18.9. Secure TCP/IP Connections with SSL
PostgreSQL has native support for using SSL connections to encrypt client/server communications for increased security. This requires that OpenSSL is installed on both client and server systems and that support in PostgreSQL is enabled at build time (see Chapter 16).
18.9.1. Basic Setup
With SSL support compiled in, the
PostgreSQL server can be started with
SSL enabled by setting the parameter
postgresql.conf. The server will listen for both normal
and SSL connections on the same TCP port, and will negotiate
with any connecting client on whether to use SSL. By
default, this is at the client's option; see Section 20.1 about how to set up the server to require
use of SSL for some or all connections.
To start in SSL mode, files containing the server certificate
and private key must exist. By default, these files are expected to be
server.key, respectively, in
the server's data directory, but other names and locations can be specified
using the configuration parameters ssl_cert_file
On Unix systems, the permissions on
disallow any access to world or group; achieve this by the command
chmod 0600 server.key. Alternatively, the file can be
owned by root and have group read access (that is,
permissions). That setup is intended for installations where certificate
and key files are managed by the operating system. The user under which
the PostgreSQL server runs should then be made a
member of the group that has access to those certificate and key files.
If the data directory allows group read access then certificate files may need to be located outside of the data directory in order to conform to the security requirements outlined above. Generally, group access is enabled to allow an unprivileged user to backup the database, and in that case the backup software will not be able to read the certificate files and will likely error.
If the private key is protected with a passphrase, the server will prompt for the passphrase and will not start until it has been entered. Using a passphrase by default disables the ability to change the server's SSL configuration without a server restart, but see ssl_passphrase_command_supports_reload. Furthermore, passphrase-protected private keys cannot be used at all on Windows.
The first certificate in
server.crt must be the
server's certificate because it must match the server's private key.
The certificates of “intermediate” certificate authorities
can also be appended to the file. Doing this avoids the necessity of
storing intermediate certificates on clients, assuming the root and
intermediate certificates were created with
extensions. This allows easier expiration of intermediate certificates.
It is not necessary to add the root certificate to
server.crt. Instead, clients must have the root
certificate of the server's certificate chain.
18.9.2. OpenSSL Configuration
PostgreSQL reads the system-wide
OpenSSL configuration file. By default, this
file is named
openssl.cnf and is located in the
directory reported by
openssl version -d.
This default can be overridden by setting environment variable
OPENSSL_CONF to the name of the desired configuration file.
OpenSSL supports a wide range of ciphers
and authentication algorithms, of varying strength. While a list of
ciphers can be specified in the OpenSSL
configuration file, you can specify ciphers specifically for use by
the database server by modifying ssl_ciphers in
It is possible to have authentication without encryption overhead by
NULL-MD5 ciphers. However,
a man-in-the-middle could read and pass communications between client
and server. Also, encryption overhead is minimal compared to the
overhead of authentication. For these reasons NULL ciphers are not
18.9.3. Using Client Certificates
To require the client to supply a trusted certificate,
place certificates of the root certificate authorities
(CAs) you trust in a file in the data
directory, set the parameter ssl_ca_file in
postgresql.conf to the new file name, and add the
clientcert=verify-full to the appropriate
hostssl line(s) in
A certificate will then be requested from the client during SSL
connection startup. (See Section 33.18 for a description
of how to set up certificates on the client.)
hostssl entry with
clientcert=verify-ca, the server will verify
that the client's certificate is signed by one of the trusted
certificate authorities. If
is specified, the server will not only verify the certificate
chain, but it will also check whether the username or its mapping
cn (Common Name) of the provided certificate.
Note that certificate chain validation is always ensured when the
cert authentication method is used
(see Section 20.12).
Intermediate certificates that chain up to existing root certificates
can also appear in the ssl_ca_file file if
you wish to avoid storing them on clients (assuming the root and
intermediate certificates were created with
extensions). Certificate Revocation List (CRL) entries are also
checked if the parameter ssl_crl_file is set.
for diagrams showing SSL certificate usage.)
clientcert authentication option is available for
all authentication methods, but only in
not specified or is set to
no-verify, the server will still
verify any presented client certificates against its CA file, if one is
configured — but it will not insist that a client certificate be presented.
There are two approaches to enforce that users provide a certificate during login.
The first approach makes use of the
hostssl entries in
such that the certificate itself is used for authentication while also
providing ssl connection security. See Section 20.12 for details.
(It is not necessary to specify any
explicitly when using the
cert authentication method.)
In this case, the
cn (Common Name) provided in
the certificate is checked against the user name or an applicable mapping.
The second approach combines any authentication method for
entries with the verification of client certificates by setting the
clientcert authentication option to
verify-full. The former option only enforces that
the certificate is valid, while the latter also ensures that the
cn (Common Name) in the certificate matches
the user name or an applicable mapping.
18.9.4. SSL Server File Usage
Table 18.2 summarizes the files that are relevant to the SSL setup on the server. (The shown file names are default names. The locally configured names could be different.)
Table 18.2. SSL Server File Usage
|ssl_cert_file (||server certificate||sent to client to indicate server's identity|
|ssl_key_file (||server private key||proves server certificate was sent by the owner; does not indicate certificate owner is trustworthy|
|ssl_ca_file||trusted certificate authorities||checks that client certificate is signed by a trusted certificate authority|
|ssl_crl_file||certificates revoked by certificate authorities||client certificate must not be on this list|
The server reads these files at server start and whenever the server configuration is reloaded. On Windows systems, they are also re-read whenever a new backend process is spawned for a new client connection.
If an error in these files is detected at server start, the server will refuse to start. But if an error is detected during a configuration reload, the files are ignored and the old SSL configuration continues to be used. On Windows systems, if an error in these files is detected at backend start, that backend will be unable to establish an SSL connection. In all these cases, the error condition is reported in the server log.
18.9.5. Creating Certificates
To create a simple self-signed certificate for the server, valid for 365
days, use the following OpenSSL command,
dbhost.yourdomain.com with the
server's host name:
openssl req -new -x509 -days 365 -nodes -text -out server.crt \ -keyout server.key -subj "/CN=
chmod og-rwx server.key
because the server will reject the file if its permissions are more liberal than this. For more details on how to create your server private key and certificate, refer to the OpenSSL documentation.
While a self-signed certificate can be used for testing, a certificate signed by a certificate authority (CA) (usually an enterprise-wide root CA) should be used in production.
To create a server certificate whose identity can be validated by clients, first create a certificate signing request (CSR) and a public/private key file:
openssl req -new -nodes -text -out root.csr \ -keyout root.key -subj "/CN=
root.yourdomain.com" chmod og-rwx root.key
Then, sign the request with the key to create a root certificate authority (using the default OpenSSL configuration file location on Linux):
openssl x509 -req -in root.csr -text -days 3650 \ -extfile /etc/ssl/openssl.cnf -extensions v3_ca \ -signkey root.key -out root.crt
Finally, create a server certificate signed by the new root certificate authority:
openssl req -new -nodes -text -out server.csr \ -keyout server.key -subj "/CN=
dbhost.yourdomain.com" chmod og-rwx server.key openssl x509 -req -in server.csr -text -days 365 \ -CA root.crt -CAkey root.key -CAcreateserial \ -out server.crt
should be stored on the server, and
be stored on the client so the client can verify that the server's leaf
certificate was signed by its trusted root certificate.
root.key should be stored offline for use in
creating future certificates.
It is also possible to create a chain of trust that includes intermediate certificates:
# root openssl req -new -nodes -text -out root.csr \ -keyout root.key -subj "/CN=
root.yourdomain.com" chmod og-rwx root.key openssl x509 -req -in root.csr -text -days 3650 \ -extfile /etc/ssl/openssl.cnf -extensions v3_ca \ -signkey root.key -out root.crt # intermediate openssl req -new -nodes -text -out intermediate.csr \ -keyout intermediate.key -subj "/CN=
intermediate.yourdomain.com" chmod og-rwx intermediate.key openssl x509 -req -in intermediate.csr -text -days 1825 \ -extfile /etc/ssl/openssl.cnf -extensions v3_ca \ -CA root.crt -CAkey root.key -CAcreateserial \ -out intermediate.crt # leaf openssl req -new -nodes -text -out server.csr \ -keyout server.key -subj "/CN=
dbhost.yourdomain.com" chmod og-rwx server.key openssl x509 -req -in server.csr -text -days 365 \ -CA intermediate.crt -CAkey intermediate.key -CAcreateserial \ -out server.crt
intermediate.crt should be concatenated
into a certificate file bundle and stored on the server.
server.key should also be stored on the server.
root.crt should be stored on the client so
the client can verify that the server's leaf certificate was signed
by a chain of certificates linked to its trusted root certificate.
should be stored offline for use in creating future certificates.