Fixing Letsencrypt renewal errors on SSL only domains

Posted January 2, 2018 by  ‐ 2 min read

The Problem

As you know, the Letsencrypt certificates are valid only for 90 days and you need to renew them before it expires. Most of us have a cron job that takes care of it using letsencrypt renew or certbot renew.

I’ve been using Let’s Encrypt for quite some time and never faced any problems with the renewals, ( I use certbot renew as a cron job ) until now. The difference this time is that the domain in this scenario had a rule to redirect all http traffic to https. Now this is a problem because Let’sEncrypt will try to reach your domain to verify the ownership over http which will get redirected to https and that would cause problems.

You might have something like this in your nginx conf for the domain

server {
    listen 80;
    return 301$request_uri;

which is the culprit.

The Solution

The solution is quite simple, redirect everything except the Let’s encrypt acme challenge (the domain verification request), ie the request made to This is how you fix it for good:

First of all, we need to create the challenge directory for Letsencrypt

sudo mkdir -p /var/www/letsencrypt/.well-known/acme-challenge

Then we need to create a small snippet at the location /etc/nginx/snippets/letsencrypt.conf with the following content

location ^~ /.well-known/acme-challenge/ {
    default_type "text/plain";
    root /var/www/letsencrypt;

This snippet tells nginx to set the docroot for any request made to .well-known/acme-challenge as /var/www/letsencrypt.

Now we need to include this snippet in your site’s nginx configuration. Most of the time this will be in /etc/nginx/sites-enabled/

Modify your http server block to resemble below

server {
    listen 80;
    listen [::]:80;

    include /etc/nginx/snippets/letsencrypt.conf;

    location / {
        return 301 https://$host$request_uri;

NOTE: Please keep in mind that this is only for the http server block, whatever you had for your https server block should remain the same.

This should do the trick.