»TLS Certificates Auth Method

The cert auth method allows authentication using SSL/TLS client certificates which are either signed by a CA or self-signed.

The trusted certificates and CAs are configured directly to the auth method using the certs/ path. This method cannot read trusted certificates from an external source.

CA certificates are associated with a role; role names and CRL names are normalized to lower-case.

Please note that to use this auth method, tls_disable must be false in the Vault configuration. This is because the certificates are sent through TLS communication itself.

»Revocation Checking

Since Vault 0.4, the method supports revocation checking.

An authorised user can submit PEM-formatted CRLs identified by a given name; these can be updated or deleted at will. (Note: Vault does not fetch CRLs; the CRLs themselves and any updates must be pushed into Vault when desired, such as via a cron job that fetches them from the source and pushes them into Vault.)

When there are CRLs present, at the time of client authentication:

  • If the client presents any chain where no certificate in the chain matches a revoked serial number, authentication is allowed

  • If there is no chain presented by the client without a revoked serial number, authentication is denied

This method provides good security while also allowing for flexibility. For instance, if an intermediate CA is going to be retired, a client can be configured with two certificate chains: one that contains the initial intermediate CA in the path, and the other that contains the replacement. When the initial intermediate CA is revoked, the chain containing the replacement will still allow the client to successfully authenticate.

N.B.: Matching is performed by serial number only. For most CAs, including Vault's pki method, multiple CRLs can successfully be used as serial numbers are globally unique. However, since RFCs only specify that serial numbers must be unique per-CA, some CAs issue serial numbers in-order, which may cause clashes if attempting to use CRLs from two such CAs in the same mount of the method. The workaround here is to mount multiple copies of the cert method, configure each with one CA/CRL, and have clients connect to the appropriate mount.

In addition, since the method does not fetch the CRLs itself, the CRL's designated time to next update is not considered. If a CRL is no longer in use, it is up to the administrator to remove it from the method.


»Via the CLI

The below authenticates against the web cert role by presenting a certificate (cert.pem) and key (key.pem) signed by the CA associated with the web cert role. Note that the name web ties to the configuration example below writing to a path of auth/cert/certs/web. If a certificate role name is not specified, the auth method will try to authenticate against all trusted certificates.

$ vault login \
    -method=cert \
    -ca-cert=vault-ca.pem \
    -client-cert=cert.pem \
    -client-key=key.pem \
$ vault login \    -method=cert \    -ca-cert=vault-ca.pem \    -client-cert=cert.pem \    -client-key=key.pem \    name=web

»Via the API

The endpoint for the login is /login. The client simply connects with their TLS certificate and when the login endpoint is hit, the auth method will determine if there is a matching trusted certificate to authenticate the client. Optionally, you may specify a single certificate role to authenticate against.

$ curl \
    --request POST \
    --cacert vault-ca.pem \
    --cert cert.pem \
    --key key.pem \
    --data '{"name": "web"}' \
$ curl \    --request POST \    --cacert vault-ca.pem \    --cert cert.pem \    --key key.pem \    --data '{"name": "web"}' \


Auth methods must be configured in advance before users or machines can authenticate. These steps are usually completed by an operator or configuration management tool.

  1. Enable the certificate auth method:

    $ vault auth enable cert
    $ vault auth enable cert
  2. Configure it with trusted certificates that are allowed to authenticate:

    $ vault write auth/cert/certs/web \
        display_name=web \
        policies=web,prod \
        certificate=@web-cert.pem \
    $ vault write auth/cert/certs/web \    display_name=web \    policies=web,prod \    certificate=@web-cert.pem \    ttl=3600

    This creates a new trusted certificate "web" with same display name and the "web" and "prod" policies. The certificate (public key) used to verify clients is given by the "web-cert.pem" file. Lastly, an optional ttl value can be provided in seconds to limit the lease duration.


The TLS Certificate auth method has a full HTTP API. Please see the TLS Certificate API for more details.