPS server and have it automatically obtain a browser-trusted certificate, without any human intervention. This is accomplished by running a certificate management agent on the web server.

To understand how the technology works, let’s walk through the process of setting up https://example.com/ with a certificate management agent that supports Let’s Encrypt.

There are two steps to this process. First, the agent proves to the CA that the web server controls a domain. Then, the agent can request, renew, and revoke certificates for that domain.

Domain Validation

Let’s Encrypt identifies the server administrator by public key. The first time the agent software interacts with Let’s Encrypt, it generates a new key pair and proves to the Let’s Encrypt CA that the server controls one or more domains. This is similar to the traditional CA process of creating an account and adding domains to that account.

To kick off the process, the agent asks the Let’s Encrypt CA what it needs to do in order to prove that it controls example.com. The Let’s Encrypt CA will look at the domain name being requested and issue one or more sets of challenges. These are different ways that the agent can prove control of the domain. For example, the CA might give the agent a choice of either:


  • Provisioning a DNS record under example.com, or
  • Provisioning an HTTP resource under a well-known URI on https://example.com/

Along with the challenges, the Let’s Encrypt CA also provides a nonce that the agent must sign with its private key pair to prove that it controls the key pair.




The agent software completes one of the provided sets of challenges. Let’s say it is able to accomplish the second task above: it creates a file on a specified path on the https://example.com site. The agent also signs the provided nonce with its private key. Once the agent has completed these steps, it notifies the CA that it’s ready to complete validation.

Then, it’s the CA’s job to check that the challenges have been satisfied. The CA verifies the signature on the nonce, and it attempts to download the file from the web server and make sure it has the expected content.



If the signature over the nonce is valid, and the challenges check out, then the agent identified by the public key is authorized to do certificate management for example.com. We call the key pair the agent used an “authorized key pair” for example.com.

Certificate Issuance and Revocation

Once the agent has an authorized key pair, requesting, renewing, and revoking certificates is simple—just send certificate management messages and sign them with the authorized key pair.

To obtain a certificate for the domain, the agent constructs a PKCS#10 Certificate Signing Request that asks the Let’s Encrypt CA to issue a certificate for example.com with a specified public key. As usual, the CSR includes a signature by the private key corresponding to the public key in the CSR. The agent also signs the whole CSR with the authorized key for example.com so that the Let’s Encrypt CA knows it’s authorized.

When the Let’s Encrypt CA receives the request, it verifies both signatures. If everything looks good, it issues a certificate for example.com with the public key from the CSR and returns it to the agent.



Revocation works in a similar manner. The agent signs a revocation request with the key pair authorized for example.com, and the Let’s Encrypt CA verifies that the request is authorized. If so, it publishes revocation information into the normal revocation channels (i.e. OCSP), so that relying parties such as browsers can know that they shouldn’t accept the revoked certificate.




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