Add a free Let’s Encrypt SSL/TLS certificate to your Open edX installation in just a few minutes using this step-by-step how-to guide.


Let’s Encrypt is a free, automated, and open Certificate Authority that is sponsored by Internet Security Research Group (ISRG) which itself is a venerable who’s who of silicon valley Internet companies. Let’s Encrypt has made it much easier to request, install and maintain SSL/TLS certificates on your web servers. For Ubuntu/Nginx web apps like Open edX, Let’s Encrypt uses a platform named Certbot that provides a simple installation process that MOSTLY works, barring a couple of minor hiccups. By following these instructions you should be able to get HTTPS working on your server in less than an hour.

If you’re already familiar with Nginx then you can probably jump over to Certbot’s installation guide for Ubuntu 16.04 / Nginx, and if so then god speed. Otherwise by all means, please read on.

Now, about those hiccups. First, as of the date of publication of this post at least, Certbot’s instructions required a minor modification. Second, some of the Open edX virtual server configurations are too complex for certbot to understand, causing it to make minor though correctable mistakes when configuring HTTP redirections to HTTPS. Fortunately, both of these are minor problems which we’ll easily avert in the procedure that follows.

Setup Procedure

1. Prepare Your Nginx Virtual Server Configuration Files

Open edx runs on Nginx, a fast, bare-bones web server alternative to Apache, and like Apache, Nginx can host multiple virtual web servers on the same Ubuntu server instance. In the case of the Open edX software suite there are nearly a dozen such web servers — two of them being your LMS and Course Management Studio — which you can view from either of the following two paths:


Explicitly name each server. Open edx native build configuration, by design, automagically infers the fully-qualified domain name of your LMS, elminating any need on your part to explicitly name the virtual server. Unfortunately, this convenience strategy undermines Certbot’s ability to read your virtual server configuration files to determine the names of the SSL certificates you need to request. You’ll therefore need to edit the LMS and CMS files, adding a line near the top of each file to explicitly name each server.

sudo vim /etc/nginx/sites-enabled/lms

This post only covers setting up SSL/TLS for the LMS and CMS, however, if you analyze the other virtual server configuration files in this folder you’ll probably be able to apply these same procedures to other sites in your Open edX software suite like for example, the Ecommerce module.

On an aside, you should note that many of the virtual server configurations in this folder make use of unorthodox http port assignments. For example, Studio is assigned to port 18010. For the avoidance of any doubts, the Open edX design team deliberately took this approach so that you’d only need one fully-qualified domain name (eg to access the entire suite of software. However, you can easily set one  or more of the applications to it’s own fully-qualified domain name in order to make it more accessible and user friendly for your users. For example, for obsessive-compulsive dev ops types (like me) you could create an entire series of subdomains such as: