After buying a multi-domain SSL certificate I have started testing it with the Nginx webserver (following documentation in their SSL wiki page).

Everything is fine, it works and I get a green padlock symbol in the URL bar but... every time I restart Nginx I get asked the following question (once for each server, e.g. 5 times):

Starting nginx: Enter PEM pass phrase:

Is this normal and what many other people do? or can I configure it so the password is remembered?

In particular, this is a issue when the machine is rebooted because the webserver won't start until the PEM pass phrase is entered (meaning the website has downtime until there is some human interaction).

  • 1
    You will probably get much better answers for this on serverfault.com
    – Tim Post
    Commented Jul 19, 2010 at 10:29

2 Answers 2


As suggested, I asked the question on ServerFault: https://serverfault.com/questions/161768/restart-webserver-without-entering-a-password

But the short answer is:

Backup your key:

> cp server.key server.key.org

Strip out the password:

> openssl rsa -in server.key.org -out server.key

[enter the passphrase]

The newly created server.key file has no more passphrase in it and the webservers start without needing a password.

Another option is to use Apaches SSLPassPhraseDialog option to automatically answer the SSL pass phrase question.

Disclaimer: If the private key is no longer encrypted, it is critical that this file only be readable by the root user! If your system is ever compromised and a third party obtains your unencrypted private key, the corresponding certificate will need to be revoked.


Yes, this is a common thing to do. If the pass phrase would be stored on disk, an attacker could take over the certificate.

Off course you could remove the pass phrase from the certificate, but I would not recommend that! Also other technical solutions exists with external peripherals.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.