Creating a Certificate Using OpenSSL

OpenSSL is an open source toolkit that can be used to create test certificates, as well as generate certificate signing requests (CSRs) which are used to obtain certificates from trusted third-party Certificate Authorities.

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Certificates are used to establish a level of trust between servers and clients. There are two types of certificate, those used on the server side, and those which are used by the client to authenticate the session. SocketTools supports both server and client certificates, by setting the CertificateStore and CertificateName properties in the .NET and ActiveX components, or by using the CreateSecurityCredentials function in the libraries.

When establishing a secure connection, the SocketTools components will ask the server for its certificate and validate it. If the certificate cannot be validated, SocketTools treats this as a soft error and the application decides whether the secure session should be established or the connection terminated.

You can either create a self-signed certificate or purchase one from a Certificate Authority (CA) such as Verisign and Thawte. These companies have root certificates that are installed as part of the base operating system and will be recognized on all Windows platforms. Alternatively, you can create your own root and server certificates for testing purposes on your own local network.

Install OpenSSL for Windows

The OpenSSL toolkit can be used to create self-signed test certificates for server applications, as well as generate certificate signing requests (CSRs) to obtain certificates from Certificate Authorities like DigiCert. This article outlines the steps for creating a test certificate using OpenSSL as an alternative to the obsolete MakeCert utility.

You will need to install OpenSSL on your development system to use the commands in this article. You can download an installation package< that we provide or visit the OpenSSL website for more information on how to obtain other binaries for Windows.

» Download OpenSSL

In this article, first we'll create a self-signed root certificate to be installed into the Trusted Root certificate store. Then we'll use that certificate to sign a server certificate created for "localhost", the hostname you can use for testing local connections on your development system.

OpenSSL Configuration File

The first step to create your test certificate using OpenSSL is to create a configuration file. After you've installed OpenSSL, create a new, empty folder and create a file named localhost.cnf. Copy all of the following text into the file and save it.

default_bits = 2048
default_md = sha256
prompt = no
distinguished_name = req_distinguished_name
x509_extensions = v3_ca
req_extensions = v3_req
C = US
ST = California
L = Los Angeles
O = Catalyst Development
CN = localhost
subjectKeyIdentifier = hash
authorityKeyIdentifier = keyid:always,issuer:always
basicConstraints = critical, CA:true, pathlen:0
keyUsage = critical, digitalSignature, cRLSign, keyCertSign
subjectKeyIdentifier = hash
basicConstraints = critical, CA:false
nsCertType = server
keyUsage = digitalSignature, nonRepudiation, keyEncipherment
extendedKeyUsage = serverAuth
subjectAltName = @alt_names

DNS.1 = localhost
IP.1 =
IP.2 = ::1

You should change the values in the [req_distinguished_name] section to reflect the name of your own organization and location. The country code should always be the ISO standard two-letter code (e.g.: US for the United States), and the state/province name and locality should be the full name. The common name (CN) for the test certificate will be "localhost" and this is also specified in the [alt_names] section along with the IPv4 and IPv6 localhost addresses.

Creating the Root Certificate

After you have created the OpenSSL configuration file, the next step is to create a self-signed root certificate that will be used to sign your localhost test certificate. Open a command prompt, change the directory to your folder with the configuration file and generate the private key for the certificate:

openssl genrsa -out testCA.key 2048

This will create a file named testCA.key that contains the private key. This will be used with the next command to generate your root certificate:

openssl req -x509 -new -nodes -key testCA.key -sha256 -days 365 -out testCA.crt -config localhost.cnf -extensions v3_ca -subj "/CN=SocketTools Test CA"

This tells OpenSSL to create a self-signed root certificate named "SocketTools Test CA" using the configuration file you created, and the private key that was just generated. The file testCA.crt will be created in the current folder.

This certificate must be imported into your Trusted Root Certification Authorities certificate store. The simplest way to do this is to open File Explorer, right-click on the file and select Install Certificate to open the Certificate Import Wizard.

Make sure you import the certificate into the correct certificate store, and you'll be given a warning prompt about importing the certificate. After you've imported the self-signed root certificate, you're ready to create your server certificate.

Creating the Server Certificate

Now that you have created your test root certificate, you need to generate a certificate signing request (CSR) and use that to create your server certificate. First, create another private key and then generate the CSR using the following commands:

openssl genrsa -out localhost.key 2048

openssl req -new -key localhost.key -out localhost.csr -config localhost.cnf -extensions v3_req

This will create the files localhost.key and localhost.csr in the current folder, using the information in your configuration file. Your next step is to create the server certificate using the following command:

openssl x509 -req -in localhost.csr -CA testCA.crt -CAkey testCA.key -CAcreateserial -out localhost.crt -days 365 -sha256 -extfile localhost.cnf -extensions v3_req

This will create the file localhost.crt in the current folder, and this is your server certificate. However, to use this test certificate with your server applications, you must combine it with its private key. A server certificate alone cannot be used to create the security context that SocketTools requires to accept a secure connection.

You combine the server certificate localhost.crt and its private key localhost.key to create a PKCS12 certificate, which on Windows commonly uses the PFX file extension. To do this, use the following command:

openssl pkcs12 -export -out localhost.pfx -inkey localhost.key -in localhost.crt -certfile TestCA.crt -password pass:testing

Now you have a localhost.pfx file that you can import into your certificate store. The import process is similar to how you imported the root certificate, however in this case you'll want to import the certificate into your Personal store. In this example, the PFX certificate was created with the password "testing", but you can use whatever password you'd prefer.

Your server application can reference the PFX certificate directly by specifying the file as the certificate store (make sure you use an absolute pathname for the PFX file) or you can tell SocketTools to use the certificate store "MY", which corresponds to your Personal certificate store.

Keep in mind that this certificate is specifically designed for testing on your local system. If you wanted to create a self-signed certificate that would be used by another system, then you'd need to change "localhost" to the hostname for that computer, and include its IP addresses in the configuration file. You would also need to install your TestCA.crt root certificate into the trusted root certificate store for each client that is accessing the server, otherwise the server's certificate would be considered invalid.

See Also

Download OpenSSL Installation Packages
Testing Secure Connections with OpenSSL
Connections Fail Using Test Certificate

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