Setting up a secure Vault with a Consul backend


With this blogpost we continue working with a secure Consul environment: We are configuring a secure Vault setup with Consul as backend. YMMV, but this is what I needed to configure to make it work.


We should have an working Consul Cluster environment. If you don’t have one, please take a look at here for creating one. With this blogpost we expect a secure Consul cluster with SSL certificates and using ACL’s.

In this blogpost we make use of the wdijkerman/vault container. This container is created by myself and is running Vault (At moment of writing release 0.6.4) on Alpine (running on 3.5). Vault is running as user ‘vault’ and the container can be configured to use SSL certificates.


We have to create SSL certificates for the vault service. In this blogpost we use the domain ‘dj-wasabi.local’, as Consul is already running with this domain configuration so we have to create ssl certificates for the FQDN: ‘’.

On my host where my OpenSSL CA configuration is stored, I execute the following commands:

openssl genrsa -out private/ 4096

Generate the key.

openssl req -new -extensions usr_cert -sha256 -subj "/C=NL/ST=Utrecht/L=Nieuwegin/O=dj-wasabi/" -key private/ -out csr/

Create a signing request file and then sign it with the CA.

openssl ca -batch -config /etc/pki/tls/openssl.cnf -notext -in csr/ -out certs/

We copy the ‘’, ‘’ and the caroot certificate file to the hosts which will be running the Vault container into the directory /data/vault/ssl. Hashicorp advises to run vault on hosts where Consul Agents are running, not Consul Servers. This has probably todo with that for most use cases they see is that Consul is part of large networks and thus the servers will handle a lot of request (High load). As the Consul Servers will be very busy, it would then be wise to not run anything else on those servers.

But this is my own versy small environment (With 10 machines) so I will run Vault on the hosts running the Consul Server.


Before we do anything on these hosts, we create a ACL in Consul. We have to make sure that Vault can create keys in the key/value store and we have to allow that Vault may create a service in Consul named vault.

So our (Client) ACL will look like this:

key "vault/" {
  policy = "write"
service "vault" {
  policy = "write"

We use this in the ui on the Consul Server and create the ACL. In my case, the ACL is created with id ’94c507b4-6be8-9132-ea15-3fc5b196ea29′. This ID is needed later on when we configure Vault. Also check your ACL for the ‘Anonymous token’. Please make sure you have set the following rule if the Consul default policy is set to deny:

service "vault" {
  policy = "read"

With this, we make sure the service is resolvable via dns. In my case this is for ‘’.


We have to configure the vault docker container. We have to create a directory that will be mounted in the container. First we have to create an user on the host and then we create the directory: /data/vault/config and own it to the just created user.

useradd -u 994 vault
mkdir /data/vault/config
chown vault:vault /data/vault/config

The container is using a user named vault and has UID 994 and we have to make sure that everything is in sync with names and id. Now we create a config.hcl file in the earlier mentioned directory:

backend "consul" {
  address = ""
  check_timeout = "5s"
  path = "vault/"
  token = "94c507b4-6be8-9132-ea15-3fc5b196ea29"
  scheme = "https"
  tls_skip_verify = 0
  tls_key_file = "/vault/ssl/"
  tls_cert_file = "/vault/ssl/”
  tls_ca_file = "/vault/ssl/dj-wasabi.local.pem"

listener "tcp" {
  address = ""
  tls_disable = 0
  tls_key_file = "/vault/ssl/"
  tls_cert_file = "/vault/ssl/"
  cluster_address = ""

disable_mlock = false

First we configure a backend for Vault. As we use Consul, we use the Consul backend. Because the Consul is running on https and is using certificates, we have to use the fqdn of the Consul node as the address (same as how we did in configuring Registratror in this post). We also have to configure the options ‘tls_key_file’, ‘tls_cert_file’ and ‘tls_ca_file’, these are the ssl certificates needed for accessing the secure Consul via SSL. Because of this, we have to set the ‘scheme’ to ‘https’ and we have to specify the token for the ACL we created earlier and add the value to the the token option.

Next we configure the listener for Vault. We configure the listener that it listens on all ips on port 8200. We also make sure we configure the earlier created SSL certificates by using them in the ‘tls_key_file’ and ‘tls_cert_file’ options.

The last option is to make sure that Vault can not swap data to the local disk.

Starting Vault

Now we are ready to start the docker container. We use the following command for this:

docker run -d -h vserver-202 --name vault \
--dns= \
--cap-add IPC_LOCK -p 8200:8200 -p 8201:8201 \
-v /data/vault/ssl:/vault/ssl:ro \
-e VAULT_CACERT=/vault/ssl/dj-wasabi.local.pem \

We have the SSL certificates stored in the /data/vault/ssl and we mount these as read only on /vault/ssl. With the VAULT_ADDR we specifiy on which url the vault service is available on, this is the url which Consul provides like any other server. With the VAULT_CACERT we specify on which location the CA Certificate file of our domain. The other 3 environment variables are needed for a High Available Vault environment and is to make sure how other vault instances can contact it.

When Vault is started, we will see something like this with the docker logs vault command:

==> Vault server configuration:

Backend: consul (HA available)
Cgo: disabled
Cluster Address:
Listener 1: tcp (addr: "", cluster address: "", tls: "enabled")
Log Level: info
Mlock: supported: true, enabled: true
Redirect Address:
Version: Vault v0.6.4
Version Sha: f4adc7fa960ed8e828f94bc6785bcdbae8d1b263

==> Vault server started! Log data will stream in below:

But where are not done yet. When Vault is started, it is in a sealed state and because this is the first vault in the cluster we have to initialise it to. Also when you check the ui of Consul, you’ll see that the vault is in an error state. Why? When Vault starts, it automatically creates a service in Consul and add health checks. These health checks will check if a vault instance is sealed or not.


As vault is running in the container, we open a terminal to the container:

docker exec -it vault bash

Now we have a bash shell running and we going to initialise vault. First we have to make sure we set the ‘VAULT_ADDR’ to this container, by executing the following command:

export VAULT_ADDR=''

Every time we want to do something with the vault instance, we have to set the ‘VAULT_ADDR’ to localhost. If we won’t do that, we will send the commands directly against the cluster.

As this is the first vault instance in the environment, we have to initialise it and we do that by executing the following command:

vault init -tls-skip-verify
Unseal Key 1: hemsIyJD+KQSWtKp0fQ0r109fOv8TUBnugGUKVl5zjAB
Unseal Key 2: lIiIaKI1F6pJ11Jw/g1CiLyZurpfhCM9AYIylrG/SKUC
Unseal Key 3: 298bn4H8bLbJRsPASOl3R+RPuDKIt6i5fYzqxQ3wL4ED
Unseal Key 4: W4RUiOU3IzQSZ8GD2z8jBEg2wK/q17ldr3zJipFjzKQE
Unseal Key 5: FNPHf8b+WCiS9lAzbdsWyxDgwic95DLZ03IR2S0sq4AF
Initial Root Token: ed220674-24da-d446-375d-bbd0334bcb31

Vault initialized with 5 keys and a key threshold of 3. Please
securely distribute the above keys. When the Vault is re-sealed,
restarted, or stopped, you must provide at least 3 of these keys
to unseal it again.

Vault does not store the master key. Without at least 3 keys,
your Vault will remain permanently sealed.

As we set the ‘VAULT_ADDR’ to ‘’, we have to add the ‘-tls-skip-verify’ option to the vault command. If we don’t do that, it will complain the it can not validate the certificate that matches the configured url ‘

After executing the command, we see some output appear. This output is very important and needs to be saved somewhere on a secure location. The output provides us 5 unseal keys and the root token. Every time a vault instance is (re)started, the instance will be in a sealed state and needs to be unsealed. 3 of the 5 tokens needs to be used when you need to unseal a vault instance.

bash-4.3$ vault unseal -tls-skip-verify
Key (will be hidden):
Sealed: true
Key Shares: 5
Key Threshold: 3
Unseal Progress: 1
bash-4.3$ vault unseal -tls-skip-verify
Key (will be hidden):
Sealed: true
Key Shares: 5
Key Threshold: 3
Unseal Progress: 2
bash-4.3$ vault unseal -tls-skip-verify
Key (will be hidden):
Sealed: false
Key Shares: 5
Key Threshold: 3
Unseal Progress: 0

We have executed 3 times the unseal command and now this Vault instance is unsealed. You can see the ‘Unseal Progress’ changing after we enter an unseal key. We can verify that state of the vault instance by executing the vault status command:

bash-4.3$ vault status -tls-skip-verify
Sealed: false
Key Shares: 5
Key Threshold: 3
Unseal Progress: 0
Version: 0.6.4
Cluster Name: vault-cluster-7e01e371
Cluster ID: b9446acf-4551-e4c2-fa5f-03bd1bcf872f

High-Availability Enabled: true
Mode: active

We see that this vault instance is not sealed and that the mode of this node is active. You can also see that the leader of the vault instance is in my case the current host. (Not strange as this is the first Vault instance of the environment.) If we want to add a 2nd and more, we have to execute the same commands as before. With the exception of the vault init command, as we already have an initialised environment.

As we are still logged in on the node, lets create a simple entry.

bash-4.3$ export VAULT_TOKEN=ed220674-24da-d446-375d-bbd0334bcb31
bash-4.3$ vault write secret/password value=secret
Success! Data written to: secret/password

We first set the ‘VAULT_TOKEN’ variable, this value of this variable is the value of the ‘Initial root token’. After that, we created a simple entry in the database. Key ‘secret/password’ is created and had the value ‘secret’.

It took some time to investigate how to setup a High Available Vault environment with Consul, not much information can be found on the internet. So maybe this page will help you setting one up yourself. If you do have improvements please let me know.


One thought on “Setting up a secure Vault with a Consul backend

  1. Ryan Smith-Evans 2017-04-05 / 13:01

    Really useful post, thanks for this.


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