Frank Mitchell

Validate SSL certificates in Node.js without getting uncaught exceptions

Node’s https module makes it easy to spin up a server with TLS. Use OpenSSL to generate a certificate and you’re good to go.

$ openssl req -x509 -newkey rsa:4096 -keyout key.pem -out cert.pem -days 1
$ openssl pkcs12 -export -in cert.pem -inkey key.pem -out server.pfx

Here’s JavaScript for starting a HTTPS server with a SSL certificate.

#!/usr/bin/env node

const fs = require('fs');
const https = require('https');

const options = {
  pfx: fs.readFileSync('./server.pfx'),
  passphrase: process.argv[2]

const server = https.createServer(options, (_, res) => {
  res.end('hello world\n');

server.listen(8080, '');
console.log('Server listening on');

But what if the passphrase is wrong? Running the code above with a passphrase that doesn’t match the one in the certificate generates an error.

$ node server.js Passw0rd
  c.context.loadPKCS12(pfx, passphrase);

Error: mac verify failure
  at Error (native)
  at Object.createSecureContext (_tls_common.js:137:17)
  at Server (_tls_wrap.js:776:25)
  at new Server (https.js:26:14)
  at Object.exports.createServer (https.js:47:10)
  at Object.<anonymous> (./server.js:11:22)
  at Module._compile (module.js:570:32)
  at Object.Module._extensions..js (module.js:579:10)
  at Module.load (module.js:487:32)
  at tryModuleLoad (module.js:446:12)

We can try to gracefully handle that error, by listening for error events on the server.

server.on('error', (err) => {
  console.error('There was a server error!', err);

Adding the code above before the server.listen() call and rerunning the program doesn’t help. We get the same error message. Looking at the stack trace, we can see the failure is happening in the https.createServer() call, before our server error handler is registered.

We could use process.on('uncaughtException') and register a high level error handler.

process.on('uncaughtException', (err) => {
  console.error('Uncaught exception!', err);

That would catch the bad passphrase, but it wouldn’t give us the oportunity to recover from it. Once an uncaught exception is thrown, the only safe option is to exit the program. Ideally, we want is to catch the bad passphrase before we create the server.

Looking at the stack trace gives us a clue. The error is being thrown from tls.createSecureContext() in the tls module. What if we called that ourselves before creating the server?

try {
  const tls = require('tls');
} catch (err) {
  console.error('There was a TLS error!', err.message);
  console.error('Did you enter the right passphrase?');

Adding the code above before the https.createServer() call and rerunning the program fixes it. Now the user’s prompted with a helpful error message.

$ node server.js Passw0rd
There was a TLS error! mac verify failure
Did you enter the right passphrase?

And if we enter the right passphrase, the server starts succesfully.

$ node server.js rosebud
HTTPS server listening on


Want Node.js tips delivered to your inbox? Put your name and email address in the form below.