Setup nginx with Let's Encrypt SSL

Setup nginx with Let's Encrypt SSL

This is a small tutorial to setup nginx with Let's Encrypt on a FreeBSD server to host a static site.

Install required software

First you have to install all the packages we need in order to get this server going:

pkg install nginx py27-certbot

Configure nginx

Next is nginx. To make life easier, you should configure nginx to read all configuration files from another directory. This allows you to store all your sites in separate configurations in a separate directory. Such a setup is a regular site on nginx installations on GNU+Linux distributions, but not default on FreeBSD.

Open up /usr/local/etc/nginx/nginx.conf and make the contents of the http block look a as follows:

http {
    include       mime.types;
    default_type  application/octet-stream;

    sendfile     on;
    #tcp_nopush  on;

    keepalive_timeout  65;

    # default paths
    index index.html;

    # disable gzip -
    gzip  off;

    # default ssl settings
    ssl_session_cache          shared:SSL:1m;
    ssl_session_timeout        5m;
    ssl_ciphers                HIGH:!aNULL:!MD5:!AES128:!CAMELLIA128;
    ssl_protocols              TLSv1.2;
    ssl_prefer_server_ciphers  on;
    ssl_dhparam                /usr/local/etc/ssl/dhparam.pem;

    # default logs
    error_log  /var/log/nginx/error.log;
    access_log /var/log/nginx/acces.log;

    # default server
    server {
        listen       80;
        server_name  localhost;

        location / {
            root   /usr/local/www/nginx;
            index  index.html index.htm;

        error_page  404              /404.html;
        error_page  500 502 503 504  /50x.html;

        location = /50x.html {
            root   /usr/local/www/nginx-dist;

    # include site-specific configs
    include sites/*.conf;

This sets default ssl settings for all server blocks that enable ssl. Note that these are settings I use, and are in no way guaranteed to be perfect. I did some minor research on these settings to get an acceptable rating on SSL Labs. However, security is not standing still, and there is a decent chance that my settings will become outdated. If you have better settings that result in a safer setup, please contact me.

Setup HTTP

Due to the way certbot works, you need a functioning web server. Since there is no usable cert yet, this means hosting a HTTP version first. The tutorial assumes a static HTML website to be hosted, so the configuration is pretty easy.

Put the following in /usr/local/etc/nginx/sites/domain.conf:

# static HTTP
server {
    # listeners
    listen 80;
    server_name domain.tld www.domain.tld;

    # site path
    root /srv/www/domain/_site;

    # / handler
    location / {
        try_files $uri $uri/ =404;

    # logs
    error_log  /var/log/nginx/error.log;
    access_log /var/log/nginx/access.log;

If your site's sources do not reside in /srv/www/domain/_site, change the path accordingly. This guide will continue using this path for all examples, so be sure to modify this where needed. In the same vein, the domain domain.tld will be used. Modify this to your own domain.

Start nginx

Nginx is now configured to host a single site over HTTP. Now is the time to enable the nginx service. Execute the following:

echo 'nginx_enable="YES"' >> /etc/rc.conf.local

This will enable nginx as a system service. On reboots, it will be started automatically. You can also start it up without rebooting by running the following:

service nginx start

Configure Let's Encrypt

Nginx is now running as your web server on port 80. Now you can request Let's Encrypt certificates using certbot. You can do so as follows:

certbot certonly --webroot -w /srv/www/domain/_site -d domain.tld -d www.domain.tld

In case you want to add any sub domains, simply add more -d sub.domain.tld arguments at the end. If the DNS entries for the domains resolve properly, and no unexpected errors occur on the Let's Encrypt side, you should see a message congratulating you with your new certs.

If your domains do not resolve correctly, certbot will complain about this. You will have to resolve your DNS issues before attempting again.

If certbot complains about an unexpected error on their side, wait a couple minutes and retry the command. It should work, eventually.

Once certbot has ran without errors, the required files should be available in /usr/local/etc/letsencrypt/live/domain.tld.

Configure nginx with SSL

The certificate has been issued and base nginx is running. Now is the time to re-configure your site on nginx to host the HTTPS version of your site instead. Open up /usr/local/etc/nginx/sites/domain.conf again, and make the contents look like the following:

# redirect HTTPS
server {
    # listeners
    listen 80;
    server_name domain.tld *.domain.tld;

    # redirects
    return 301 https://$host$request_uri;

# static HTTPS
server {
    # listeners
    listen  443 ssl;
    server_name  domain.tld www.domain.tld;

    # site path
    root  /srv/www/domain/_site;

    # / handler
    location / {
            try_files $uri $uri/ =404;

    # enable HSTS
    add_header  Strict-Transport-Security "max-age=31536000; includeSubdomains; preload";

    # keys
    ssl_certificate      /usr/local/etc/letsencrypt/live/domain.tld/fullchain.pem;
    ssl_certificate_key  /usr/local/etc/letsencrypt/live/domain.tld/privkey.pem;

Do not forget to update all the paths to match your setup!

As a final step, you should generate the dhparam file. This is to avoid the issues as described on Weak DH.

openssl gendh -out /usr/local/etc/ssl/dhparam.pem 4096

Be aware that this step can take a very long time. On the test machine I used to test this tutorial, with 1 core and 1 GB ram, it took nearly 1 hour to generate this file.

Reload nginx

The final step is to reload the nginx configuration so it hosts the SSL version of your site, and redirects the HTTP version to the HTTPS version. To do this, simply run

service nginx reload

That should be all to get your site working with HTTP redirecting to HTTPS, and HTTPS running using a gratis Let's Encrypt certificate.