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This Guide assumes

  • A fresh, minimal (e.g. netinst.iso) install of Debian 11 ("Bullseye") with no "tasks" except openssh-server
    • Ubuntu 18.04 LTS ("xenial") Server works the same as Debian 11 for the purpose of this guide
  • Accessed via SSH or the console (no X11 required nor recommended),
  • Correct server time configuration using NTP (e.g. using systemd-timesyncd or ntpd)
  • Packet filters or firewall rules in place, e.g.:
    • With outgoing (ports TCP/80 and TCP/443) network access:
      • Port 80 for Debian APT updates, i.e., for downloading signed software packages
      • Port 80 and 443 for downloading signed Metadata
      • Port 443 is also needed for downloads of the Shibboleth IDP software or additional modules
      • The IDP will also need to connect to your LDAP Directory Servers for authentication and attribute lookup,
        • either on the standard port TCP/389 for LDAP(+STARTTLS),
        • or on port TCP/636 for LDAPS (which which no formal specification exists),
        • or maybe on the "global catalog" port of your Microsoft Active Directory (only if you need to access that).
      • For NTP you also need outgoing connectivity to the configured NTP servers (e.g. ACOnet's)
    • And incoming HTTPS access on port TCP/443 only. Noone needs to access your IDP manually by entering its URL, so no need to be even listening on TCP/80 and therefore also no need for a redirect from TCP/80 to TCP/443.
      • Also incoming port TCP/22 for access only from a management network, if the server is managed via SSH
  • All commands in this guide are to be issued by user root (uid=0) so sudo -s first as needed.
  • The shell to use is /bin/bash (you can get fancy with fish/zsh/etc. after finishing the install/configuration)
  • Use of systemd for service management using the amended service unit as described in this documentation
Table of contents for step 1

Install pre-requisites

Install required (and used, throughout this documentation) packages, possibly replacing vim with your $EDITOR of choice (e.g. emacs-nox or nano, both of which also support syntax highlighting, which helps when editing XML files) and stop the automatically started tomcat until we've completed more configuration performed further below:

apt install --no-install-recommends default-jdk-headless tomcat9 \
  vim less openssl curl expat multitail gnupg net-tools

systemctl stop tomcat9

Post-install fix-ups

Redirect requests to Tomcat's web root ("/") to a URL of your choice, e.g. your institution's home page, replacing "" in the command  belowThe Shibboleth IDP application by default will run at /idp, allowing you to easily add and update other content outside of /idp, e.g. logos or CSS stylesheets without having them to integrate them with the "idp" context/application. The document root for that is in /var/lib/tomcat9/webapps/ROOT/ and nothing in the Shibboleth IDP software (or during use of SAML) by default links to / of the server, so you can use that for locally hosted content without interfering with the IDP application. For example, you will want to add a robots.txt file to avoid unnecessary scanning by well-behaved search bots.

rm /var/lib/tomcat9/webapps/ROOT/index.html
echo '<% response.sendRedirect(""); %>' > /var/lib/tomcat9/webapps/ROOT/index.jsp
echo -e "User-agent: *\nDisallow: /" > /var/lib/tomcat9/webapps/ROOT/robots.txt

Set JAVA_HOME for the current (and future) shell(s):

eval $(echo "export JAVA_HOME=/usr" | tee /etc/profile.d/

Enable TLS/SSL

Create keypair and certificate chain

Do not use an existing wildcard certificate (if one is available that would also cover your IDP webserver) – just do the work as described below and create another certificate for your IDP. Under ACOnet's TCS agreement you can get unlimited globally valid commercial certificates at no cost to you. (Alternatively, though not recommended for your IDP, there's always letsencrypt.) So there should be no excuse to promiscuously share an existing TLS key pair across unrelated servers and services.

First, create and note down a random passphrase to use for protecting/encrypting the private key at rest. (Use this passphrase in all the steps below when asked for a key passphrase or import/export password.)

openssl rand -hex 16

On the IDP server create an RSA private key of at least 2048 bits size and the CSR for the web server's TLS certificate, supplying the necessary data (at least the subject) on the command line or by entering any data interactively when being prompted for it (when not adding -subj to the command):

openssl req -new -newkey rsa:2048 -out webserver.csr -keyout webserver.key -subj "/CN=WEBSERVER-FQDN"

When asked to "Enter pass phrase for webserver.key" provide the passphrase from the previous step.

Renewing an existing TLS certificate?

In case you're replacing an expiring TLS certificate where the matching private key is still considered to be secure and of sufficient strength (in 2024 CE for RSA keys that means a key size of at least 2048 bits) you may want to keep using the existing private key (and PKCS#12 keystore passphrase) and generate the CSR from that key.
To do that first extract the private key from your keystore (instead of generating a new one):

openssl pkcs12 -in /etc/tomcat9/webserver.p12 -nocerts | tail +5 > webserver.key

When asked to "Enter Import Password" supply the existing keystorePass for the  port="443" Connector from your /etc/tomcat9/server.xml configuration file.
When asked to "Enter PEM pass phrase" simply enter/paste that same passphrase again.
And yet again, when asked to "Verifying - Enter PEM pass phrase".

Then generate a CSR from the extracted private key, either by supplying the necessary data (at least the subject) on the command line or by entering any data interactively when being prompted for it (when not adding -subj to the command):

openssl req -new -key webserver.key -out webserver.csr -subj "/CN=WEBSERVER-FQDN"

When asked to "Enter pass phrase for webserver.key" again provide the passphrase from the previous steps.

The content of webserver.csr is what you provide to your CA then, e.g. via cat webserver.csr and pasting the result into the CA's web interface.

Equipped with the CSR you can now request a TLS certificate based from your CA, e.g. using the ACOnet TCS supplier. Once the certificate has been issued copy it to the IDP server as webserver.crt.
You'll also need to copy any intermediate Certificate Authority (CA) certificates to the IDP server.

In case of ACOnet TCS, Sectigo and an RSA OV certificate the only intermediate CA certificate you'll need is the one with the subject "C = NL, O = GEANT Vereniging, CN = GEANT OV RSA CA 4", referenced as file GEANT-OV-RSA-CA-4.crt below.

Convert the TLS/SSL keypair into PKCS12

Copy the private key, new TLS certificate and any intermediate CA certificates into a PKCS#12 keystore file:

openssl pkcs12 -export -in webserver.crt -inkey webserver.key -certfile GEANT-OV-RSA-CA-4.crt -name "webserver" -out webserver.p12

When asked to "Enter pass phrase for webserver.key" provide the passphrase generated earlier.
Again when asked to "Enter Export Password".
And yet again, when asked to "Verifying - Enter Export Password".

Move the newly created keystore to its final location (we're chosing Tomcat's config directory) and set strict file system permissions on it:

[[ -f /etc/tomcat9/webserver.p12 ]] && cp -a /etc/tomcat9/webserver.p12 /etc/tomcat9/webserver.p12.`date -u +%Y%m%d`
mv webserver.p12 /etc/tomcat9/
chown root:tomcat /etc/tomcat9/webserver.p12
chmod 640 /etc/tomcat9/webserver.p12

Configure Tomcat Connector

Remove or comment out all other Connectors in /etc/tomcat9/server.xml, then add the two Connectors as per below, replacing keystorePass with the password generated earlier:

If you still need to support clients that can only speak TLS 1.0 or TLS 1.1 you will have to amend the sslEnabledProtocols parameter below!

<!-- Localhost-only connector for IDP command line tools -->
<Connector address="" port="80" />
<!-- -->
  keystorePass="see above">
  <UpgradeProtocol className="org.apache.coyote.http2.Http2Protocol" />

Start Tomcat, check for listening ports, and access https://webserver-fqdn/foo which should result in an HTTP Status 404 error (since /foo won't exist) but allows you to confirm a hopefully valid TLS/SSL webserver configuration:

systemctl restart tomcat9
netstat -lntp | fgrep java  # should show 443, and 80 only on the loopback interface

Verify TLS/SSL

Next validate the TLS/SSL configuration on the system itself with openssl (and quit again with ctrl-c or by typing QUIT into the prompt):

openssl s_client -CApath /etc/ssl/certs/ -connect webserver-fqdn:443 </dev/null

Look for "Certificate chain" in the output from that command, e.g.

openssl s_client -CApath /etc/ssl/certs/ -connect webserver-fqdn:443 2>&1 </dev/null | grep -A8 "^Certificate chain"

and verify that it looks something like the "Certificate chain" presented below. The Subject of cert 0 will obviously differ, and depending on your choice of CA or certificate product the CA or certificate chain may also be different. A correct chain (and therfore PKCS#12 keystore) for TLS usage should contain all the certificates up until but excluding the root CA certificate. I.e, in the example below the certificate with CN=USERTrust RSA Certification Authority is not included in the chain sent from the server (but must be known by the web browser):

Certificate chain
 0 s:C = AT, postalCode = 1010, ST = Wien, L = Wien, street = Universitaetsstrasse 7, O = ACOnet, CN =
   i:C = NL, O = GEANT Vereniging, CN = GEANT OV RSA CA 4
 1 s:C = NL, O = GEANT Vereniging, CN = GEANT OV RSA CA 4
   i:C = US, ST = New Jersey, L = Jersey City, O = The USERTRUST Network, CN = USERTrust RSA Certification Authority

In case of errors check the output of "journalctl -u tomcat9 -ef".

If everything works fine and the certificate chain looks as expected you can remove the private key and certificate again (as both can be extracted from the PKCS#12 keystore if needed), keeping the CSR in file webserver.csr around for next time you need to renew that certificate (as long as you still consider the matching private key secure):

rm webserver.{key,crt}

Tune log file creation

IDP logs

You might prefer to have the IDP application write its logs to a more standard file system location in the file system, specifically one outside the application's own directory and on a file system that where data usage is expected to grow dynamically (e.g. on /var). To do that simply set the idp.logfiles property in any of the property files read by the IDP, e.g. within conf/


We also have to create that directory. And in order for the example commands in this documentation to work with either log directory we'll remove the (still empty) log dir created by the IDP installer and replace it with a symlink to the actual log directory:

install -o tomcat -g root -m 0750 -d /var/log/shibboleth/
cd /opt/shibboleth-idp/ && rmdir logs && ln -s /var/log/shibboleth logs

Tomcat logs

By default Tomcat logs everything multiple times, including to /var/log/tomcat9/catalina.out and /var/log/tomcat9/localhost.*, which we don't care for. So create a backup copy of Tomcat's and replace its content with the minumum needed to get Tomcat's stdout/stderr to the console (which ends up in the systemd journal in our configuration). To prevent catalina.out from being created we deacticate it further below (in our "Systemd service" override) by setting the CATALINA_OUT=/dev/null environment variable for the java process.

systemctl stop tomcat9
cp -a /etc/tomcat9/ /etc/tomcat9/`date -u +%Y%m%d`
echo -n 'handlers = java.util.logging.ConsoleHandler
java.util.logging.ConsoleHandler.level = INFO
java.util.logging.ConsoleHandler.formatter = org.apache.juli.SystemdFormatter
org.apache.catalina.core.ContainerBase.[Catalina].[localhost].level = INFO
org.apache.catalina.core.ContainerBase.[Catalina].[localhost].handlers = java.util.logging.ConsoleHandler
' > /etc/tomcat9/

Then comment out or delete the whole Valve element at the end of your /etc/tomcat9/server.xml, and replace it with the following one:

<Valve className="org.apache.catalina.valves.AccessLogValve" maxLogMessageBufferSize="320"
       prefix="access" suffix=".log" renameOnRotate="true" pattern="combined" />

After deleting all Tomcat logs (only) access.log should be generated in Tomcat's log directory going forward:

rm -f /var/log/tomcat9/*
systemctl restart tomcat9
ls -l /var/log/tomcat9/
multitail /var/log/tomcat9/* -l 'journalctl -u tomcat9.service -f'  # exit with 'q'
systemctl stop tomcat9

If you're certain there's no catalina.log file being generated anymore you can also disable the default logrotate config snippet for it:

sed -i 's/^/#/' /etc/logrotate.d/tomcat9

Systemd service

Debian's Tomcat comes with an almost-usable systemd service that needs to be amended in order to

  1. Avoid the systemd-house-of-horror that's still all too common with Tomcat/Java packaging
  2. Avoid slow startup times due to use of a blocking /dev/random (cf. Myths about urandom also linked from the Shib wiki).
  3. Allow the IDP application to write logs and metadata to the filesystem as needed
  4. Try avoiding the creation of catalina.out (we already have its content in journald using this configuration)

And since we're creating an override for the system-supplied systemd service unit anyway we'll also set the maximum memory usage there ("-Xmx3g" in the example below, i.e., 3GB).
Adjust as needed, but 3-4GB should be sufficient even for large metadata aggregates (as are common with Interfederation). Also leave a bit of RAM for the OS. (Not that you should be running anything else on an IDP server.)

install -o root -g root -m 0755 -d /etc/systemd/system/tomcat9.service.d

cat <<'EOF' > /etc/systemd/system/tomcat9.service.d/override.conf
Environment=" -Djava.awt.headless=true -Xmx3g"
ExecStart=/usr/bin/java \
  -classpath ${CATALINA_HOME}/bin/bootstrap.jar:${CATALINA_HOME}/bin/tomcat-juli.jar \
  -Dcatalina.base=${CATALINA_BASE} \
  -Dcatalina.home=${CATALINA_HOME} \
  -Djava.util.logging.config.file=${CATALINA_BASE}/conf/ \
  -Djava.util.logging.manager=org.apache.juli.ClassLoaderLogManager \${CATALINA_TMPDIR} \

(If you've set "idp.logfiles=/var/log/shibboleth" via the IDP's property files as described in section "IDP logs" above you can remove the line ReadWritePaths=/opt/shibboleth-idp/logs/. The above example config just makes sure IDP logs can get written using either log location.)

Activate the override with systemctl daemon-reload, maybe also verify with systemd-delta | fgrep tomcat

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