Design for “Allow usage of OpenLDAP libraries that do not use NSS for crypto”


There are numerous places in the Directory Server code that assume that NSS is being used beneath the OpenLDAP libraries (389-ds-base-1.3.4 and older). This means operations the server executes as a client, e.g., replication, over SSL did not work if server was built against OpenLDAP that used a different crypto implementation, such as OpenSSL or GnuTLS.

Supporting crypto other than NSS is available on 389-ds-base-1.3.5 and newer.

Files in PEM Format

The Directory Server still uses the NSS library for the server side crypto. The NSS key/cert DB’s are located in the directory specified by nsslapd-certdir in cn=config. To allow non NSS crypto library to access, the keys and certificates need to be extracted from the DB files and placed as a pem format file, respectively.

To guarantee these files are located in the expected directory, the Directory Server extract the key/cert DB files and overrides them when the server starts up.

By default, the pem files are located in the same nsslapd-certdir directory.

New Configuration

Configuration parameter nsslapd-extract-pemfiles

  dn: cn=config
  nsslapd-extract-pemfiles: on | off

When the value is “on”, the certs/keys are extracted as pem files. Currently (389-ds-base-1.3.5.x), it is set to off, by default.

Configuration parameters CACertExtractFile, ServerKeyExtractFile and ServerCertExtractFile

The config entry cn=encryption,cn=config newly takes an attribute CACertExtractFile, with which the CA certificate pem file path is specified.

dn: cn=encryption,cn=config
CACertExtractFile: full_path

If the attribute value pair does not exist, the full path to the extract CA cert pem file is added to the cn=encryption,cn=config entry as “CAcertExtractFile: full_path”. The full_path is /etc/dirsrv/slapd-INSTANCE/CA_CERT_NAME.pem, where the filename part is Certificate Nickname + “.pem”. If the Certificate Nickname contains white spaces they are converted to its hex value “20”. For instance, a cert having a nickname “CA certificate” has the file name “CA20certificate.pem”. (See also the section “Pem file names extracted from NSS cert db”)

The full_path is necessary for the utilities that internally call openldap client tools to connect to the server over SSL/startTLS. The path is passed to the openldap client tools via environment variable LDAPTLS_CACERT. The environment variable is currently set in, monitor, and ldif2ldap.

The config entry cn=CIPHER,cn=encryption,cn=config newly takes attributes ServerKeyExtractFile as well as ServerCertExtractFile to specify the filename. These pairs are not automatically added to the entry

dn: cn=RSA,cn=encryption,cn=config
ServerKeyExtractFile: filename
ServerCertExtractFile: filename

The filename could be a full path or just a file name. If it is a file name without the preceded path, the files are considered to be in nsslapd-certdir.

To summarize the behaviour, if the Directory Server is configured with security on and finds no key and certificate pem files in the expected place in the startup, the server extracts them from the NSS cert db, generates pem files and place them in the configured directory. That is, an existing Directory Server as well as the openldap client library are upgraded, it is supposed to work without any configuration changes.

Pem file names extracted from NSS cert db

When automatically retrieved, the pem file names are based on the nickname. If white spaces are in the nickname, they are replaced with the hex value string “20”.

Sample certificates:

Certificate Nickname   Trust Attributes
CA certificate         CTu,u,u
CA certificate 2       CTu,u,u
Server-Cert            u,u,u

In this example, if CACertExtractFile is configured, the value is used for the CA cert pem file. Otherwise, the nick name of the first CA certificate is used for the file name by replacing the white spaces with hex characters as follows CA20certificate.pem. The extracted CA certificate pem file would contain all the CA certs found in the cert DB (in this case, “CA certiricate” as well as “CA certificate 2”.

Key of Server-Cert is stored in Server-Cert-Key.pem and its certificate is in Server-Cert.pem.

We do not allow to modify or replace the extracted pem files. For clarity, we put a header in the extracted file noting it is auto-generated as follows, always overwritten and possible with the nss name of the certificate, plus the cert Subject and Issuer.

This file is auto-generated by 389-ds-base.
Do not edit directly.

Issuer: CN=CAcert
Subject: CN=CAcert

Key/Cert Retrieval at the Server Startup

When the Directory Server starts up, the following steps are executed when nsslapd-security is on.

Notes: I borrowed the crypto-utils code to extract the keys from the cert db.

Implementation Details


1) Build openldap with --with-tls=openssl
   make; make install (by default, it is installed in /usr/local)
2) Build ns-slapd with the following OPENLDAP_FLAG:
   OPENLDAP_FLAG="--with-openldap \
   --with-openldap-inc=/usr/local/include \
   --with-openldap-lib=/usr/local/lib \

Replication Tests


  Set up 2way MMR:
    master_1 ----- startTLS -----> master_2
    master_1 <-- TLS_clientAuth -- master_2

  Check CA cert, Server-Cert and Key are retrieved as PEM from cert db
  when the server is started.  First, the file names are not specified
  and the default names derived from the cert nicknames.  Next, the
  file names are specified in the encryption config entries.

  Each time add 5 entries to master 1 and 2 and check they are replicated.

CRL (Not Implemented Yet!!)

Set value LDAP_OPT_X_TLS_CRL_ALL to the option LDAP_OPT_X_TLS_CRLCHECK with the openldap API ldap_set_option. If the CRL file exists in the cert dir, it is supposed to be checked by this setting.

Comment by Rich:

What we need:

  1) Get CRL DPs from a cert
  2) Download CRL to a temporary directory
  3) verify that the CRL is correct and has been signed by a trusted party.
  4) move CRL to its final destination

This tool fetch-crl looks promising. But the package is available only for Fedoras not for RHELs.

Possible solutions:

To Dos

Lower priority


Last modified on 6 September 2016