Caddy is the first and only web server to use HTTPS automatically and by default.
Automatic HTTPS provisions TLS certificates for all your sites and keeps them renewed. It also redirects HTTP to HTTPS for you! Caddy uses safe and modern defaults -- no downtime, extra configuration, or separate tooling is required.
Here's a 28-second video showing how it works:
- Hostname requirements
- Local HTTPS
- ACME Challenges
- On-Demand TLS
- Wildcard certificates
By default, Caddy serves all sites over HTTPS.
- Caddy serves IP addresses and local/internal hostnames over HTTPS using self-signed certificates that are automatically trusted locally (if permitted).
- Caddy serves public DNS names over HTTPS using certificates from a public ACME CA such as Let's Encrypt or ZeroSSL.
Caddy keeps all managed certificates renewed and redirects HTTP (default port
80) to HTTPS (default port
For local HTTPS:
- Caddy may prompt for a password to install its unique root certificate into your trust store. This happens only once per root; and you can remove it at any time.
- Any client accessing the site without trusting Caddy's root CA certificate will show security errors.
For public domain names:
- If your domain's A/AAAA records point to your server,
443are open externally,
- Caddy can bind to those ports (or those ports are forwarded to Caddy),
- your data directory is writeable and persistent,
- and your domain name appears somewhere relevant in the config,
then sites will be served over HTTPS automatically. You won't have to do anything else about it. It just works!
Because HTTPS utilizes a shared, public infrastructure, you as the server admin should understand the rest of the information on this page so that you can avoid unnecessary problems, troubleshoot them when they occur, and properly configure advanced deployments.
Caddy implicitly activates automatic HTTPS when it knows a domain name (i.e. hostname) or IP address it is serving. There are various ways to tell Caddy your domain/IP, depending on how you run or configure Caddy:
- A site address in the Caddyfile
- A host matcher in a JSON route
- Command line flags like --domain or --from
- The automate certificate loader
Any of the following will prevent automatic HTTPS from being activated, either in whole or in part:
- Explicitly disabling it via JSON or via Caddyfile
- Not providing any hostnames or IP addresses in the config
- Listening exclusively on the HTTP port
- Prefixing the site address with
http://in the Caddyfile
- Manually loading certificates (unless
- Domains ending in
.ts.netwill not be managed by Caddy. Instead, Caddy will automatically attempt to get these certificates at handshake-time from the locally-running Tailscale instance. This requires that HTTPS is enabled in your Tailscale account and the Caddy process must either be running as root, or you must configure
tailscaledto give your Caddy user permission to fetch certificates.
When automatic HTTPS is activated, the following occurs:
- Certificates are obtained and renewed for all domain names
- The default port (if any) is changed to the HTTPS port
- HTTP is redirected to HTTPS (this uses HTTP port
Automatic HTTPS never overrides explicit configuration.
All hostnames (domain names) qualify for fully-managed certificates if they:
- are non-empty
- consist only of alphanumerics, hyphens, dots, and wildcard (
- do not start or end with a dot (RFC 1034)
In addition, hostnames qualify for publicly-trusted certificates if they:
- are not localhost (including
- are not an IP address
- have only a single wildcard
*as the left-most label
Caddy uses HTTPS automatically for all sites with a host (domain, IP, or hostname) specified, including internal and local hosts. Some hosts are either not public (e.g.
localhost) or do not generally qualify for publicly-trusted certificates (e.g. IP addresses -- you can get certificates for them, but only from some CAs). These are still served over HTTPS unless disabled.
To serve non-public sites over HTTPS, Caddy generates its own certificate authority (CA) and uses it to sign certificates. The trust chain consists of a root and intermediate certificate. Leaf certificates are signed by the intermediate. They are stored in Caddy's data directory at
Caddy's local CA is powered by Smallstep libraries.
Local HTTPS does not use ACME nor does it perform any DNS validation. It works only on the local machine and is trusted only where the CA's root certificate is installed.
The root's private key is uniquely generated using a cryptographically-secure pseudorandom source and persisted to storage with limited permissions. It is loaded into memory only to perform signing tasks, after which it leaves scope to be garbage-collected.
Although Caddy can be configured to sign with the root directly (to support non-compliant clients), this is disabled by default, and the root key is only used to sign intermediates.
The first time a root key is used, Caddy will try to install it into the system's local trust store(s). If it does not have permission to do so, it will prompt for a password. This behavior can be disabled in the configuration if it is not desired. If this fails due to being run as an unprivileged user, you may run
caddy trust to retry installation as a privileged user.
After Caddy's root CA is installed, you will see it in your local trust store as "Caddy Local Authority" (unless you've configured a different name). You can uninstall it any time if you wish (the
caddy untrust command makes this easy).
Note that automatically installing the certificate into the local trust stores is for convenience only and isn't guaranteed to work, especially if containers are being used or if Caddy is being run as an unprivileged system service. Ultimately, if you are relying on internal PKI, it is the system administrator's responsibility to ensure Caddy's root CA is properly added to the necessary trust stores (this is outside the scope of the web server).
An intermediate certificate and key will also be generated, which will be used for signing leaf (individual site) certificates.
Unlike the root certificate, intermediate certificates have a much shorter lifetime and will automatically be renewed as needed.
To test or experiment with your Caddy configuration, make sure you change the ACME endpoint to a staging or development URL, otherwise you are likely to hit rate limits which can block your access to HTTPS for up to a week, depending on which rate limit you hit.
Obtaining a publicly-trusted TLS certificate requires validation from a publicly-trusted, third-party authority. These days, this validation process is automated with the ACME protocol, and can be performed one of three ways ("challenge types"), described below.
The first two challenge types are enabled by default. If multiple challenges are enabled, Caddy chooses one at random to avoid accidental dependence on a particular challenge. Over time, it learns which challenge type is most successful and will begin to prefer it first, but will fall back to other available challenge types if necessary.
The HTTP challenge performs an authoritative DNS lookup for the candidate hostname's A/AAAA record, then requests a temporary cryptographic resource over port
80 using HTTP. If the CA sees the expected resource, a certificate is issued.
This challenge requires port
80 to be externally accessible. If Caddy cannot listen on port 80, packets from port
80 must be forwarded to Caddy's HTTP port.
This challenge is enabled by default and does not require explicit configuration.
The TLS-ALPN challenge performs an authoritative DNS lookup for the candidate hostname's A/AAAA record, then requests a temporary cryptographic resource over port
443 using a TLS handshake containing special ServerName and ALPN values. If the CA sees the expected resource, a certificate is issued.
This challenge requires port
443 to be externally accessible. If Caddy cannot listen on port 443, packets from port
443 must be forwarded to Caddy's HTTPS port.
This challenge is enabled by default and does not require explicit configuration.
The DNS challenge performs an authoritative DNS lookup for the candidate hostname's
TXT records, and looks for a special
TXT record with a certain value. If the CA sees the expected value, a certificate is issued.
This challenge does not require any open ports, and the server requesting a certificate does not need to be externally accessible. However, the DNS challenge requires configuration. Caddy needs to know the credentials to access your domain's DNS provider so it can set (and clear) the special
TXT records. If the DNS challenge is enabled, other challenges are disabled by default.
Since ACME CAs follow DNS standards when looking up
TXT records for challenge verification, you can use CNAME records to delegate answering the challenge to other DNS zones. This can be used to delegate the
_acme-challenge subdomain to another zone. This is particularly useful if your DNS provider doesn't provide an API, or isn't supported by one of the DNS plugins for Caddy.
DNS provider support is a community effort. Learn how to enable the DNS challenge for your provider at our wiki.
Caddy pioneered a new technology we call On-Demand TLS, which dynamically obtains a new certificate during the first TLS handshake that requires it, rather than at config load. Crucially, this does not require specifying the domain names in your configuration ahead of time.
Many businesses rely on this unique feature to scale their TLS deployments at lower cost and without operational headaches when serving tens of thousands of sites.
On-demand TLS is useful if:
- you do not know all the domain names when you start or reload your server,
- domain names might not be properly configured right away (DNS records not yet set),
- you are not in control of the domain names (e.g. they are customer domains).
When on-demand TLS is enabled, you do not need to specify the domain names in your config in order to get certificates for them. Instead, when a TLS handshake is received for a server name (SNI) that Caddy does not yet have a certificate for, the handshake is held while Caddy obtains a certificate to use to complete the handshake. The delay is usually only a few seconds, and only that initial handshake is slow. All future handshakes are fast because certificates are cached and reused, and renewals happen in the background. Future handshakes may trigger maintenance for the certificate to keep it renewed, but this maintenance happens in the background if the certificate hasn't expired yet.
Using On-Demand TLS
In production environments, on-demand TLS must be both enabled and restricted. Enabling without restricting opens your server to attack.
To prevent abuse of this feature, you must configure restrictions. This is done in the
automation object of the JSON config, or the
on_demand_tls global option of the Caddyfile. Restrictions are "global" and aren't configurable per-site or per-domain. The primary restriction is an "ask" endpoint to which Caddy will send an HTTP request to ask if it has permission to obtain and manage a certificate for the domain in the handshake. This means you will need some internal backend that can, for example, query the accounts table of your database and see if a customer has signed up with that domain name.
You can also configure rate limits as restrictions, though rate limits alone are not a sufficient protection.
Be mindful of how quickly your CA is able to issue certificates. If it takes more than a few seconds, this will negatively impact the user experience (for the first client only).
Due to its deferred nature and potential for abuse (if not mitigated through proper configuration), we recommend enabling on-demand TLS only when your actual use case is described above.
Caddy does its best to continue if errors occur with certificate management.
By default, certificate management is performed in the background. This means it will not block startup or slow down your sites. However, it also means that the server will be running even before all certificates are available. Running in the background allows Caddy to retry with exponential backoff over a long period of time.
Here's what happens if there's an error obtaining or renewing a certificate:
- Caddy retries once after a brief pause just in case it was a fluke
- Caddy pauses briefly, then switches to the next enabled challenge type
- After all enabled challenge types have been tried, it tries the next configured issuer
- Let's Encrypt
- After all issuers have been tried, it backs off exponentially
- Maximum of 1 day between attempts
- For up to 30 days
During retries with Let's Encrypt, Caddy switches to their staging environment to avoid rate limit concerns. This isn't a perfect strategy, but in general it's helpful.
ACME challenges take at least a few seconds, and internal rate limiting helps mitigate accidental abuse. Caddy uses internal rate limiting in addition to what you or the CA configure so that you can hand Caddy a platter with a million domain names and it will gradually -- but as fast as it can -- obtain certificates for all of them. Caddy's internal rate limit is currently 10 attempts per ACME account per 10 seconds.
To avoid leaking resources, Caddy aborts in-flight tasks (including ACME transactions) when config is changed. While Caddy is capable of handling frequent config reloads, be mindful of operational considerations such as this, and consider batching config changes to reduce reloads and give Caddy a chance to actually finish obtaining certificates in the background.
Caddy is the first (and so far only) server to support fully-redundant, automatic failover to other CAs in the event it cannot successfully get a certificate.
By default, Caddy enables two ACME-compatible CAs: Let's Encrypt and ZeroSSL. If Caddy cannot get a certificate from Let's Encrypt, it will try with ZeroSSL; if both fail, it will backoff and retry again later. In your config, you can customize which issuers Caddy uses to obtain certificates, either universally or for specific names.
Caddy will store public certificates, private keys, and other assets in its configured storage facility (or the default one, if not configured -- see link for details).
The main thing you need to know using the default config is that the
$HOME folder must be writeable and persistent. To help you troubleshoot, Caddy prints its environment variables at startup if the
--environ flag is specified.
Any Caddy instances that are configured to use the same storage will automatically share those resources and coordinate certificate management as a cluster.
Before attempting any ACME transactions, Caddy will test the configured storage to ensure it is writeable and has sufficient capacity. This helps reduce unnecessary lock contention.
Caddy can obtain and manage wildcard certificates when it is configured to serve a site with a qualifying wildcard name. A site name qualifies for a wildcard if only its left-most domain label is a wildcard. For example,
*.example.com qualifies, but these do not:
If using the Caddyfile, Caddy takes site names literally with regards to the certificate subject names. In other words, a site defined as
sub.example.com will cause Caddy to manage a certificate for
sub.example.com, and a site defined as
*.example.com will cause Caddy to manage a wildcard certificate for
*.example.com. You can see this demonstrated on our Common Caddyfile Patterns page. If you need different behavior, the JSON config gives you more precise control over certificate subjects and site names ("host matchers").
Wildcard certificates represent a wide degree of authority and should only be used when you have so many subdomains that managing individual certificates for them would strain the PKI or cause you to hit CA-enforced rate limits.