Nginx-LE provides a docker container and tools to create an Nginx web server with Lets Encrypt built in.

Nginx-LE supports both public facing web servers and private (internal) web servers such as those used by individual developers.

The key advantages of Nginx-LE are:

  • automatical certificate acquisition and renewal
  • no down time when renewing certificates
  • for Public facing servers, works with any DNS server

The key disadvantage

  • for Private servers we only support NameCheap.
  • currently supports a max of 10 Private servers

Automatic renewal

Both Public facing and internal Private Web Servers wiil have their certificates automatically renewed.

No down time.

Nginx-LE is able to renew certificate WITHOUT taking your web server offline.

Nginx-LE leaves your web server fully operational whilst it acquires or renews a certificate. Once a new certificate is available it perform an Nginx reload command which is close to instantaneous.

Public Web Server

Public Web Servers is where the Web Server exposes port 80 and 443 on a public IP address.

For Public Web Servers Nginx-LE uses the standard Certbot HTTP auth mechanism.

Lets Encrypt certificates are automatically renewed.

A public web server may be behind a NAT however it MUST have port 80 open to the world to allow certbot to validate the server.

Private Web Server

For a private web server (one with no public internet access) Nginx-LE using the certbot DNS auth method.

Nginx-LE will need to make an outbound connection to the Lets Encrypt server but no inbound connection is required.

Note: At this point the private mode only works with a NameCheap dns server as that is the only api we currently support.

Nginx-LE cli tooling

Nginx-LE provides cli tooling to manage your Nginx-LE instance.

The cli tooling is based on dart and the DShell library.

To install the cli tooling:

  1. Install dshell

(install guide)

  1. activate Nginx-LE

pub global activate nginx_le

On linux this amounts to:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install --no-install-recommends -y wget ca-certificates gnupg2
chmod +x dshell_install
export PATH="$PATH":"$HOME/.pub-cache/bin":"$HOME/.dshell/bin"
pub global activate nginx_le

The DShell installer also installs dart (if its not already installed).

cli commands

The Nginx-LE cli exposes the following commands:

buildBuilds the docker image.Only required if you need to customise the image.
configConfigures the server settingsYou must run config before you can run any other commands.
startStarts nginx-leStarts the Docker container for a specific FQDN
restartRestarts nginx-leRestarts the docker container
stopStops nginx-leStops the docker container.
acquireAcquires or renews a Lets Encrypt certificateThe method use depends on the --mode switch used via start
revokeRevokes the current Lets Encrypt certificateFull certificate revocation.
cliAttaches you to the Docker container in a bash shell.Play inside the nginx-le docker container.
logsTails the

Building Nginx-LE

To build Nginx-LE install the Nginx-LE cli tools as noted above.

You can use the Nginx-LE image in a number of ways.

Serve static contentMount a volume with your static content into /opt/nginx/wwwroot
Configure your own Location(s)Add nginx compatible .location files under /opt/nginx/include
Configure as ProxyAdd nginx compatible .location and .upstream files under /opt/nginx/include
Extend the ImageCreate your own Dockerfile based on Nginx-LE.
Docker-composeAdd Nginx-LE as a service in a docker-compose.yaml file.

Before you build your container you need to create your Dockerfile. See the section below on Create a Dockerfile

To build the Nginx-LE image run:

nginx-le build --tag=<repo/image:version>



The requried --image switch sets the docker image/tag name (repo/image:version) for the image.

e.g. --image=noojee/nginx-le:1.0.0

The switch can be abbreviated to -i.


The optonal flag --update-dshell causes the build to pull the latest version of dart/dshell rather than using the docker cache instance.

You only need to add this switch if you have an existing build and you need to update the dshell/dart version.


The optional flag --debug outputs additional build information.

The flag can be abbreviated to -d.

Configure Nginx-LE

Use the nginx-le config command to configure you Nginx-LE container.

Select the method by which you are going to start Nginx-LE | Method                              | Description | | :---------------- | ---| | nginx-le start| The simplest method. nginx-le config will create a container. Use nginx-le start and nginx-le stop to start/stop the container. | docker start | nginx-le config will create a container. Use docker start and docker stop to start/stop the container. | docker-compose up | docker-compose up will create and start the container. You must specify a number of environment variables and volumes in the docker-compose.yaml file to configure Nginx-LE. You must have started the container with docker-compose at least once before running nginx-le config. Use docker-compose up and docker-compose down to start/stop the container.

The configure command saves a number settings so that you don't have to pass them when running other commands.

The configure command also lets you setup where the content is to be served. Nginx-LE provides for both a simple wwwroot path as well as configuring a set of location and upstream servers.

-- If you are running a server in private mode it also requests a password to encrypt your DNS server api keys so that you don't have to re-enter the keys each time you want to acquire a certificate.


nginx-le config 


Nginx-LE supports to web server modes, public and private.

public mode

If you are running in public mode the server will acquire a certificate using HTTP auth. This requires that nginx-le is exposed to the public internet on both port 80 and port 443.

private mode

You need to run in private mode if you Nginx-LE server is not directly connected to the public internet.

You can still use public mode if you are behind a NAT

When running in private mode you also need to run the acquire command described below.



The required --fqdn switch specifies the fully qualified domain name (FQDN) of the host that the certificate will be issued for.

The FQDN must much a valid DNS entry on a public facing DNS server.


The required --tld switch specifies top level domain name (TLD) of the host e.g. use if your fqdn is


The required --mode switch tells Nginx-LE whether your web server is access from the internet and therefore controls how certificate renewal is performed.

There are two values supported by --mode

private - the server is not access from the internet and cerbot will use DNS validation.

public - the server is accessible from the internet and certbot will use HTTPS validation.

e.g. --mode=public

The switch can be abbreviated to -m.


The required --image switch specifics which docker image to use. This should be the same name you passed to the --image switch when you ran the build.


The required --emailaddress switch is used to send email notifications when errors occur.


The switch can be abbreviated to -e.


The optional --name switch allows you to name your container which will allow you to start it by name.

e.g. --name=examplengix

The switch can be abbreviated to -n.

Content Source

When configuring Nginx-LE you will be prompted to choose the source of the content.

This may be a simple wwwroot mounted from a local host folder or you can provide location and upstream files if you need to process an application server or have serveral root folders.

Simple wwwroot

During configuration select 'Simple wwwroot' when prompted for the Content Source.

Enter the path to the root folder.

By default Nginx-LE will create a location file on the host system at /opt/nginx/include/wwwroot.location on the host system and then mount that location into the Nginx-LE container.

You can modify the default file if it doesn't suit your requirements.


During configuration select 'Locations' when prompted for the Content Source.

Nginx-LE will configure nginx to include location files from the host system at /opt/nginx/include/*.location. This directory is mounted into the container at the same location.

You can place any number of nginx location files in this directory and they will be mounted the next time that the Nginx-LE container is started or nginx is reloaded (you can do this from within the docker cli).

This is an example location file for proxying the java Tomcat server

location / {
        proxy_set_header Host $host;
        proxy_set_header X-Real-IP $remote_addr;
        proxy_set_header X-Forwarded-Proto https;
        proxy_set_header X-Forwarded-For $proxy_add_x_forwarded_for;
        proxy_redirect off;
        proxy_max_temp_file_size 0;
        proxy_pass http://tomcat/;

Upstream servers

If you are using Nginx-LE as a proxy server for an application server then you will need to provide one or more .upstream files to configure the connection to those servers.

Nginx-LE will include the upstream files from the host system at /opt/nginx/include/*.upstream. This directory is mounted into the container at the same location.

You can place any number of nginx upstream files in this directory and they will be mounted the next time that the Nginx-LE container is started or nginx is reloaded (you can do this from within the docker cli).

This is an example upstream file for proxying the java Tomcat server

upstream tomcat {
    server fail_timeout=0;

Start with docker-compose

If you change your dock-compose configuration then docker-compose will recreate the container. When this occurs you MUST re-run nginx-le config and select the new container.

To start Nginx-LE with docker-compose you must provide a number of configuration settings:

The following is a sample configuration:

    container_name: nginx-le
    image: noojee/nginx-le:1.0.5
    restart: on-failure
      - "80:80"
      - "443:443"
    network_mode: "host"
      HOSTNAME: www
      MODE: public
      DEBUG: "true"
      - certificates:/etc/letsencrypt
      - /opt/nginx/include:/etc/nginx/include
      driver: "journald"

The Mode must be public or private. If public is selected then certbot uses http auth. if private is selected then certbot uses DNS auth.


The certificates volume is used to store the certbot certificates between restarts. The /opt/nginx/include host path is where you place the nginx .location and .upstream includes.

Starting Nginx-LE

Before starting Nginx-LE you must first run nginx-le config.

To start the Nginx-LE container run:

nginx-le start

When you first start your Nginx-LE container it won't have a certificate.

When Nginx-LE detects that it doesn't have a vaid certificate it will enter certificate acquistion mode.

In this mode it will display a default 'Certificate Acquistion Required' home page with instructions on obtaining a certificate.

Acquiring/Renewing certificates

Public Mode

For Nginx-LE containers that were built with the --mode=public switch certificate aquisition and renewal is automatic.

Simply start your Nginx-LE container and it will acquire a certificate and renew it as required.

Unlike private mode Nginx-LE public mode works with ANY dns provider.

Nginx-LE will check if a renew is required every 13 hours. Certbot will renew a certificate if its within 30 days of expiring.

Private Mode

Note: Nginx-LE currently only supports the NameCheap DNS api for acquiring certificates in private mode.

WARNING: We would not recommend NameCheap for production DNS servers as their api requires us to replace EVERY DNS entry to create a single DSN entry. A failure of Nginx-LE could result in your DNS becoming corrupted. Additionally this method only supports DNS servers with no more than 10 Host entries. This is a limit of Nginx-LE as we haven't worked out how to use the NameCheap POST option for updating the DNS entries (as it doesn't appear to be documented).

As such we only recommend private mode for developer machines using a non-production domain.

Just acquire a cheap random domain name for use by your development team and host it with NameCheap

Acquire a certificate

When running in private mode you must run the acquire command to acquire a certificate.

To acquire a certificate using a NameCheap DNS server using the acquire command:


nginx-le acquire --containerid=XXXXX namecheap --ask

Note: The acquire command can take 5 minutes+ to acquire a certificate due to delays in DNS propergation.

The NameCheap Api requires an apiKey and apiUsername. This need to be held securely and as such can't be saved to disk.

containerid switch

The docker containerid to attach to.

Either this switch or the --name switch must be passed.

e.g. --containerid=XXXXX

staging switch

Lets Encrypt puts fairly tight constraints on the number of times you can request a certificate for a given domain (5 per day).

During testing we recommend that you use there staging certificates as the limts are much higher

The optional --staging flag allows you to select the Lets Encrypt staging server.

ask switch

The --ask will prompt you to enter the apikey and the apiusername.

env switch

The --env switch requires you to place the apikey and apiusername into to environment variables:

export NAMECHEAP_API_KEY=xxxxxx

Note: the namecheap api username is the same username you use to log in to the NameCheap admin console.

Nginx-LE will then acquire the certificate and then transition into standard operating mode (e.g. it will start serving your website).

Once you have run the acquire command Nginx-LE will be able to automatically renew certificates until you shutdown the server.

Automating certificate renewal in Private Mode

You can run the acquire command after running the start command even if Nginx-LE already has a certificate.

If you run the acquire command after ever start then Nginx-LE server can automaically renew certificates as required.

This command sequence starts the container and passes it the NameCheap credentials to allow it to renew as required.

export NAMECHEAP_API_KEY=xxxxxx
nginx-le start 
nginx-le acquire 

During development you should probaly just use the start command as you don't want to be storing you creditials in a script.

On a daily bases use the start command and only use the acquire namecheap --ask option every few months when a renewal is required.


Nginx-LE stores cerificates on a persisten volume which by convention is called certificates.

The certificates folder is mounted into the containers /etc/letsencrypt/ folder.

Create a dockerfile

By default the Nginx-LE ships with the following configuration files:

The base nginx configuration is defined by:

  • /etc/nginx/nginx.conf
  • /etc/nginx/custom/defaults.conf

If you are happy with the standard configuration you can simply add .location and .upstreamfiles under /opt/nginx/include.

Otherwise you can replace the /etc/nginx/custom/default.conf with your own customised defaults.

NOTE: if you replace default.conf you MUST include a ./well-known location for lets-encrypt to work:

  # lets encrypt renewal path
    location ^~ /.well-known {
      allow all;
      root  /opt/letsencrypt/wwwroot;

The nginx-le container REQUIRES that you have a default.conf file in:

  • /etc/nginx/custom/default.conf

You can also modify the nginx.conf if you have specialised requirements.

If you modify nginx.conf there are several options that MUST not change.

  • daemon off;
  • user nginx;
  • include /etc/nginx/live/default.conf

Changing any of the above settings will cause nginx-le to fail.

Whats with this 'live' directory

The nginx.conf loads its configuration from the /etc/nginx/live/defaults.conf file.

However the above instructions dictate that you put your default.conf in /etc/nginx/custom/defaults.conf

Note: the difference custom vs live.

On startup the live directory is symlinked to your /etc/nginx/custom directory.

This allows nginx-le to change the live folder to point to the acquire path when in certificate acquistion mode.

When configured for SSL, nginx will fail on start if you don't have a valid certificates.

To get around this problem, on startup nginx-le checks if you have active certificates. If you don't it placess the container into acquire mode.

nginx-le does this by changing the live symlink to point to the /etc/nginx/acquire directory.

The acquire path contains a single index.html page informing you that a certificate needs to be acquired. In this mode no other content will be served and only requests from certbot will be processed.

This allows nginx to start and then nginx-le can then you can run the acquire command to obtain a valid certificate.

Once a valid certificate has been acquired nginx-le switches the live symlink back to /etc/nginx/custom and does a nginx reload and your site is online.