Charlie Drage

Using Let's Encrypt with Docker containers

This has to do with docker, if you don’t know what it is, I highly suggest you check it out. It’s awesome.

Configuring TLS (https certificates) is a pain in the ass. Whether it’s figuring out what the correct way to configure NGINX, or throwing certificates in-front of a proxy. There’s always something that comes up or goes wrong.

Let’s Encrypt launched in 2016 and effectively made it easy and FREE to create certificates. Even better, they’re also introducing Wildcard support.

Anyways. Getting to the point.

Day to day I work with containers and one of the biggest annoyances is HTTPS support. While working on my Seafile server container (an open source Dropbox-alternative), I was required to configure https in order to get file retrieval working on Android or iOS. Painlessly I tried configuring the container to use TLS certificates and then I thought, why am I doing this? I could just throw a reverse proxy infront of it.

After some research, I found docker-letsencrypt-nginx-proxy-companion.

Essentially, you throw nginx-proxy and the above container on your Docker host and add a simple environment variable to your container (-e ""). Then BAM, you’ve got a brand-spanking-new TLS certificate proxying https to your container without ever needing to touch any certificates or NGINX configs.

Here’s how you do it.


Make sure you already have an A Record of the subdomain pointing towards your host! In this example, we’re going to use

First off, we’re going to launch nginx-proxy:

This automatically forwards traffic to Docker containers when they come up. The brain and braun of this operation.

The only volume we’re interested about is /var/nginx/certs which will be hosted on your machine.

docker run -d -p 80:80 -p 443:443 \
    --name nginx-proxy \
    -v /var/nginx/certs:/etc/nginx/certs:ro \
    -v /etc/nginx/vhost.d \
    -v /usr/share/nginx/html \
    -v /var/run/docker.sock:/tmp/docker.sock:ro \
    --label com.github.jrcs.letsencrypt_nginx_proxy_companion.nginx_proxy \

Now, we’re going to use the Let’s Encrypt companion:

This part is awesome. When a container is launched not only will nginx-proxy quickly restart, but this companion container will automatically generate, retrieve and configure the TLS certificate. IT’S MAGIC.

docker run -d \
	--name lets-encrypt \
	-v /var/nginx/certs:/etc/nginx/certs:rw \
	-v /var/run/docker.sock:/var/run/docker.sock:ro \
	--volumes-from nginx-proxy \

Let’s launch an example container (or a few!):

Now I’ve got to prove to you this whole operation works.

Let’s launch an example container!

One prereq: If the container isn’t already a port, pass in --expose PORT. We’ll need this to actually access the container from nginx-proxy.

docker run -d \
	--expose 80 \
	--name example-app \
	-e "" \
	-e "" \
	-e "" \

Alternatively, if your container happens to be on a different port, simply pass in -e "VIRTUAL_PORT=8080" to the command line. It doesn’t matter if the container is running on port 80!

Finally, access your service:

From the public IP address of your host. Simply go to to access your service!

You can do this with ANY container on any port (if you pass in VIRTUAL_PORT). It makes like way easier and accessible.

If you enjoyed this blog post, feel free to check our my Dockerfiles. Specifically, if you wish to host something on your home internet with DynamicDNS (not having to use a VPS), check our my digialocean-dns container.