Automate the Renewal of a Let’s Encrypt SSL/TLS Certificate on an AWS EC2 Instance

This is part of my Introduction to Installing Let’s Encrypt Certificates for WordPress on Amazon Web Services (AWS) tutorial.

In Renew a Let’s Encrypt SSL/TLS Certificate on an AWS EC2 Instance I went over the steps to renew your Let’s Encrypt SSL/TLS certificate, which will expire every 90 days. It’s good to know how to renew the certificate yourself, but once you do you can write a bash script to automate that renewal process. Here’s a basic overview of how that works:

  1. Create a bash script that executes the same renew command from Renew a Let’s Encrypt SSL/TLS Certificate on an AWS EC2 Instance.
  2. Upload that bash script to your EC2 instance.
  3. Create a cron job. Cron is a function in Linux that allows you to schedule automated tasks, usually by executing a bash script that runs at a specific time and a specific interval. In this example, we will execute the bash script at midnight on the first day of every month.

Unfortunately, when I tried this, it didn’t actually work for me. So the steps below provide a description of the symptom, along with my workaround.

Symptom: Let’s Encrypt certificate not renewed by bash script

As I have previously said, this series of three tutorials on using Let’s Encrypt certificates with AWS EC2 Instances created by Bitnami to run WordPress is based on Bitnami’s own documentation. I originally wrote this article using Bitnami’s instructions, but I found that it did not actually complete the automation task.

The steps I originally followed didn’t generate any errors or break my website or anything like that, but when I checked back after the first day of the month, I would find that my certificate had not been renewed. Either the cron job had not run or the bash script didn’t renew the certificate the way it was supposed to. I spent a lot of time researching the problem and never found an answer. Google searches led me to multiple threads in Bitnami’s Community forums where users were experiencing identical or very similar issues, but I never found an answer.

Solution: Place the bash script in a directory not owned by root

Eventually, it occurred to me that the version of the Bitnami documentation that I was using as a reference told me to put the bash script in the /etc/lego directory, which was “owned” by the system’s root user. I decided to put the bash script in a different directory, one owned by the bitnami user, and created the below instructions, which seem to work.

Several months later, I looked at the Bitnami documentation again, and it looks like it has been updated to put the bash script in /opt/bitnami/letsencrypt/scripts/renew-certificate.sh, which is similar to what I did below. But when I check the ownership of the /opt/bitnami/letsencrypt/scripts/ directory, it also seems to be owned by root, so I am going to stick with my workaround for now.

In this example I am automating the renewal of a Let’s Encrypt SSL/TLS certificate on a LAMP-stack virtual server (in this case an EC2 instance from Amazon Web Services) over Secure Shell (SSH) using the command line. I am using the macOS Terminal, which is Unix-based, but the commands will be the same regardless of what command-line interface you are using. I am also using the Cyberduck FTP client, but any FTP client should work.

Warning

  • When working with SSL/TLS certificates, be very careful. If you are planning on adding, renewing, or removing an SSL/TLS certificate, make sure you create a complete backup of your website before trying anything.
  • If you are working with AWS EC2 instances, always take a snapshot of the instance’s storage volume before you try any of these steps. If anything goes wrong, you can always stop the instance, detach the volume, and attach a new volume created from your snapshot.

Automate the Renewal of an SSL/TLS Certificate from Let’s Encrypt on Your EC2 Instance

  1. Open a text editor and paste the following text into a blank text file:#!/bin/bash
    sudo /opt/bitnami/ctlscript.sh stop apache
    sudo /usr/local/bin/lego --email="email@email.com" --domains="domain.com" --path="/etc/lego" renew
    sudo /opt/bitnami/ctlscript.sh start apache

    • Replace email@email.com with the email address where you want to receive updates about your certificate, including warnings when your certificate is about to expire.
    • Replace domain.com with the domain name for the Let’s Encrypt certificate that you are renewing. Include www. as needed.
  2. Save the text file as renew-certificate.sh.
  3. Open your FTP client and use the steps in WordPress on Amazon EC2: Connect to an Instance via FTP.
  4. Use your FTP client to navigate to the top level of the directory system, find /home, and double-click to enter the /home directory.
  5. Double-click to enter the bitnami directory.
  6. As the name suggests, /home/bitnami is the directory for the bitnami user. This is where we are going to create a directory to put our bash script in.
  7. Although you can create a directory on the command line using the mkdir command, since we are already in Cyberduck we can create it here. Select the File menu and choose New Folder….
  8. Name the new folder bin and click Create.
  9. Drag and drop the renew-certificate.sh file from your computer to the bin folder to upload it.
  10. You can click the arrow next to bin to expand the folder and confirm that you placed renew-certificate.sh in the right place.
  11. Open Terminal and connect to your EC2 instance using the steps from WordPress on Amazon EC2: Connect to an Instance via SSH.
  12. Navigate to the bin folder you just created by entering cd /home/bitnami/bin.
  13. Type chmod +x /home/bitnami/bin/renew-certificate.sh, then press Enter. The chmod +x command makes the renew-certificate.sh file executable.
    • You can check the permissions of renew-certificate.sh and of the entire directory by typing ls -al /home/bitnami/bin and pressing Enter. The permissions for renew-certificate.sh should be -rwxrwxr-x and both the owner and group should be bitnami.
  14. Type sudo crontab -e to enter the crontab editor.
  15. If this is the first time you are editing the crontab (or any other file) through Terminal on this instance, you may be prompted to select a text editor. The system will recommend the nano editor as the easiest. Type 2 and press Enter to choose nano.
  16. If this is your first time editing the crontab, you will see a blank crontab file with some instructions.
  17. After the commented-out section of the crontab, enter the following text: 0 0 1 * * /home/bitnami/bin/renew-certificate.sh 2> /dev/null. This creates a cron job that, at 0 minute of 0 hour (or midnight) on the first day of the month (1) of any month (*), any day of the week (*), will run the renew-certificate.sh bash script that you put in /home/bitnami/bin. (The 2> /dev/null is a default that means that any errors running this cron job will not be emailed to you or otherwise noted in a log.) Remember that your system time is likely set to UTC, which is Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), so keep that in mind when setting the time.
  18. Press Command and O to write out the crontab file.
  19. Press Enter to save your changes.
  20. Press Command and X to exit crontab.
  21. You are returned to the command line, which will display crontab: installing new crontab.
  22. To make sure that the cron service is running on the system, especially if it is your first time using cron, type sudo service cron start and press Enter.
  23. To make sure that cron is running, enter pgrep cron.
  24. If cron is running, Terminal will display a four-digit number, the process ID for cron.
  25. You are done. Type exit and press Enter to end the SSH session.