Identify available CAs

Problem Description

It is possible to have multiple CA plugins, each potentially talking to multiple backend CA servers. A mechanism is therefore needed to allow the client to select a backend CA server.

In addition, Dogtag plans to implement the ability to configure lightweight sub CA’s - subordinate CA’s that can exist within the same CA instance. This opens up the possibility of configuring a separate CA instance for each project, so that the project could have certificates that are scoped to the project only. Thus, a mechanism is also required to associate a project with a preferred CA, so that if a client does not request a specific CA, the preferred CA is selected.

Also, a mechanism should be added to allow clients to discover the CA servers available for a particular Barbican instance.

Proposed Change

We need to add a new resource CertificateAuthorities that will specify the CAs that are available to Barbican. This resource will permit listing CAs and associating projects with a CA. See the REST API section for details.

Four new tables will be required:

  • CertificateAuthority, which will list the CA’s available. This table will include the Barbican generated ca_id, the plugin name, plugin_ca_id, information about the CA and a cache expiration time. The data will be assumed to be stale and to require a refresh when the cache expiration time expires.
  • CertificateAuthorityMetadatum, which contains data about the CAs, to be provided to the client.
  • ProjectCertificateAuthority, which will list the set of CA’s defined per project. If a project chooses to do so, it can specify a set of CA’s (referenced by ca_ids) that a particular project can use. The first entry for a project will automatically be added to the PrefCA table for that project to ensure that there will always be a preferred CA for a project.
  • PreferredCertificateAuthority (PrefCA), which contains the preferred CA entry for each project. This table requires the project_id to be unique so that there is only one preferred CA per project. A special entry for the preferred global CA will have “project_id” = 0.

See the Data model section for details.

The ProjectCertificateAuthority table will be updated through REST API calls by a project administrator.

The CertificateAuthority table will be updated as follows:

  • On startup, Barbican should iterate through all the CA plugins and execute certificate_resources.update_ca_list(plugin_name). This will trigger a call to a provides() method for each plugin.
  • The provides() call will query the backend-CA to determine which CAs are provided. It will return the relevant data ie. a list/dict of (plugin_ca_id, description, ca_ski etc.) as needed to populate/update the CertificateAuthority and CertificateAuthorityMetadatum table. It will also return an expiration time for the data.
  • The CA and CA metadata table would then be updated by a method defined in Barbican core. (eg. certificate_resources.update_ca_list(plugin_name)). Barbican core will use the plugin_ca_id to map the CA entry to the correct ca_id. At this point: new CA’s will be added; decommisioned CA’s will be removed; and existing CA’s will be updated. In each case, the expiration time will be updated.
  • A method is provided below for the user to obtain a list of available CA’s. If the expiration time for a CA has elapsed, the plugin for that particular CA will be queried by calling the provides() method. The CA table and CA metadata tables will be updated accordingly.
  • If a certificate request is made and a ca_id is specified, the relevant plugin will be looked up in the CA table. If the entry for this ca_id is stale, then the provides() method will be invoked for this CA to update the CA table.

Logic when a certificate is requested:

When a certificate is requested,

  • If a ca_id is provided:
    • If the ca_id is not defined in the CA table, a 400 error is returned.
    • If any entries for the project exists in the PCA table, and the ca_id is not one of those entries, a 403 error is returned.
    • Otherwise the request is passed through to the plugin specified by the entry in the CA table.
  • If a ca_id is not provided:
    • If at least one entry for the project exists in the PrefCA table, then barbican core will select the preferred CA, and pass the request through to that CA.
    • If no entry exists in the PrefCA table for the project, then the global preferred CA specified in the prefCA table will be selected. If no preferred CAs are defined, then the first CA plugin will be selected.

The plugin_ca_id will be passed to the plugin as part of the order_metadata.



Data model impact

Four new tables will be added: CertificateAuthority (CA table), CertificateAuthorityMetadatum (CAM table), ProjectCertificateAuthority (PCA table) and PreferredCertificateAuthority (PrefCA table).

The CA table will have the following fields:
  • ca_id - unique identifier for the CA generated by Barbican
  • plugin_name
  • plugin_ca_id - (string) identifier for the CA generated by the plugin This identifier must be unique for the plugin.
  • expiration_time
  • ca_metadata (see below)

To store metadata about each CA, data will be stored in a CertificateAuthorityMetadatum (CAM) table. This table will consist of the following fields:

  • ca_id - foreign key to CA table
  • key
  • value
The following key-value data will be stored to begin with:
  • name - human readable name
  • description
  • ca signing certificate
  • intermediates

A note about ids:

The ca_id that will be presented to the client will be the Barbican generated ca_id. However, because the CAs that are available are determined by the back-end CA, the plugin needs to provide a plugin_ca_id that is unique to the plugin, so that the plugin_ca_id can be mapped to the Barbican generated ca_id.

The PCA table lists the CA’s defined for each project. There can be multiple entries for each project. It will have the following fields:

  • project_id
  • ca_id (foreign key to the CA table)

The PrefCA table lists the preferred CA either globally or for any particular project. This is to enforce the requirement that only one CA can be defined to be preferred either globally or pre-project. This table will have the following fields:

  • project_id – required to be unique
  • ca_id – foreign key to CA table

REST API impact

We need a new resource to expose the CA’s available. This resource will allow the following operations:

  • GET /cas - List all the available CAs.
  • GET /cas/{ca_id} - Get details about CA referenced by ca_id. This would include things like a HATEOAS link to the CA information, name and description.
  • GET /cas/{ca_id}/cacert - Get the base 64 encoded signing certificate for the CA in PKCS7 format
  • GET /cas/{ca_id}/intermediates - Get the CA cert and intermediates certs in base 64 encoded PKCS7 format.
  • GET /cas/{ca_id}/projects - List projects which use the CA with the specified ca_id. Restricted to global admins. This is an operation that will allow global admins to clean up the PCA table, in case a CA is decommisioned.
  • POST /cas/{ca_id}/add-to-project - Add entry in PCA table for ca_id. The project_id is determined from authz. Restricted to project admins. If this is the first CA to be added to a project, it will be set as preferred by adding an entry for that project in the PrefCA table.
  • POST /cas/{ca_id}/remove-from-project - Remove entry in PCA table for ca_id. The project_id is determined from authz. Restricted to project admins. If the CA is the preferred CA for the project and no other CAs exist in the PCA table, then the PrefCA entry will be removed too. If other entries exist in the PCA table, then a 400 error is returned. (“Cannot remove a preferred CA. Select another project CA to be preferred first.”)
  • POST /cas/{ca_id}/set-preferred - Set ca_id to be a preferred CA for the project. A 400 error should be returned if a PCA entry does not already exist for this project_id/ca_id. Restricted to project admins.
  • POST /cas/{ca_id}/set-global-preferred - Set ca_id as a global preferred CA. This CA is invoked if no ca_id is specified in a request, and no PCA entries exist for the project. Restricted to global admins.
  • POST /cas/{ca_id}/unset-global-preferred - Unset ca_id as a global preferred CA. Restricted to global admins.

Also, an optional metadata parameter (ca_id) will be provided in the Order for a Certificate, and will be processed as described above.

Security impact


Notifications & Audit Impact


Other end user impact

python-barbicanclient will need new methods to check the list of CAs and to invoke a specific ca_id if requested.

Performance Impact

This feature requires database access to get the CA/project/plugin information on each certificate order request, which will have an impact on both the API and worker nodes.

Other deployer impact

Migration scripts will need to be run on already existing deployments to add the new tables.

Developer impact

Plugin developers should write a provides() method that returns the correct information. We can provide a default implementation that creates a CA table entry based on the plugin_name.



Primary assignee:
alee-3 dave-mccowan

Work Items

  • Add new data models (PCA, PrefCA, CA, CAM tables)
  • Add default provides() call to the back-end plugin contract. Add the logic that populates the CA table on startup.
  • Add /cas and the relevant REST API calls to retrieve/set these resources.
  • Add CA selection logic to the certificate request flow.
  • Add each plugin specific provides() method.




The current unit and functional tests will also be modified to reflect these changes.

Documentation Impact

This is a new feature that will need to be documented.