Tristan Dunn

Deploying Jekyll to a VPS


Part 5: Switching to HTTPS Only

While a secure connection may not seem relevant for a static website, it affects search engine rankings now that Google uses HTTPS as a ranking signal. And apart from purchasing a certificate or generating a free certificate from Let’s Encrypt, it’s not that difficult to support.

Vagrant Certificate

To start, let’s generate a self-signed certificate on the Vagrant server to allow us to test the configuration changes. We can do so by SSHing into the Vagrant server and running the following commands. Note that it can take some time to generate the dhparam file.

$ cd /etc/ssl
$ sudo openssl genrsa -out 2048
$ sudo openssl req -new -x509 -key -out -days 3650 -subj /CN=example.local

$ cd /etc/ssl/certs
$ sudo openssl dhparam -out dhparam.pem 4096
Generate a self-signed certificate on the Vagrant server.

On OS X we need to trust the generated certificate. To do so copy the file out of the Vagrant server and drag it into the “Keychain Access” program. After it’s added, double click it, expand the “Trust” section, and set the “When using this certificate” option to “Always Trust”.

Also, since we generated the certificate for example.local we need to add it to our local hosts file. To add a host on OS X, add example.local on a blank line to the /etc/hosts file. Note that we need to use sudo to write to it.

Server Configuration

Now we need to ensure nginx compiles with the SSL and SPDY modules, creates a new file for the SSL configuration, and uses the new configuration file when a certificate is present.

SSL and SPDY Modules

To compile with SSL and SPDY we add the modules to the node configuration. We also ensure the gzip static module is still available.

  "nginx" : {
    "install_method" : "source",

    "source" : {
      "version"  : "1.6.2",
      "checksum" : "b5608c2959d3e7ad09b20fc8f9e5bd4bc87b3bc8ba5936a513c04ed8f1391a18",
      "modules"  : [

    "default_site_enabled" : false
Customize the modules in the JSON for nodes.

Now we can run bundle exec knife solo cook vagrant to recompile nginx with the modules.

SSL Configuration

Next we need to add a lot of configuration to use and configure the SSL and SPDY modules. We’re going to create it in a separate example.ssl.nginx file to only enforce HTTPS when a certificate is present.

To learn more about what each directive does, check out the documentation for ngx_http_ssl_module. We could also generate this with the configuration generator from Mozilla, which also supports generation for other servers.

# Redirect HTTP requests to the HTTPS endpoint.
server {
  listen 80;
  server_name example.local;

  return 301 https://$server_name$request_uri;

server {
  root /var/www/;

  # Listen on the standard SSL port, with SPDY enabled.
  listen 443 ssl spdy;
  server_name example.local;

  # Enable SSL.
  ssl on;

  # Set the paths for the certificate files.
  ssl_dhparam /etc/ssl/certs/dhparam.pem;
  ssl_certificate /etc/ssl/;
  ssl_certificate_key /etc/ssl/;

  # Cache connection information.
  ssl_session_cache shared:SSL:10m;
  ssl_session_timeout 24h;
  ssl_session_tickets off;

  # The ciphers and protocols supported.
  ssl_protocols TLSv1 TLSv1.1 TLSv1.2;
  ssl_prefer_server_ciphers on;

  # Enable OCSP stapling.
  ssl_stapling on;
  ssl_stapling_verify on;

  # Use the Google DNS servers for name resolution.
  resolver valid=300s;
  resolver_timeout 10s;

  # Enable compression and customize the timeout for SPDY.
  spdy_headers_comp 5;
  spdy_keepalive_timeout 300;

  # Add headers to enable HSTS and SPDY.
  add_header Alternate-Protocol 443:npn-spdy/3;
  add_header Strict-Transport-Security max-age=63072000;

  location ~ "^/assets/" {
    # Enable gzip compression.
    gzip_vary on;
    gzip_static on;

    # Leverage browser caching.
    add_header ETag "";
    add_header Expires "Thu, 31 Dec 2037 23:55:55 GMT";
    add_header Cache-Control "public, max-age=315360000";
Create an SSL template at site-cookbooks/server/templates/default/example.ssl.nginx.

We can add a small condition to our default server recipe to use the new SSL configuration when the certificate is present.

include_recipe "nginx::default"

directory "/var/www" do
  owner node[:user]

template "example" do
  path  "#{node[:nginx][:dir]}/sites-available/example"
  owner node[:user]

  # Use an SSL configuration file when the certificate is present.
  if File.exist?("/etc/ssl/")
    source "example.ssl.nginx"
    source "example.nginx"

  notifies :reload, "service[nginx]"

nginx_site "example" do
  enable true
Update the Ruby default recipe to conditionally enable the SSL configuration.

We can run bundle exec knife solo cook to update the configuration, but note that this will break access to the server until we update Vagrant to handle the new SSL port.

Vagrant Port Forwarding

Next we need update the Vagrant port forwarding. And since it’s kind of annoying having to request http://example.local:8080 or https://example.local:4443 we’re also going to improve the handling to better match the production version. First we need to install the vagrant-triggers plug-in to allow us to run commands for any Vagrant events.

# If you're using Homebrew you'll probably need this variable.

$ vagrant plugin install vagrant-triggers
Install the vagrant-triggers plug-in.

Now we can run arbitrary commands when starting or stopping the Vagrant instance, so we’ll use pfctl to map the ports to the standard 80 and 443 ports. We’re also adding a new forwarded port for HTTPS.

Vagrant.configure(2) do |config|
  # Every Vagrant development environment requires a box. You can search for
  # boxes at = "hashicorp/precise64"

  # Create a forwarded port mapping which allows access to a specific port
  # within the machine from a port on the host machine. "forwarded_port", guest: 443, host: 4443 "forwarded_port", guest: 80,  host: 8080

  # Provider-specific configuration so you can fine-tune various
  # backing providers for Vagrant. These expose provider-specific options.
  config.vm.provider "virtualbox" do |box|
    box.memory = 512

  # Add rules when provisioning, starting, or reloading the server to forward
  # the standard HTTP and HTTPS ports to the Vagrant forwarded ports.
  config.trigger.after [:provision, :up, :reload] do
    system <<-EOC
      echo "
        rdr pass on lo0 inet proto tcp from any to port 80 -> port 8080
        rdr pass on lo0 inet proto tcp from any to port 443 -> port 4443
      " | sudo pfctl -ef - > /dev/null 2>&1;
      echo "==> Fowarding Ports: 80 -> 8080, 443 -> 4443"

  # Remove the port forwarding rules when halting or destroying the server.
  config.trigger.after [:halt, :destroy] do
    system <<-EOC
      sudo pfctl -df /etc/pf.conf > /dev/null 2>&1;
      echo "==> Removing Port Forwarding"
Add triggers to forward ports 80 and 443 locally.

Note that we’ll have to enter our password now, since we need sudo to run the commands. After running vagrant reload to forward the ports we can access the website at https://example.local. And if we try to access it over HTTP at http://example.local it will redirect us to HTTPS.

Remote Certificate

For production we need a trusted certificate rather than a self-signed version. As mentioned before we can use Let’s Encrypt, but for now we’ll stick with DNSimple from before.

Buy a Certificate

After signing into DNSimple, navigate to the domain we’re going to buy a certificate for. In the SSL certificates section click on “Buy a new SSL Certificate”. Choose the appropriate subdomain for the “Host Name”, which is www if we’re securing the root domain such as our

Creating the certificate will take a bit of time, but we’ll receive a few e-mails when it’s completed. We can also check the status on the DNSimple certificate page.

And while that’s running, let’s generate the dhparam on the production server.

$ cd /etc/ssl/certs
$ sudo openssl dhparam -out dhparam.pem 4096
Increase the key size for the Diffie Hellman key exchange.

Install the Certificate

Once DNSimple knows the certificate is available it will provide the certificate bundle and private key. We can find the download links for them under the nginx section of the “Install the SSL Certificate” page linked from the certificate page.

The www_example_com.pem file is our certificate, which we’ll store at /etc/ssl/ And the www_example_com.key file is our certificate key, which we’ll store at /etc/ssl/ Now if everything is correct when we run bundle exec knife solo cook example it will use the new SSL configuration.


We now have an HTTPS only website, which will help with our SEO and ensure any access is secure. See the jekyll-vps-server repository for the complete Chef source code, with the part-5 branch being specific to this article.

One final item to remember is to use HTTPS for external resources, such as forms and external CSS or JavaScript. Also update any hardcoded URLs, such as the asset domain or base URL in Jekyll.

E-mail me if you have any tips, comments, or questions.