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Automated management of Let's Encrypt certificates for apps running on Mesosphere Marathon

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Automate ACME certificates for Marathon apps served by marathon-lb

How it works

There is one big requirement for deploying marathon-acme: there must be shared persistent storage between marathon-acme and all marathon-lb instances. This will be used to store the certificates.

  1. marathon-acme watches Marathon for changes to app definitions.

  2. It collects the values of all MARATHON_ACME_{n}_DOMAIN labels on apps. This will form the set of domains to fetch certificates for.

  3. It generates, verifies and stores certificates for any new domains using the configured ACME certificate authority.

  4. It tells marathon-lb to reload using the marathon-lb HTTP API.

  5. It issues new certificates for soon-to-expire certificates once a day.

marathon-acme is written in Python using Twisted. The certificate issuing functionality is possible thanks to the txacme library.

The ACME provider that most people are likely to use is Let’s Encrypt. Before using marathon-acme with Let’s Encrypt, make sure you are aware of their rate limits.

The entire certificate-issuing workflow is shown below:



marathon-acme is available as a pip-installable Python package on PyPI. However, most users will probably want to use the Docker image available from Docker Hub.

> $ docker run --rm praekeltfoundation/marathon-acme --help
usage: marathon-acme [-h] [-a ACME] [-e EMAIL] [-m MARATHON[,MARATHON,...]]
                     [-l LB[,LB,...]] [-g GROUP] [--allow-multiple-certs]
                     [--listen LISTEN] [--sse-timeout SSE_TIMEOUT]
                     [--log-level {debug,info,warn,error,critical}]

Automatically manage ACME certificates for Marathon apps

positional arguments:
  storage-dir           Path to directory for storing certificates

optional arguments:
  -h, --help            show this help message and exit
  -a ACME, --acme ACME  The address for the ACME Directory Resource (default:
  -e EMAIL, --email EMAIL
                        An email address to register with the ACME service
  -m MARATHON[,MARATHON,...], --marathon MARATHON[,MARATHON,...]
                        The addresses for the Marathon HTTP API (default:
  -l LB[,LB,...], --lb LB[,LB,...]
                        The addresses for the marathon-lb HTTP API (default:
  -g GROUP, --group GROUP
                        The marathon-lb group to issue certificates for
                        (default: external)
                        Allow multiple certificates for a single app port.
                        This allows multiple domains for an app, but is not
  --listen LISTEN       The address for the port to listen on (default: :8000)
  --sse-timeout SSE_TIMEOUT
                        Amount of time in seconds to wait for some event data
                        to be received from Marathon. Set to 0 to disable.
                        (default: 60)
  --log-level {debug,info,warn,error,critical}
                        The minimum severity level to log messages at
                        (default: info)
  --version             show program's version number and exit

marathon-acme app definition

marathon-acme should be deployed as a Marathon app.

  "id": "/marathon-acme",
  "cpus": 0.01,
  "mem": 128.0,
  "args": [
    "--email", "",
    "--marathon", "http://marathon1:8080,http://marathon2:8080,http://marathon3:8080",
    "--lb", "http://lb1:9090,http://lb2:9090",
  "labels": {
    "HAPROXY_GROUP": "external",
    "HAPROXY_0_VHOST": "",
    "HAPROXY_0_PATH": "/.well-known/acme-challenge/",
    "HAPROXY_0_HTTP_FRONTEND_ACL_WITH_PATH": "  acl host_{cleanedUpHostname} hdr(host) -i {hostname}\n  acl path_{backend} path_beg {path}\n  redirect prefix http://{hostname} code 302 if !host_{cleanedUpHostname} path_{backend}\n  use_backend {backend} if host_{cleanedUpHostname} path_{backend}\n"
  "container": {
    "type": "DOCKER",
    "docker": {
      "image": "praekeltfoundation/marathon-acme",
      "network": "BRIDGE",
      "portMappings": [
        { "containerPort": 8000, "hostPort": 0 }
      "parameters": [
          "value": "my-volume-driver",
          "key": "volume-driver"
          "value": "marathon-acme-certs:/var/lib/marathon-acme",
          "key": "volume"

The above should mostly be standard across different deployments. The volume parameters will depend on your particular networked storage solution.

HAPROXY labels

"labels": {
  "HAPROXY_GROUP": "external",
  "HAPROXY_0_VHOST": "",
  "HAPROXY_0_PATH": "/.well-known/acme-challenge/",
  "HAPROXY_0_HTTP_FRONTEND_ACL_WITH_PATH": "  acl host_{cleanedUpHostname} hdr(host) -i {hostname}\n  acl path_{backend} path_beg {path}\n  redirect prefix http://{hostname} code 302 if !host_{cleanedUpHostname} path_{backend}\n  use_backend {backend} if host_{cleanedUpHostname} path_{backend}\n"

Several special marathon-lb labels are needed in order to forward all HTTP requests whose path begins with /.well-known/acme-challenge/ to marathon-acme, in order to serve ACME HTTP challenge responses.


marathon-lb instances are assigned a group. Only Marathon apps with a HAPROXY_GROUP label that matches their group are routed with that instance. “external” is the common name for publicly-facing load balancers.


marathon-acme needs its own domain to respond to ACME challenge requests on. This domain must resolve to your marathon-lb instance(s).


We want this rule in HAProxy’s config file to come before any others so that requests are routed to marathon-acme before we do the (usually) domain-based routing for the other Marathon apps. The default weight is 0, so we set to 1 so that the rule comes first.


This is the beginning of the HTTP path to ACME validation challenges.

acl host_{cleanedUpHostname} hdr(host) -i {hostname}
acl path_{backend} path_beg {path}
redirect prefix http://{hostname} code 302 if !host_{cleanedUpHostname} path_{backend}
use_backend {backend} if host_{cleanedUpHostname} path_{backend}

This is where it gets complicated… It’s possible to edit the templates used for generating the HAProxy on a per-app basis using labels. This is necessary because by default marathon-lb will route based on domain first, but we don’t want to do that. You can see the standard template here.

Here, we add an extra redirect rule. This redirects all requests matching the ACME challenge path to marathon-acme, except those requests already headed for marathon-acme. The Let’s Encrypt server will follow redirects.


It is possible to have marathon-acme serve ACME challenge requests over HTTPS, although this is usually not necessary. In this case, a certificate needs to be issued for marathon-acme and the HTTP redirect label needs to be modified:

"labels": {
  "HAPROXY_0_HTTP_FRONTEND_ACL_WITH_PATH": "  acl host_{cleanedUpHostname} hdr(host) -i {hostname}\n  acl path_{backend} path_beg {path}\n  redirect prefix https://{hostname} code 302 if path_{backend}\n"

Note that using the HAPROXY_0_REDIRECT_TO_HTTPS label for marathon-acme will break things. This label is difficult for us to use because of the way marathon-lb’s templating works.


Here we set up marathon-acme to fetch a certificate for itself.

acl host_{cleanedUpHostname} hdr(host) -i {hostname}
acl path_{backend} path_beg {path}
redirect prefix https://{hostname} code 302 if path_{backend}

We redirect to the HTTPS address (https://{hostname}) for all domains (including marathon-acme’s) for requests to the ACME challenge path. The use_backend directive can now be removed since the backend is never used over HTTP as all requests are redirected.

Note that this label can only be set after marathon-acme has fetched the first certificate for its own domain. In other words, set the MARATHON_ACME_0_DOMAIN first and make sure it has taken effect before setting this one.

Docker images

Docker images are available from Docker Hub. There are two different streams of Docker images available:

For more details on the Docker images, see the praekeltfoundation/docker-marathon-acme repo.

Volumes and ports

The marathon-acme container defaults to the /var/lib/marathon-acme directory to store certificates and the ACME client private key. This is the path inside the container that should be mounted as a shared volume.

The container also defaults to listening on port 8000 on all interfaces.

You can override these values by providing arguments to the Docker container.

Certificate files

marathon-acme creates the following directory/file structure:

  • /var/lib/marathon-acme/

    • client.key: The ACME client private key

    • default.pem: A self-signed wildcard cert for HAProxy to fallback to

    • certs/

      • An issued ACME certificate for a domain

    • unmanaged-certs/: A directory for certs that marathon-acme doesn’t manage

marathon-acme does nothing with the unmanaged-certs/ directory after creating it. HAProxy fails if any path in its certificate config doesn’t exist, so it reduces setup friction to have a standard place to put unmanaged certificates.

marathon-lb configuration

marathon-acme requires marathon-lb 1.4.0 or later in order to be able to trigger HAProxy reloads.

As mentioned earlier, marathon-lb must share persistent storage with marathon-acme. BYONS: bring your own networked storage.

The only real configuration needed for marathon-lb is to add the path to marathon-acme’s certificate storage directory as a source of certificates. HAProxy supports loading certificates from a directory. You should set marathon-lb’s --ssl-certs CLI option to the certificate directory path as well as the fallback certificate (if HAProxy cannot find any certificates in the paths it is given it will fail to start).

--ssl-certs <storage-dir>/certs,<storage-dir>/default.pem

App configuration

marathon-acme uses a single marathon-lb-like label to assign domains to app ports: MARATHON_ACME_{n}_DOMAIN, where {n} is the port index. The value of the label is a set of comma- and/or whitespace-separated domain names, although by default only the first domain name will be considered.

Currently, marathon-acme can only issue certificates with a single domain. This means multiple certificates need to be issued for apps with multiple configured domains.

A limitation was added that limits apps to a single domain. This limit can be removed by passing the --allow-multiple-certs command-line option, although this is not recommended as it makes it possible for a large number of certificates to be issued for a single app, potentially exhausting the Let’s Encrypt rate limit.

The app or its port must must be in the same HAPROXY_GROUP as marathon-acme was configured with at start-up.

We decided not to reuse the HAPROXY_{n}_VHOST label so as to limit the number of domains that certificates are issued for.


The library used for ACME certificate management, txacme, is currently quite limited in its functionality. The two biggest limitations are:

  • There is no Subject Alternative Name (SAN) support yet (#37). Each certificate will correspond to exactly one domain name. This limitation makes it easier to hit Let’s Encrypt’s rate limits.

  • There is no support for removing certificates from txacme’s certificate store (#77). Once marathon-acme issues a certificate for an app it will try to renew that certificate forever unless it is manually deleted from the certificate store.

For a more complete list of issues, see the issues page for this repo.


Challenge ping endpoint

One common problem is that marathon-lb is misconfigured and ACME challenge requests are unable to reach marathon-acme. You can test challenge request routing to marathon-acme using the challenge ping endpoint.

It should be possible to reach the /.well-known/acme-challenge/ping path from all domains served by marathon-lb:

> $ curl
{"message": "pong"}

> $ curl
{"message": "pong"}

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