SSL_ERROR_WANT_TIME: Pause SSL_connect to fetch intermediate certificates

Alex Rousskov rousskov at
Tue Aug 18 21:31:55 UTC 2020


    TLDR: How can we pause the SSL_connect() progress and return to its
caller after the origin certificate is fetched/decrypted, but before
OpenSSL starts validating it (so that we can fetch the missing
intermediate certificates without threads or blocking I/O)?
ASYNC_pause_job() does not seem to be the right answer.

My team is working on an HTTP proxy Squid. Squid does not have the
luxury of knowing what secure servers it will be talking to (on behalf
of its clients). Thus, it cannot simply preload _intermediate_
certificates for servers that do not supply them in their TLS handshakes
(e.g. )

The standard solution for the missing intermediate certificate problem
is to fetch the missing intermediate certificates upon their discovery.
AIA (RFC 5280) is a mechanism that applications can use to learn about
the location of the missing intermediate certificates. Popular browsers
fetch what they miss: If you go to the above URL, your browser will
probably be happy!

As you know, OpenSSL provides the certificate verification callback that
can discover that the origin certificate chain is incomplete. An
application using threads or blocking I/O can probably "pause" its
verification callback execution, fetch the intermediate certificates,
and then complete validation before happily returning to the
SSL_connect() caller. Life is easy when you can use threads or block
thousands of concurrent transactions!

Unfortunately, Squid can use neither threads nor blocking I/O. Upon
discovery of the missing intermediate certificates, Squid has to return
to the SSL_connect() caller, fetch the certificates, and then resume
SSL_connect() with the fetched certificates available to OpenSSL.
However, the certificate verification callback does not have a "please
call me later" return code. We can only return "yes, valid" or "no,
invalid" results.

We found an ugly workaround for the above problem. Here is a simplified
description: Using OpenSSL BIO API, Squid parses the server certificate
during the TLS handshake, discovers the missing intermediate
certificates, pauses TLS I/O (this results in SSL_connect() returning
back to the caller with SSL_ERROR_WANT_READ), fetches the missing
certificates, supplies them to OpenSSL, and then resumes SSL_connect().
This hack has worked for many years.

Now comes TLS v1.3. Squid code can no longer parse the certificates
before OpenSSL because they are contained in the _encrypted_ part of the
server handshake. Thus, Squid cannot discover what is missing and fetch
that for OpenSSL before certificate validation starts.

What can we do? How can we pause the SSL_connect() progress after the
origin certificate is fetched but before it is validated?

I am aware of the ASYNC_pause_job() and related async APIs in OpenSSL.
If I interpret related documentation, discussions, and our test results
correctly, that API is not meant as the correct answer for our problem.
Today, abusing that API will probably work. Tomorrow,
internal/unpredictable OpenSSL changes might break our Squid
enhancements beyond repair as detailed below.

Somewhat counter-intuitively, the OpenSSL async API is meant for
activities that can work correctly _without_ becoming asynchronous (i.e.
without being paused to temporary give way to other activities). Squid
cannot fetch the missing intermediate certificates without pausing TLS
negotiations with the server...

The async API was added to support custom OpenSSL engines, not
application callbacks. The API does not guarantee that an
ASYNC_pause_job() will actually pause processing and return to the
SSL_connect() caller! That will only happen if OpenSSL internal code
does not call ASYNC_block_pause(), effectively converting all subsequent
ASYNC_pause_job() calls into a no-op. That pause-nullification was added
to work around deadlocks, but it effectively places the API off limits
to user-level code that cannot control the timing of those
ASYNC_block_pause() calls.

Squid could kill the current TLS session (and its TCP connection), fetch
the missing certificates, and then retry from scratch, but that is a
very ugly (unreliable, wasteful, and noisy) solution.

Can you think of another trick?

Thank you,

P.S. Squid does not support BoringSSL, but BoringSSL's
SSL_ERROR_WANT_CERTIFICATE_VERIFY result of the certificate validation
callback seemingly addresses our use case. I do not know whether OpenSSL
decision makers would be open to adding something along those lines and
decided to ask for existing solutions here before proposing adding

More information about the openssl-users mailing list