Managing Puppet Certificates for Vagrant VMs

Sep 25, 2016

Vagrant has built-in support for running Puppet in either “apply” mode, where the Puppet manifests and modules are provided from the host running Vagrant, or in “server” mode, where Puppet on the VM connects to some shared Puppet server. The latter choice has the advantage of requiring less setup for new users and of being closer to a typical production environment.

However, there is one major issue with using Puppet this way. For security, Puppet uses certificate authentication that includes a certificate for the client. On a new operating system install, this typically works like this:

  1. The new client attempts to connect to the Puppet server. It accepts the server certificate (as long as the name matches what it expects). It generates a new certificate for the client and provides the public side.
  2. The new client certificate goes into a list of waiting certificates on the Puppet server.
  3. An administrator looks over the list of certificates waiting to be signed, verifies them, and runs “puppet cert” to sign them.
  4. The client is now able to authenticate to the server using the new certificate.

The signing step is sometimes automated with a tool like Cobbler that “knows” when a new machine is being installed, but the process is the same.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t work as well with Vagrant VMs for a couple reasons. First, after a “vagrant destroy” and “vagrant up”, the old certificate will be gone and the client will generate a new one. This requires a manual step of cleaning the old certificate on the server. Second, if multiple people are using copies of the same Vagrant VM, they will have different certificates, which won’t work at all.

Even telling the Puppet server to autosign certificates doesn’t help. Not only does this have security implications, and still requires manually cleaning old certificates, but it also does not solve the issue of multiple users. Instead, the best solution is to find a way to use the same certificate for every copy of the Vagrant VM.

In creating my solution, I am indebted to this page that offers one way to solve the problem, but I’ve modified things a little to get the VM to work the first time.

  1. Choose a “node name” for the VM. This does not need to be the same as the Vagrant host name.
  2. Make sure the Puppet server has a manifest for the new node.
  3. On the server, run “puppet cert generate (node-name)”. This will generate the certificate and will also sign it (assuming the use of the built-in certificate authority.)
  4. Copy the private key and certificate to the directory with the Vagrantfile. The private key is in /etc/puppetlabs/puppet/ssl/private_keys/node-name.pem. The certificate is in /etc/puppetlabs/puppet/ssl/ca/signed/node-name.pem.
  5. Configure the Vagrantfile as follows:
  config.vm.provision "puppet_server" do |puppet|
    puppet.puppet_node = "node-name"
    puppet.puppet_server = "puppet-server.domain"
    puppet.client_cert_path = "cert.pem"
    puppet.client_private_key_path = "key.pem"

As long as the certificate and private key are checked in with the Vagrantfile, anyone should now be able to grab the repository, run “vagrant up”, and immediately provision from the Puppet server.