Last modified May 25, 2023

Establishing trust to your cluster's CA and importing certificates

In this tutorial we explain to you how to establish trust to your cluster’s Certificate Authority (CA) and how to import a key pair to enable client authentication against the API to enable access to the Kubernetes API of your cluster.

This is not only useful for developing applications accessing the API, but for authenticated access to services via the API proxy. For example, the Kubernetes Dashboard is usually accessed in this way.


As a user of a Giant Swarm Kubernetes cluster, when you access services on the cluster like, for example, the Kubernetes Dashboard, you are directly using the Kubernetes API. For this to work, two basic conditions have to be met:

  1. Your HTTP client (e. g. the browser) must accept the TLS certificate presented by the API server, which means that it has to trust the Certificate Authority (CA) that issued this certificate.
  2. Your HTTP client must present a valid client certificate accepted by the server.

The CA that issued the server certificate is one created by Giant Swarm exclusively for your cluster, so it is unknown to your browser.

Both the CA file for your cluster and a personal key pair, consisting of a client certificate and a private key, can be obtained using either our web user interface or gsctl.

In the tutorial we assume that you have done this and obtained three files:

  • The CA file
  • Your private key
  • Your client certificate

Creating a PKCS12 bundle

We currently provide your key pair as a set of two PEM files, the private key and the certificate. As most platforms/browsers want to import the key pair as one PKCS12 bundle (also known as P12 or PFX file), you’ll have to create an importable bundle first. This can be done using OpenSSL, which is free software and available for a wide range of platforms.

A command like shown in the example below will create the bundle as a file named client.p12. The -inkey argument points to your private key file, the -in argument to your certificate.

openssl pkcs12 -export -clcerts \
  -inkey client.key \
  -in client.crt \
  -out client.p12 \
  -passout pass:YOUR_PASSWORD \
  -name "Key pair for Giant Swarm cluster"

The -passout argument sets a password to encrypt the bundle. Make sure to prepend the pass: prefix to the password as shown above. If you prefer to enter a password via a prompt instead of passing it as a clear text argument, you can completely omit the -passout pass:YOUR_PASSWORD part.

Also note that we give a freely chosen name for the bundle using the -name argument. You can pick whatever name suits you. However, most platforms don’t display this name in any meaningful place, so don’t put too much effort in coming up with a good name.

Working with curl

curl is often used during development of an application to issue requests against an API. The ways how curl can manage a list of trusted CAs are manifold and depend on a lot of parameters, for example compile-time configuration. Covering all possible options would go beyond the scope of this tutorial.

Nevertheless, there is a way to set a CA to trusted, independent of any permanent CA bundle and store configuration, using the CURL_CA_BUNDLE environment variable. By setting this variable to the path of the CA file, curl will trust the CA described in that file. Example:

export CURL_CA_BUNDLE=/path/to/ca.crt

The personal certificate has to be applied with every request. Here is an example curl command:

curl \
  --cert path/to/client.crt \
  --key path/to/client.key \

Importing CA and certificate

Operating systems and HTTP clients have a variety of ways to manage CAs and certificates. Even on one platform there are often several ways to achieve the same thing. We focus here on the more popular combinations of operating system and client, and we opt for ways using command line utilities, as we think this will mostly suit the target audience of this tutorial.

Shortcut by client


macOS keychain

On macOS, browsers like Safari and Chrome rely on the system keychain for CA information and certificates. Firefox can be configured to support this, too, which is explained in a separate section.

Importing certificates on macOS can be done interactively through the Keychain app, or via the command line. We explain the latter option here.

With the keychain path $HOME/Library/Keychains/login.keychain and the CA file under the path path/to/ca.crt, this command would import the CA and set it to trusted:

security add-trusted-cert \
  -r trustRoot \
  -k "$HOME/Library/Keychains/login.keychain" \

Now to importing your client certificate. With path/to/bundle.p12 being the path to your PKCS12 bundle file generated earlier and giantswarm being the password you used then, this command will import the certificate into your personal keychain:

security import \
  path/to/bundle.p12 \
  -k "$HOME/Library/Keychains/login.keychain" \

Firefox on macOS

By default, Firefox does not use the system keychain, but provides its own certificate manager. You can manually add the CA file and key pair via the Preferences / Advanced / Certificates / View Certificates / Import function.

However, a possible simpler alternative is to let Firefox use the system keychain in addition. To enable this

  1. Open the advanced preferences by typing the pseudo-URL about:config into the location bar.
  2. Set the following two configuration variables to true:
    • security.enterprise_roots.enabled
    • security.osclientcerts.autoload

Restarting Firefox may be required after changing these preferences.


Chromium and Google Chrome on Linux

Chromium and Google Chrome behave the same way when it comes to CA/certificate import on Linux. They use a shared NSS DB stored in the directory $HOME/.pki/nssdb.

Let’s test if you actually have that directory.

ls $HOME/.pki/nssdb

You should get a listing for some files.

Now make sure you have the certutil and pk12util utilities available. On Debian based distributions, like Ubuntu, these can be installed using

sudo apt-get install libnss3-tools

Important: Please close Chrome/Chromium before you proceed.

Assuming that your CA file to import is in path/to/ca.crt, do this to import it and establish trust:

certutil -A \
  -n "Name of certificate" \
  -t "TC,," \
  -d sql:$HOME/.pki/nssdb \
  -i path/to/ca.crt

Now we can import the PKCS12 key bundle. The example below again assumes the PKCS12 bundle at path/to/bundle.p12. The password given via the -W switch has to match the one you set when creating the bundle.

pk12util -i path/to/bundle.p12 \
  -d sql:$HOME/.pki/nssdb \

Firefox on Linux

Firefox maintains its certificate information in the personal profile folder. Every user who has used Firefox once should have such a profile.

As the naming of this folder has a random component, we first need to find the actual path. The command below should ideally yield exactly one path entry for you:

find ~/.mozilla/firefox -name "cert8.db"|xargs dirname

For the next steps you’ll need the certutil and pk12util utilities. On Debian based distributions, like Ubuntu, these can be installed using

sudo apt-get install libnss3-tools

Important: Before you proceed, please shut down Firefox in case it is running.

Now let’s import the CA and set it to trusted. Assuming that your Firefox profile folder is ~/.mozilla/firefox/6eozd6kv.default and the CA file is at path/to/ca.crt, this command will do both for you:

certutil -A \
  -n "Name of certificate" \
  -t "TC,," \
  -d ~/.mozilla/firefox/6eozd6kv.default \
  -i path/to/ca.crt

Of course you can change Name of certificate to whatever name or description you like.

Now we can import the PKCS12 key bundle. The example below again assumes your Firefox profile to be found at ~/.mozilla/firefox/6eozd6kv.default and the PKCS12 bundle at path/to/bundle.p12. The password given via the -W switch has to match the one you set when creating the bundle.

pk12util -i path/to/bundle.p12 \
  -d ~/.mozilla/firefox/6eozd6kv.default \


Common certificate store

Browsers like Edge, Internet Explorer, Chrome, and Chromium use the certificate store provided by the operating system.

You’ll need a command prompt with Administrator permissions. In Windows 10, use the search input next to the Windows menu button to search for cmd. Right-click the “Command Prompt” entry and select the context menu item “Run as administrator”.

To install the CA using the file path path\to\ca.crt:

certutil.exe -addstore "Root" path\to\ca.crt

Assuming that your PKCS12 bundle is in path\to\bundle.p12, run this command to import your client certificate:

certutil.exe -p password -user -importPFX path\to\bundle.p12

Firefox on Windows

As on all other operating systems, Firefox uses it’s own certificate store also on Windows. Managing this store via the command line requires NSS utilities, which are not regularly released for the Windows platform.

You can manually add the CA file and key pair via the Tools / Options / Advanced / Certificates / View Certificates / Import function.