I manage most of my domains using my own nameservers, running BIND9 on two Debian VPS located in Italy (master) and France (slave). Until now, I’ve been changing the DNS records by SSHing into the machine and editing the zone file by hand. This worked fine since I rarely needed to change any DNS records. Then earlier this year, Let’s Encrypt put the ACME v2 endpoint into production which allows users to obtain wildcard certificates using the DNS challenge. This put me into a situation where I needed to create, update and delete DNS records automatically.
The ACME HTTP challenge requires the user to make the challenge flag
available via HTTP under
http://www.example.com/.well-known/acme-challenge. This way, the
ACME endpoint can only verify ownership over a specific subdomain
www.example.com in this case). The DNS challenge looks for the flag
in the TXT record
_acme-challenge.example.com. This allows the ACME
endpoint to validate ownership over the whole domain and it is
possible to issue a wildcard certificate for
Since DNS setups vary depending on the domain provider or used DNS
server, certbot can use manual auth and cleanup hooks, that receive
the domain name and challenge flag via the environment variables
Once the challenge mechanism was understood, I needed a way to
programmatically create and delete records on my BIND9 server. I
decided to implement a REST-like webservice to run on the same machine
as BIND9 and modify records using the
The REST API offers two methods:
"value": "<challenge flag>",
X-Api-Token header contains the SHA256-HMAC over the request
body using a pre-shared secret to prevent unauthenticated use of the
API but this still does not protect against replay attacks. If an
attacker managed to intercept an request to the API, (s)he would be
able to resend the same request to the server and re-execute the
command. To prevent this, the API server has to be placed behind a
reverse proxy like nginx to encrypt the requests using TLS or as
I am doing it, make the server listen on a private IP address inside
an encrypted VLAN (tinc in my case).
Once the body was verified using the pre-shared secret,
invoked and the following update or delete scripts are passed via
update add _acme-challenge.example.com 1337 TXT <challenge flag>
update delete _acme-challenge.example.com TXT
For the implementation of the API and the client, I chose to use Rust
with the actix-web framework for the server and reqwest to
make HTTP requests on the client side. The implementation along with
installation instructions can be found on Github or my Gitea
instance. I have already worked with the Rocket web framework
for my Bachelor thesis but it depends on the nightly branch of the
compiler and is a pain to maintain over a longer period of time due to
breaking changes in the nightly compiler. Also actix-web is really
fast1. Further crates that were used and should be
mentioned include ring for cryptographic operations, serde
for (de)serialization of data and proptest to verify some
properties of my code (e.g.
verify_signature(key, msg, sign(key,
msg)) must be true for every input of
msg). Rust made it
easy to exchange data between the client and the server in a typesafe
manner and actix-web offers an well designed API to build fast web
applications. While actix-web lacks the incredible ergonomics of
Rocket (it’s not bad, just not as good as Rocket), I prioritize using
the stable compiler branch over API ergonomics.
The client itself is independent of the way, certbot works and the integration into the workflow is archived by bash scripts inspired by these INWX certbot hooks.
For the server to work, a DNS key has to be generated as described in
the repository to be able to modify the records using
I start the API server using a systemd service:
ExecStart=/usr/local/bin/bind9-api -k /etc/bind/dnskey -h 10.0.1.101 -t <api secret>
The client is configured using the configuration file
/etc/bind9apiclient.toml that contains the API URL and secret.
# API server host
host = "http://127.0.0.1:8080"
# API secret
secret = "topsecret"
The final binaries, I use in production, are compiled using the
ekidd/rust-musl-builder Docker image to build completely
static binaries by linking against the musl libc (Linking
against the default glibc target, produces dynamically linked binaries
that depend to the systems glibc and OpenSSL version).
After placing the client somewhere in
$PATH and putting the certbot
hooks on the machine that should obtain the certificates, I can invoke
certbot like followed:
certbot certonly -n --agree-tos --server \
https://acme-v02.api.letsencrypt.org/directory --preferred-challenges=dns-01 \
--manual --manual-auth-hook /usr/lib/letsencrypt-bind9/certbot-bind9-auth \
--manual-cleanup-hook /usr/lib/letsencrypt-bind9/certbot-bind9-cleanup \
--manual-public-ip-logging-ok -d example.com -d '*.example.com'
I already obtained a wildcard certificate for my domain oldsql.cc, even if I’m using only a single subdomain, to test my code. Obtaining the certificate worked fine, and I guess renewal won’t pose any problems either.