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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.


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] [--listen LISTEN]
                     [--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)
  --listen LISTEN       The address for the port to listen on (default: :8000)
  --log-level {debug,info,warn,error,critical}
                        The minimum severity level to log messages at
                        (default: info)

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 path_{backend} path_beg {path}\n  use_backend {backend} if path_{backend}\n",
    "HAPROXY_0_HTTPS_FRONTEND_ACL_WITH_PATH": "  use_backend {backend} if 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

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-lb is designed with the assumption that things have domains. marathon-acme doesn’t technically need one, but if we don’t specify this label, the app is not exposed to the outside world. Any value will do here, since we change the templates to never include this value.


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.


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. We simply remove the first line containing the hostname ACL.


marathon-lb exposes apps via port 443/HTTPS by default and there doesn’t seem to be a way to switch it off. We change the ACL template here so that HAProxy doesn’t try to do an SNI match on the hostname. The ACME Simple HTTP spec allows for challenges to occur over HTTPS if the client requests as such and will ignore the certificate presented on our side.

Docker images

Docker images are available from Docker Hub. There are two different streams of Docker images available: * :latest/:<version>: Tracks the latest released version of marathon-acme on PyPI. The Dockerfile for these is in the `praekeltfoundation/docker-marathon-acme <>`__ repo. * :develop: Tracks the develop branch of this repo and is built using the Dockerfile in this repo.

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

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-separated domain names, although currently only the first domain name will be considered.

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 current biggest limitation with marathon-acme is that it will only issue one certificate for one domain per app port. This is to limit the number of certificates issued so as to prevent hitting Let’s Encrypt rate limits.

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.

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