Build SSL HTTPS Website Using Docker

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Abner Chou Nov 18, 2016
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When you’re visiting my website, you may not see the https in the URL, which means you have been directed to a CDN node other than my VPS server. This doesn’t mean the method doesn’t work. Anyway, let’s begin the talk.

The purpose of this post is to help people to avoid the pitfalls that I encountered, and severs as a note for future reference.


  • All my setup is on Ubuntu 16.04, and may not suitable for other version/OS.
  • Docker must be installed and properly functioning.
  • Docker compose is an option, but this article only showing the method that is using docker compose, which is simpler than using docker alone.
  • Any machine/VPS/cloud server that you have root control, like Digital Ocean[Get $10 with coupon code ACTIVATE10], Vultr[Get $50 (expired after 6 months) with coupon code DOMORE ], Lindo[Get $20 with coupon code PodcastInIt20], and etc.
  • DNS already points to your machine, and all domains which would like to support Https also have CNAME or A record.
  • Git is also an option, unless you would like to build the image on your own.

Set Up

Only two docker images are used:

The niginx server has to start up before running the letsencrypt, because the letsencrypt needs to access the server to finish the generating certificate process.

docker-compose.yml for nignx

Create docker-compose.yml and paste the following into it.

  image: bringnow/nginx-letsencrypt
    - ./nginx.conf:/etc/nginx/nginx.conf
    - /etc/letsencrypt:/etc/letsencrypt
    - /var/acme-webroot:/var/acme-webroot
    - /srv/docker/nginx/dhparam:/etc/nginx/dhparam
    - "80:80"
    - "443:443"
  net: "host"
    - ""

Modify it accordingly to fit your environment.

Generate dhparam

Although the nginx docker will create DH parameters on initial start up, it is time comsuming to generate the 4096 bit DH parameters (more than an hour on my VPS). Run the following command and copy the generated file to the /srv/docker/nginx/dhparam folder (set in docker-compose.yml).

openssl dhparam -out RSA4096.pem -5 4096

Create Nginx Config file

In order to complete the letsencrypt challenge, the server has to open the 80 port. The nginx-letsencrypt image already come with the setting snippets: snippets/letsencryptauth.conf and snippets/sslconfig.conf.

Here is the sample config file:

events {
  worker_connections 1024;

http {

  include snippets/letsencryptauth.conf;
  include snippets/sslconfig.conf;

  server {
    listen 443 ssl default_server;

    ssl_certificate /etc/letsencrypt/live/;
    ssl_certificate_key /etc/letsencrypt/live/;

    add_header Strict-Transport-Security "max-age=31536000; includeSubdomains" always;

    location / {
      # Just return a blank response
      return 200;

NOTE: Please comment out those two lines start up ssl_certificate before the certificate generated.

Make Nginx Online

Now run the following command to bring Nginx online:

docker-compose up -d

To confim if the docker is running correctly, we could look the log file to check:

docker-compose logs

If there are some error messages, please check the Nginx config file and restart the docker.

docker-compose.yml for letsencrypt

In another folder, create a docker-compose.yml:

  image: bringnow/letsencrypt-manager:latest
  env_file: config.env
    - /etc/letsencrypt:/etc/letsencrypt
    - /var/lib/letsencrypt:/var/lib/letsencrypt
    - /var/acme-webroot:/var/acme-webroot

  image: bringnow/letsencrypt-manager:latest
  env_file: config.env
    - /etc/letsencrypt:/etc/letsencrypt
    - /var/lib/letsencrypt:/var/lib/letsencrypt
    - /var/acme-webroot:/var/acme-webroot
  command: cron-auto-renewal
  restart: always

Modify it accordingly. Make sure the folder /var/lib/letsencrypt and /var/acme-webroot have created and exist.

Then create config.env file in the same folder and input your email:


Generate SSL Certificate

Finally, we could create our Https certificate. Run the commands:

docker-compose run cli add <domain> [alternative domains]

If it fails, please check if Nginx is runing and the DNS setting is correct.

NOTE: If the certificate generate, don’t forget to remove comment on ssl_certificate lines in Nginx config file, and restart it.


Now your website should up and running with https. Enjoy.

~ EOF ~