Add Certificate Generation and Management To Orders

Launchpad blueprint:

Barbican can be used to automate and streamline secure generation and storage of SSL certificates and associated private keys from client information (such as a CSR). This feature requires being able to coordinate between multiple possible certificate authorities (CA) for generation, Barbican for secure certificate storage and notification once generation is completed. This blueprint details a plugin-based approach to satisfy these requirements.

Problem description

To generate and manage SSL certificates within Barbican via its orders resource requires that Barbican perform these actions: (1) accept certificate information from a client, (2) initiate a certificate generation order with one of several possible certificate authorities (CA), (3) check on the progress of each CA order periodically, (4) securely store certificate information once generated by the CA, and finally (5) notify clients that the certificate is ready to provision. This wiki page details the flows involved:

Barbican should be capable of interacting with a variety of different CAs, each having their own custom interaction workflows. Barbican should be able to store state on behalf of this workflow between states (such as to wait for a CA to generate a certificate). Barbican should also provide a means for workflow processes to reschedule calling back to the workflow process, such as retrying a failed attempt to create a certificate order in the CA.

Barbican should be capable of notifying clients about issues or generated certificates via a variety of eventing mechanisms available to a deployment. Examples include surfacing CADF events via Ceilometer, or issuing tickets into a corporate ticketing system.

Barbican should provide CA workflow processes the ability to securely store certificate information in Barbican without needing to directly interact with its datamodel.

Barbican should provide CA workflow processes the ability to reschedule themselves at a future time, perhaps to reattempt a failed process such as establishing an order with the CA.

Barbican should allow for validation of the certificate order fields prior to initiating the CA ordering process. Barbican should allow for clients to update information about their launched CA order, such as providing corrections, cancellations or approvals. This interface could also support revoking a certificate once it is created and installed in Barbican.

Proposed change

This blueprint proposes using a plugin approach to interact with specific CAs. The plugin contract will expose processing methods that represent workflow actions, such as ‘request_certificate(...)’ or ‘check_request_status(...)’. This blueprint will defer to implementing CRs the specific names and usages for these methods.

Because the workflow/state handling required to interact with a given CA is expected to vary significantly between CA vendors, it is expected that the plugin will need to manage its own state machine. However, the CA plugins shouldn’t have to manage persisting/retrieving state machine data for a given order instance. Hence Barbican should handle providing a dict of information into the plugin’s methods into which they can reference their state. For example, this might include a ‘state’ key that keeps track of the current state machine state for an order. Barbican would then store this dict as plugin-specific metadata about the order.

A separate scheduled process run from the worker nodes (via oslo incubator’s periodic_task feature) would poll CAs for updates to pending certificate orders, generating RPC tasks for each update, which would eventually invoke the CA plugin method above.

Also proposed is a plugin for surfacing certificate events from Barbican. Since CA plugins will know best within their workflows when an event should be issued (say when a certificate is generated) the proposal is to pass the event plugin into the CA plugin’s methods. This inversion of control (IoC) approach would allow plugins to be in control of event sequencing, and would allow separation from how the events are handled within and from Barbican. This plugin could have domain specific methods that make sense for certificate processing work, such as ‘notify_certificate_is_generated()’. The default out-of-the-box plugin would just log events. A provided optional event plugin implementation would create CADF events for Ceilometer to handle.

The CA workflow plugins also know best when to store a generated certificate. Therefore another IoC adapter would be passed into the CA plugin’s method providing specific methods such as ‘store_certificate()’ which would be implemented as a Barbican Container repository save call.

Finally, an IoC adapter would be passed into the CA plugin’s methods allowing the plugin to invoke one of its method at a future time, by enqueing an RPC call that launches the CA plugin’s method.


The certificate generation process detailed above is a workflow that could be expressed using a workflow framework. Several of them are discussed below. They all generally aim to execute a series of preconfigured tasks sequentially or in parallel until completion, potentially reverting the entire sequence if errors occur.

The certificate processing state machine does not seem to be a good fit for this approach for two reasons:

(1) Certificate processing involves potentially long delays (multiple days) between CA interaction state machine steps, including polling the CA for status updates or waiting for client updates. Delays and scheduled polling behaviors do not appear to be integrated into the existing workflow approaches below, so Barbican would need to implement such logic anyway.

(2) Some state steps may need to be repeated, such as retrying initiating an order with the CA when the CA is unavailable. So in this case, the order of tasks executed is not known a priori, and when an error happens tasks completed up to that point should not always be reverted.

Desired though not required is that the workflow process play nicely with the Barbican worker processes, including being able to react to RPC calls from the queue, or to scheduled update requests.

TaskFlow ( is an OpenStack Python library that can compose tasks and workflows using Python classes. These are intended to be run from within an ‘engine’, which manages the execution of the configured tasks. Hence TaskFlow might be best run as a separate process or node from the Barbican workers. It seems to be the most capable for this blueprint’s needs, but still has the ‘fitness’ issues mentioned above.

Mistral ( is an OpenStack Workflow as a Service project. It is in an early stage however, an may not be available by the Juno or K releases. It does not let projects upload and execute custom code, but rather calls back to Barbican to perform its tasks.

Lower level frameworks such as machinist ( can operate state machines as defined via Python objects. Like TaskFlow this might be best run as a process separate from the Barbican workers. This framework seemed less flexible than TaskFlow.

Data model impact

The current Orders entity would need to have a new relationship added to store a CA plugin’s metadata, similar to the key/value metadata store that was added to the Secrets entity. This would be different than the Order’s ‘meta’ attribute, which is used to store user-provided ordering information.

No database migrations should be required as the metadata is both optional and controlled by the plugins themselves.

REST API impact

The ‘certificate’ orders type is being added per another change process, so this blueprint has not direct API impact.

Security impact

Barbican will interact with a third-party system (a certificate authority). This interaction is only initiated by Barbican, but care must be taken to validate both the user provided information (via the certificate plugin) as well as the response information back from the CA.

Notifications impact

This blueprint calls for using a plugin approach to surface events from the certificate generation process, in particular to notify when a certificate has been generated and is ready to install, and when an error has occurred. Errors could include the CA rejecting the order, is temporarily unavailable or is rate-limiting the number of requests made by the client. In some cases, Barbican would need to re-attempt the request at some point in the future.

This blueprint will probably be the first use case for event generation and notifications in Barbican.

Other end user impact


Performance Impact

The impact of this certificate processing should be minimal, since even though it could take days to approve and generate a certificate, the vast majority of that time is spent waiting on either the CA to update a given certificate order, or else for users to provide corrections or approvals. When Barbican is processing a state machine step the computation load should be minimal.

Also, it is expected that not many certificate orders will be processed concurrently. Even if the load does increase over time, all certificate processing is performed asynchronously on worker nodes, so additional delays will be accommodated and are likely to be a fraction of the overall certificate workflow period.

Other deployer impact

None, as the current worker processes will be used.

Developer impact

New facilities will be added to the current Barbican worker code base, in particular oslo incubator’s periodic_task implementation, and the eventing plugin.



Primary assignee:
Other contributors:
alee-3 arvind-tiwari

Work Items

The following CRs would build out this blueprint:

– Add CA plugin and validation: 1) Add stevedore plugin manager for CA workflow plugin, and initial plugin abstract interface with workflow processing methods. Default implementation would just issue log messages. Call from the BeginOrder task for the ‘certificate’ orders type. Add initial unit testing.

  1. Add validation processing to the CA plugin.

– Add eventing plugin: 3) Add eventing stevedore plugin manager for eventing plugin, and initial plugin abstract interface with default logging implementation.

– Add adapters: 4) Add datastore adapter and pass as IoC context to CA plugin. 5) Add task retry adapter and pass as IoC context to CA plugin.

– Add orders update: 6) Modify POST order process to handle validation processing (including using step #2 work above) 7) Add PUT handler to the ‘orders’ resource to handle client order updates. 8) Add ‘UpdateOrder’ task to asynchronously handle these updates and invoke CA plugin methods accordingly.

– Add scheduled processes: 9) Add oslo incubator’s periodic_task to worker process. 10) Add CA workflow support for periodically checking for CA status, and then generating update events back to the Barbican worker queue.

– Production plugin implementations: 11) Add CADF/Ceilometer event plugin implementation. 12) Add Symantec plugin implementation


The plugin restructure work associated with this blueprint should be completed prior to implementing this work:


Unit testing of each plugin and adapter will be added. Integration testing of at least the default plugins will be added. Symantec testing will be needed, perhaps with a mock Symantec service.

Documentation Impact

Update with API changes for the ‘certificate’ orders type, and for PUTs to orders.


A work in progress CR with strawman code related to this blueprint is available here:

An analysis of the Symantec CA workflow is available here:

Plugin design concepts related to this blueprint, including the IoC adapter usage, are detailed here: