Kevin Sylvestre

Setup Free(ish) SSL/TLS on Heroku for Ruby on Rails (or Any Other Framework)


Note: This article was post was originally published before CloudFlare added free SSL . It is easy to integrate and I switched over all my apps to using it instead of CloudFront.

Heroku's SSL plan isn't cheap ($20 per month or $240 per year plus $49 for a certificate). Thankfully, using a CDN that supports custom SSL/TLS and CNAME aliases as a proxy reduce your costs to near zero. It also has the added benefit of providing a cache layer if desired.

Disclaimer Assess your liability and browser requirements whenever making SSL/TLS setup decisions.

Note If you are running in an environment without pbcopy or pbpaste alias them to the xsel:

alias pbcopy='xsel --clipboard --input'
alias pbpaste='xsel --clipboard --output'

Step 1. Generate Some Certificates

StartSSL is one of the few certificate authorities that will let you get a free certificate that works in all the browsers. The service is satisfactory for the price (although RapidSSL might be a good option if you can afford it).

  1. Visit and click Sign-Up
  2. Fill in your name, address, location, phone, email and click Continue
  3. Check your inbox and grab the activation code to confirm your account and click Continue
  4. Install and backup the client certificate (this is how you authenticate so make sure you save the certificate somewhere safe) and click Continue

Now that you have an account open your terminal and run:

openssl genrsa 2048 > private.pem
openssl req -new -key private.pem -out csr.pem -subj '/ Sylvestre/C=US/ST=California'
pbcopy < csr.pem

Then from your browser (everything you need is copied to your clipboard) go:

  1. Visit and click Authenticate
  2. Click "Certificates Wizard"
  3. Select Web Server SSL/TLS Certificate and click Continue
  4. Since you've already generate your key click Skip
  5. Paste your clipboard into the field and click Continue
  6. Select your domain and click Continue
  7. Add in a subdomain (www) and click Continue
  8. Click Continue
  9. Copy the field into your clipboard and click Finish

Then from your terminal again run:

pbpaste > ssl.crt

Then from your browser go to Tool Box and StartCom CA Certificates and download StartCom Root CA (PEM encoded) as ca.pem and Class 1 Intermediate Server CA as Once the files download run:

cat ca.pem > bundle.pem

Step 2. Setup AWS and Upload the Certificates

One great option as a proxy CDN is Amazon Web Service's (AWS) Cloud Front (CF). Get started by creating an account and authenticating. Then install the AWS Command Line Interface (CLI) using:

brew install awscli

Once you've installed the interface use the Access Key ID and Secret Access Key from your account and authorize the CLI. Then:

aws iam upload-server-certificate --server-certificate-name ksylvest --certificate-body file://ssl.crt --private-key file://private.pem --certificate-chain file://bundle.pem --path /cloudfront/

Now create a new Cloud Front distribution with the following settings:

  • Method: Web
  • Origin Domain Name:
  • Origin ID:
  • Origin Protocol Policy: HTTP Only
  • Viewer Protocol Policy: HTTP and HTTPS
  • Object Caching: Use Origin Cache Headers
  • Forward Headers: All (or Whitelist if you know your headers and cache requirements but always include Host).
  • Forward Cookies: All
  • Forward Query Strings: Yes
  • Smooth Streaming: No
  • Restrict Viewer Access (Use Signed URLs): No
  • CNAMEs:,
  • SSL Certificate: Custom SSL Certificate (stored in AWS IAM)
  • Custom SSL Client Support: Only Clients that Support Server Name Indication (SNI)

Once a distribution is created (it can take half an hour) you should be able to access your site using the provided URL. Once the distribution comes into effect simply CNAME desired subdomain. CNAMEs are not supported on 'naked' domains by default so either redirect to www or find a DNS provider that supports them (try cloudflare or dnsimple or amazon).

Step 3. Setup AWS and Upload the Certificates

Lastly once you have tested your certificate under the new proxy you can setup your application to redirect to HTTPS in CloudFront if desired (securing all requests).