How To Use incert to Create Images with Built-in Custom Certificates

An overview of how to use incert — a Go program from Chainguard — to create container images with custom certificates built-in to them.

In many enterprise settings, an organization will have its own certificate authority which it uses to issue certificates for its internal services. This is often for security or control reasons but could also be related to regulatory requirements.

If you’re using a container that needs to communicate with your organization’s services and your organization has its own certificate authority, you’ll need to add a valid certificate into your container. One way to do this is to mount the certificate as a volume at runtime. This works, but it means that everyone who uses the container has to go through the process of mounting the certificate.

Another solution is to build the certificate directly into the container. This tutorial outlines how to use incert — a Go tool from Chainguard that builds container images with certificates inserted into them.


To follow along with this tutorial, you will need to have the following tools installed.

  • incert, a Go program that appends CA certificates to Docker images and pushes the modified image to a specified registry. You can install this by following the instructions listed in the project’s GitHub repository.
  • Docker, the open-source containerization platform. Set this up by following the platform-specific instructions on the project’s website.
  • A tool for creating a self-signed certificate. This guide highlights using cfssl, a public key infrastructure toolkit from CloudFlare, but alternatives like openssl could also be used for this purpose. Follow the cfssl installation instructions to set this up.
    • Note that if you use cfssl, you will also need the cfssljson utility installed as well.

Creating a self-signed certificate

First, let’s create a directory to hold your certificate infrastructure.

mkdir ~/incert-example/ && cd $_

In the new directory, create a certificate signing request (CSR) by running the following command.

cat > csr.json <<EOF
	"hosts": [
	"CN": "",
	"key": {
    	"algo": "rsa",
    	"size": 2048
	"names": [{
    	"C": "US",
    	"L": "San Francisco",
    	"O": "Example Company, LLC",
    	"OU": "Operations",
    	"ST": "California"

We want to create some certificates for and, so we include these here in a list for the CSR’s hosts value. This means the certificates will only be valid for these domains.

Next, create your certificates by running the following cfssl selfsign command.

cfssl selfsign csr.json | cfssljson -bare selfsigned

Here we include the hostname we specified previously ( as well as the CSR file. We then pipe the command’s output into a cfssljson command; this will process the .json files output by the cfssl selfsign command into the .pem files we need.

This command will return a warning that self-signed certificates are insecure. This is the expected behavior for cfssl, and since we are only using these certificates to demonstrate how incert works there won’t be any security concerns.

. . .

*** WARNING ***

Self-signed certificates are dangerous. Use this self-signed
certificate at your own risk.

It is strongly recommended that these certificates NOT be used
in production.

*** WARNING ***

Following that, if you check the contents of your working directory you will find the self-signed CSR, the key, and the certificate.

csr.json  selfsigned.csr  selfsigned-key.pem  selfsigned.pem

With these files in place you can move on to creating an nginx container that uses these certificates to provide TLS.

Create an nginx container that uses self-signed certificates for TLS

Now that you’ve created the certificate infrastructure, you can create an nginx container that uses them to provide TLS. Later on, we will attempt to reach this nginx container with a curl container we built using incert, testing that incert correctly installed the selfsigned.pem certificate into it.

First run the following command to create an nginx configuration file named nginx.default.conf. This example is a fairly barebones configuration but will be adequate for the purposes of this guide. Note that it specifies the server should listen on port 8443 and will serve requests for and It also specifies the location of the certificate and key to be used by the container, namely the /etc/nginx/conf.d/ directory.

cat > nginx.default.conf <<EOF
server {
	listen   	8443 ssl;
	ssl_certificate /etc/nginx/conf.d/cert.pem;
	ssl_certificate_key /etc/nginx/conf.d/key.pem;
	location / {
    	root   /usr/share/nginx/html;
    	index  index.html index.htm;
	error_page   500 502 503 504  /50x.html;
	location = /50x.html {
    	root   /usr/share/nginx/html;

Then run the following command to create the nginx container. This command uses Chainguard’s public nginx image and mounts the cert.pem, key.pem, and nginx.default.conf files we’ve created into the /etc/nginx/conf.d directory within the container. It also includes the -p option, allowing you to forward requests on your host’s port 8443 to the container’s port 8443.

docker run -p 8443:8443 -d \
-v ./nginx.default.conf:/etc/nginx/conf.d/nginx.default.conf \
-v ./selfsigned.pem:/etc/nginx/conf.d/cert.pem \
-v ./selfsigned-key.pem:/etc/nginx/conf.d/key.pem \

Note: You may encounter permissions errors relating to the selfsigned.pem and selfsigned-key.pem files after running this command. In these cases, you can update their permissions by running sudo chmod 644 *.pem.

Test connections to the nginx service with curl

At this point, if you tried to use curl to access the running nginx container, the command will fail because curl disallows insecure connections by default.

curl https://localhost:8443
curl: (60) SSL certificate problem: self-signed certificate
More details here:

curl failed to verify the legitimacy of the server and therefore could not
establish a secure connection to it. To learn more about this situation and
how to fix it, please visit the web page mentioned above.

You can force curl to ignore the self-signed certificate by passing it the -k argument, as in curl -k https://localhost:8443. However, our goal is to connect to the service securely using the certificate infrastructure created previously.

In the next section we will use incert to create a new container image (using Chainguard’s curl image as the foundation) with your selfsigned.pem certificate built into it. Before doing this, though, let’s attempt to reach the nginx service with a curl container that does not have the certificate included.

To do this you’ll need to find the nginx container’s IP address. First, find the name of the container with docker ps.

docker ps
CONTAINER ID   IMAGE                      COMMAND                  CREATED         STATUS         PORTS                                       NAMES
9e211033635b   "/usr/sbin/nginx -c …"   2 minutes ago   Up 2 minutes>8443/tcp, :::8443->8443/tcp   agitated_jones

As this output shows, the name of the nginx container in this example is agitated_jones. Replace this with the name of your own container in the following command:

docker inspect --format '{{ .NetworkSettings.IPAddress }}' agitated_jones

This will return the container’s IP address:

Next, use Chainguard’s curl image to attempt to reach the container. Be sure to replace with your nginx container’s actual IP address, if different.

docker run -it --add-host

Note: You might have noticed that is a real website. Instead of using the curl container to reach the actual, this command includes the --add-host option to map the hostname to the local IP address currently being used by the nginx container.

However, the public Chainguard curl image doesn’t have the certificate inside it, so this command will fail.

curl: (60) rustls_connection_process_new_packets: invalid peer certificate: UnknownIssuer
More details here:

curl failed to verify the legitimacy of the server and therefore could not
establish a secure connection to it. To learn more about this situation and
how to fix it, please visit the web page mentioned above.

The next step is to create an image that has our self-signed certificate built into it. For that, we’ll use incert.

Using incert to insert a custom certificate into an image

incert is a Go program from Chainguard that appends CA certificates to Docker images and pushes the modified image to a specified registry. This tool is still in active development, so feedback is welcome.

Run the following command to build a new image using Chainguard’s curl image as its base and insert the selfsigned.pem certificate into it.

incert -ca-certs-file selfsigned.pem -platform linux/arm64 -image-url -dest-image-url

This command uses the -ca-certs-file option to specify that incert should use the selfisgned.pem certificate file and the -platform option to specify that it wants to build an image for linux/arm64. Be aware that you should change the value passed to the -platform argument to reflect that of the host platform. It also includes the -image-url option to specify the image we want to build on as our base image (here we specify Chainguard’s curl image) and the -dest-image-url to pass the registry where we want the resulting image to be uploaded to.

For this final option, this example specifies, an ephemeral Docker image registry. is free to use and does not require a login, making it useful for testing. However, it’s also public, so be sure that you do not upload any important private certificates there.

This command will take a few moments to complete, but once it finishes you will receive output showing the image that was created and uploaded to the destination repo.

Following that, you can re-execute the docker run command from the previous section, but replace the standard Chainguard curl image with the image you just built.

docker run -it --add-host[ipaddress]

This time, the curl container is able to reach the running nginx container.

. . .
<!DOCTYPE html>
<title>Welcome to nginx!</title>
html { color-scheme: light dark; }
body { width: 35em; margin: 0 auto;
font-family: Tahoma, Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; }
<h1>Welcome to nginx!</h1>
<p>If you see this page, the nginx web server is successfully installed and
working. Further configuration is required.</p>

<p>For online documentation and support please refer to
<a href=""></a>.<br/>
Commercial support is available at
<a href=""></a>.</p>

<p><em>Thank you for using nginx.</em></p>

This shows that incert built the certificate into the curl container as expected and it was able to reach the nginx container.

Learn more

If you’d like to learn more about how you can use Chainguard Images effectively, we encourage you to check out all of our resources on Working with Chainguard Images. Additionally, our Recommended Practices resources can be useful for ensuring the security of your Images.

Last updated: 2023-07-08 11:07