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How to configure HTTPS for an Nginx Docker Container

 |  September 21, 2020

There are a few ways to effectively configure HTTPs for an Nginx Docker Container.  In this guide, we will quickly cover configuration through the use of free certificate authority Let’s Encrypt.

For plenty of people, using Let’s Encrypt to configure HTTPS for an Nginx docker container is a good option. A paid version like Comodo’s SSL certificates may make more sense if you want to increase the security of your site and server.

It is all about finding the right solution for your needs.  This introduction will get you started, while the comprehensive code can be found via GitHub.

Quick overview & setup

If you want to define several containers and also get them up and running, docker-compose is an efficient tool.

First, you need to kick things off with a config file (docker-compose.yml) that encompasses images for both Nginx and certbot.

version: ‘3’



image: nginx:1.15-alpine


   – “80:80”

   – “443:443”


   – ./data/nginx:/etc/nginx/conf.d


image: certbot/certbot

Next, you can use this basic configuration to point incoming requests to HTTPS. Just swap in your domain name there the example URLs are found. Then, save the domain name as data/nginx/app.conf.

server {

listen 80;

server_name example.com; location / {

     return 301 https://$host$request_uri;


}server {

listen 443 ssl;

server_name example.com;

location / {

     proxy_pass http://example.com;



 Joining the dots

In order to validate domains, Let’s Encrypt request-response data from certbot which has to be served files via the Nginx container. This takes a parallel approach to that used by Google Search Console.

Volumes for both validation challengers and certificates need to be added as follows within docker-compose.yml:

  • ./data/certbot/conf:/etc/letsencrypt
  • ./data/certbot/www:/var/www/certbot

 Then to the certbot section you need to include:


  • ./data/certbot/conf:/etc/letsencrypt
  • ./data/certbot/www:/var/www/certbot

Subsequently you will need to place this in data/nginx/app.conf:

location /.well-known/acme-challenge/ {

root /var/www/certbot;


Now comes the time to bring the HTTPS certificates into play. Pop this, along with its key, into port 443. Remember to swap in your domain where appropriate:

ssl_certificate /etc/letsencrypt/live/example.com/fullchain.pem;

ssl_certificate_key /etc/letsencrypt/live/example.com/privkey.pem;

Finally, endow your config file with this HTTPS setup used by Let’s Encrypt to keep things consistent:

include /etc/letsencrypt/options-ssl-nginx.conf;

ssl_dhparam /etc/letsencrypt/ssl-dhparams.pem;

Achieving validation

The validation process is a little challenging since it seems as if you need to overcome a Catch 22 situation. Luckily there is a script to handle this. The script generates a dummy certificate. Then, it deletes the dummy certificate once the genuine article has been received.

curl -L https://raw.githubusercontent.com/wmnnd/nginx-certbot/master/init-letsencrypt.sh > init-letsencrypt.sh

To complete this, run chmod +x init-letsencrypt.sh and sudo ./init-letsencrypt.sh. Also, remember to include your own domain and email details.

Renewing certificates automatically

An expired certificate will pose a big problem. So, automating the renewal at the right time is essential.

Edit the docker-compose.yml , including the upcoming code within the certbot section:

entrypoint: “/bin/sh -c ‘trap exit TERM; while :; do certbot renew; sleep 12h & wait $${!}; done;'”

At 12 hour intervals, this will detect whether your certificate needs to be renewed or not. Then using the following, this time added to the Nginx section. The newest certificates are the only ones loaded within Nginx.

command: “/bin/sh -c ‘while :; do sleep 6h & wait $${!}; nginx -s reload; done & nginx -g \”daemon off;\”‘”

As you can see, this will require that the config, including any new certificates, are reloaded at 6-hour intervals.

Finishing up

The last step is to run docker-compose up. Then, start making the most of your significantly more secure service.  

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