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Last pushed: 4 days ago
Short Description
๐Ÿ”’ OpenVPN server in a Docker container complete with an EasyRSA PKI CA
Full Description

OpenVPN for Docker

OpenVPN server in a Docker container complete with an EasyRSA PKI CA.

Extensively tested on Digital Ocean $5/mo node and has
a corresponding Digital Ocean Community Tutorial.

Upstream Links

Quick Start

  • Pick a name for the $OVPN_DATA data volume container, it will be created automatically.

  • Initialize the $OVPN_DATA container that will hold the configuration files and certificates

      docker volume create --name $OVPN_DATA
      docker run -v $OVPN_DATA:/etc/openvpn --rm kylemanna/openvpn ovpn_genconfig -u udp://VPN.SERVERNAME.COM
      docker run -v $OVPN_DATA:/etc/openvpn --rm -it kylemanna/openvpn ovpn_initpki
  • Start OpenVPN server process

      docker run -v $OVPN_DATA:/etc/openvpn -d -p 1194:1194/udp --cap-add=NET_ADMIN kylemanna/openvpn
  • Generate a client certificate without a passphrase

      docker run -v $OVPN_DATA:/etc/openvpn --rm -it kylemanna/openvpn easyrsa build-client-full CLIENTNAME nopass
  • Retrieve the client configuration with embedded certificates

      docker run -v $OVPN_DATA:/etc/openvpn --rm kylemanna/openvpn ovpn_getclient CLIENTNAME > CLIENTNAME.ovpn

Docker Compose

If you prefer to use docker-compose please refer to the documentation.

Debugging Tips

  • Create an environment variable with the name DEBUG and value of 1 to enable debug output (using "docker -e").

      docker run -v $OVPN_DATA:/etc/openvpn -p 1194:1194/udp --privileged -e DEBUG=1 kylemanna/openvpn
  • Test using a client that has openvpn installed correctly

      $ openvpn --config CLIENTNAME.ovpn
  • Run through a barrage of debugging checks on the client if things don't just work

      $ ping    # checks connectivity without touching name resolution
      $ dig  # won't use the search directives in resolv.conf
      $ nslookup # will use search
  • Consider setting up a systemd service for automatic
    start-up at boot time and restart in the event the OpenVPN daemon or Docker

How Does It Work?

Initialize the volume container using the kylemanna/openvpn image with the
included scripts to automatically generate:

  • Diffie-Hellman parameters
  • a private key
  • a self-certificate matching the private key for the OpenVPN server
  • an EasyRSA CA key and certificate
  • a TLS auth key from HMAC security

The OpenVPN server is started with the default run cmd of ovpn_run

The configuration is located in /etc/openvpn, and the Dockerfile
declares that directory as a volume. It means that you can start another
container with the -v argument, and access the configuration.
The volume also holds the PKI keys and certs so that it could be backed up.

To generate a client certificate, kylemanna/openvpn uses EasyRSA via the
easyrsa command in the container's path. The EASYRSA_* environmental
variables place the PKI CA under /etc/openvpn/pki.

Conveniently, kylemanna/openvpn comes with a script called ovpn_getclient,
which dumps an inline OpenVPN client configuration file. This single file can
then be given to a client for access to the VPN.

To enable Two Factor Authentication for clients (a.k.a. OTP) see this document.

OpenVPN Details

We use tun mode, because it works on the widest range of devices.
tap mode, for instance, does not work on Android, except if the device
is rooted.

The topology used is net30, because it works on the widest range of OS.
p2p, for instance, does not work on Windows.

The UDP server uses192.168.255.0/24 for dynamic clients by default.

The client profile specifies redirect-gateway def1, meaning that after
establishing the VPN connection, all traffic will go through the VPN.
This might cause problems if you use local DNS recursors which are not
directly reachable, since you will try to reach them through the VPN
and they might not answer to you. If that happens, use public DNS
resolvers like those of Google ( and or OpenDNS
( and

Security Discussion

The Docker container runs its own EasyRSA PKI Certificate Authority. This was
chosen as a good way to compromise on security and convenience. The container
runs under the assumption that the OpenVPN container is running on a secure
host, that is to say that an adversary does not have access to the PKI files
under /etc/openvpn/pki. This is a fairly reasonable compromise because if an
adversary had access to these files, the adversary could manipulate the
function of the OpenVPN server itself (sniff packets, create a new PKI CA, MITM
packets, etc).

  • The certificate authority key is kept in the container by default for
    simplicity. It's highly recommended to secure the CA key with some
    passphrase to protect against a filesystem compromise. A more secure system
    would put the EasyRSA PKI CA on an offline system (can use the same Docker
    image and the script ovpn_copy_server_files to accomplish this).
  • It would be impossible for an adversary to sign bad or forged certificates
    without first cracking the key's passphase should the adversary have root
    access to the filesystem.
  • The EasyRSA build-client-full command will generate and leave keys on the
    server, again possible to compromise and steal the keys. The keys generated
    need to be signed by the CA which the user hopefully configured with a passphrase
    as described above.
  • Assuming the rest of the Docker container's filesystem is secure, TLS + PKI
    security should prevent any malicious host from using the VPN.

Benefits of Running Inside a Docker Container

The Entire Daemon and Dependencies are in the Docker Image

This means that it will function correctly (after Docker itself is setup) on
all distributions Linux distributions such as: Ubuntu, Arch, Debian, Fedora,
etc. Furthermore, an old stable server can run a bleeding edge OpenVPN server
without having to install/muck with library dependencies (i.e. run latest
OpenVPN with latest OpenSSL on Ubuntu 12.04 LTS).

It Doesn't Stomp All Over the Server's Filesystem

Everything for the Docker container is contained in two images: the ephemeral
run time image (kylemanna/openvpn) and the $OVPN_DATA data volume. To remove
it, remove the corresponding containers, $OVPN_DATA data volume and Docker
image and it's completely removed. This also makes it easier to run multiple
servers since each lives in the bubble of the container (of course multiple IPs
or separate ports are needed to communicate with the world).

Some (arguable) Security Benefits

At the simplest level compromising the container may prevent additional
compromise of the server. There are many arguments surrounding this, but the
take away is that it certainly makes it more difficult to break out of the
container. People are actively working on Linux containers to make this more
of a guarantee in the future.

Differences from jpetazzo/dockvpn

  • No longer uses serveconfig to distribute the configuration via https
  • Proper PKI support integrated into image
  • OpenVPN config files, PKI keys and certs are stored on a storage
    volume for re-use across containers
  • Addition of tls-auth for HMAC security

Originally Tested On

  • Docker hosts:
    • server a Digital Ocean Droplet with 512 MB RAM running Ubuntu 14.04
  • Clients
    • Android App OpenVPN Connect 1.1.14 (built 56)
      • OpenVPN core 3.0 android armv7a thumb2 32-bit
    • OS X Mavericks with Tunnelblick 3.4beta26 (build 3828) using openvpn-2.3.4
    • ArchLinux OpenVPN pkg 2.3.4-1
Docker Pull Command
Source Repository

Comments (21)
5 months ago

With OTP the client keeps disconnecting after ~30 minutes. Someone knows how to configure this time?

7 months ago

8 months ago

How do I revoke a key using this container?

9 months ago

If anyone need docker-compose version:

9 months ago

The link for the Two Factor Auth is not working.

10 months ago

Please help how to disable some user key?
i am have user which i want to block access.

a year ago


Thank you for the how-to article. I was able to get it to work running in an open stack instance. I have a question regarding the tunneling connection. When the tunnel connection is established I can ping the docker container IP but cannot ping the instance that is hosting the docker? Are there additional configuration steps needed to include the instance as part of the tunnel connection.

a year ago

@centin: Did you already figure out what you were doing wrong? You seem to have only copied the Dockerfile from here, while you should have cloned the github repo this docker repo is linked to.

a year ago

I'm new to docker and want to run your image on odroid u3(arm cpu). I copied your docker file and modified "FROM alpine:3.2" to "FROM armbuild/alpine" but got error "Step 11 : ADD ./bin /usr/local/bin
INFO[0000] bin: no such file or directory" when building with sudo docker build -t myopenvpn . Just give me a hint what I'm doing wrong :)

a year ago

Awesome work man! Thanks a lot!