Note: This is an updated version of an earlier blog post available here.
The forthcoming OpenSSL 1.1.1 release will include support for TLSv1.3. The new release will be binary and API compatible with OpenSSL 1.1.0. In theory, if your application supports OpenSSL 1.1.0, then all you need to do to upgrade is to drop in the new version of OpenSSL when it becomes available and you will automatically start being able to use TLSv1.3. However there are some issues that application developers and deployers need to be aware of. In this blog post I am going to cover some of those things.
Differences with TLS1.2 and below
TLSv1.3 is a major rewrite of the specification. There was some debate as to whether it should really be called TLSv2.0 - but TLSv1.3 it is. There are major changes and some things work very differently. A brief, incomplete, summary of some things that you are likely to notice follows:
- There are new ciphersuites that only work in TLSv1.3. The old ciphersuites cannot be used for TLSv1.3 connections.
- The new ciphersuites are defined differently and do not specify the certificate type (e.g. RSA, DSA, ECDSA) or the key exchange mechanism (e.g. DHE or ECHDE). This has implications for ciphersuite configuration.
- Clients provide a “key_share” in the ClientHello. This has consequences for “group” configuration.
- Sessions are not established until after the main handshake has been completed. There may be a gap between the end of the handshake and the establishment of a session (or, in theory, a session may not be established at all). This could have impacts on session resumption code.
- Renegotiation is not possible in a TLSv1.3 connection
- More of the handshake is now encrypted.
- More types of messages can now have extensions (this has an impact on the custom extension APIs and Certificate Transparency)
- DSA certificates are no longer allowed in TLSv1.3 connections
Note that at this stage only TLSv1.3 is supported. DTLSv1.3 is still in the early days of specification and there is no OpenSSL support for it at this time.
Current status of the TLSv1.3 standard
As of the time of writing TLSv1.3 is still in draft. Periodically a new version of the draft standard is published by the TLS Working Group. Implementations of the draft are required to identify the specific draft version that they are using. This means that implementations based on different draft versions do not interoperate with each other.
OpenSSL 1.1.1 will not be released until (at least) TLSv1.3 is finalised. In the meantime the OpenSSL git master branch contains our development TLSv1.3 code which can be used for testing purposes (i.e. it is not for production use). You can check which draft TLSv1.3 version is implemented in any particular OpenSSL checkout by examining the value of the TLS1_3_VERSION_DRAFT_TXT macro in the tls1.h header file. This macro will be removed when the final version of the standard is released.
TLSv1.3 is enabled by default in the latest development versions (there is no need to explicitly enable it). To disable it at compile time you must use the “no-tls1_3” option to “config” or “Configure”.
Currently OpenSSL has implemented the “draft-23” version of TLSv1.3. Other applications that support TLSv1.3 may still be using older draft versions. This is a common source of interoperability problems. If two peers supporting different TLSv1.3 draft versions attempt to communicate then they will fall back to TLSv1.2.
OpenSSL has implemented support for five TLSv1.3 ciphersuites as follows:
Of these the first three are in the
DEFAULT ciphersuite group. This means that
if you have no explicit ciphersuite configuration then you will automatically
use those three and will be able to negotiate TLSv1.3.
All the TLSv1.3 ciphersuites also appear in the
HIGH ciphersuite alias. The
ciphersuite aliases include a subset of these ciphersuites as you would expect
based on their names. Key exchange and authentication properties were part of
the ciphersuite definition in TLSv1.2 and below. This is no longer the case in
TLSv1.3 so ciphersuite aliases such as
RSA and other similar
aliases do not contain any TLSv1.3 ciphersuites.
If you explicitly configure your ciphersuites then care should be taken to ensure that you are not inadvertently excluding all TLSv1.3 compatible ciphersuites. If a client has TLSv1.3 enabled but no TLSv1.3 ciphersuites configured then it will immediately fail (even if the server does not support TLSv1.3) with an error message like this:
Similarly if a server has TLSv1.3 enabled but no TLSv1.3 ciphersuites it will also immediately fail, even if the client does not support TLSv1.3, with an error message like this:
For example, setting a ciphersuite selection string of
ECDHE:!COMPLEMENTOFDEFAULT will work in OpenSSL 1.1.0 and will only select
those ciphersuites that are in DEFAULT and also use ECDHE for key exchange.
However no TLSv1.3 ciphersuites are in the ECDHE group so this ciphersuite
configuration will fail in OpenSSL 1.1.1 if TLSv1.3 is enabled.
You may want to explicitly list the TLSv1.3 ciphersuites you want to use to avoid problems. For example:
You can test which ciphersuites are included in a given ciphersuite selection
string using the
openssl ciphers -s -v command:
Ensure that at least one ciphersuite supports TLSv1.3
In TLSv1.3 the client selects a “group” that it will use for key exchange. At the time of writing, OpenSSL only supports ECDHE groups for this. The client then sends “key_share” information to the server for its selected group in the ClientHello.
The list of supported groups is configurable. It is possible for a client to select a group that the server does not support. In this case the server requests that the client sends a new key_share that it does support. While this means a connection will still be established (assuming a mutually supported group exists), it does introduce an extra server round trip - so this has implications for performance. In the ideal scenario the client will select a group that the server supports in the first instance.
In practice most clients will use X25519 or P-256 for their initial key_share. For maximum performance it is recommended that servers are configured to support at least those two groups and clients use one of those two for its initial key_share. This is the default case (OpenSSL clients will use X25519).
The group configuration also controls the allowed groups in TLSv1.2 and below. If applications have previously configured their groups in OpenSSL 1.1.0 then you should review that configuration to ensure that it still makes sense for TLSv1.3. The first named (i.e. most preferred group) will be the one used by an OpenSSL client in its intial key_share.
Applications can configure the group list by using
SSL_CTX_set1_groups() or a
similar function (see
further details). Alternatively, if applications use
configuration files then this can be configured using the
In TLSv1.2 and below a session is established as part of the handshake. This
session can then be used in a subsequent connection to achieve an abbreviated
handshake. Applications might typically obtain a handle on the session after a
handshake has completed using the
SSL_get1_session() function (or similar). See
In TLSv1.3 sessions are not established until after the main handshake has completed. The server sends a separate post-handshake message to the client containing the session details. Typically this will happen soon after the handshake has completed, but it could be sometime later (or not at all).
The specification recommends that applications only use a session once (although
this is not enforced). For this reason some servers send multiple session
messages to a client. To enforce the “use once” recommendation applications could
SSL_CTX_remove_session() to mark a session as non-resumable (and remove it
from the cache) once it has been used.
SSL_get1_session() and similar APIs may not operate as expected for
client applications written for TLSv1.2 and below. Specifically if a client
SSL_get1_session() before the server message containing
session details has been received then an
SSL_SESSION object will still be
returned, but any attempt to resume with it will not succeed and a full
handshake will occur instead. In the case where multiple sessions have been sent
by the server then only the last session will be returned by
Client application developers should consider using the
SSL_CTX_sess_set_new_cb() API instead (see
This provides a callback mechanism which gets invoked every time a new session
is established. This can get invoked multiple times for a single connection if a
server sends multiple session messages.
SSL_CTX_sess_set_new_cb() was also available in OpenSSL 1.1.0.
Applications that already used that API will still work, but they may find that
the callback is invoked at unexpected times, i.e. post-handshake.
An OpenSSL server will immediately attempt to send session details to a client
after the main handshake has completed. To server applications this
post-handshake stage will appear to be part of the main handshake, so calls to
SSL_get1_session() should continue to work as before.
Custom Extensions and Certificate Transparency
In TLSv1.2 and below the initial ClientHello and ServerHello messages can contain “extensions”. This allows the base specifications to be extended with additional features and capabilities that may not be applicable in all scenarios or could not be foreseen at the time that the base specifications were written. OpenSSL provides support for a number of “built-in” extensions.
Additionally the custom extensions API provides some basic capabilities for application developers to add support for new extensions that are not built-in to OpenSSL.
Built on top of the custom extensions API is the “serverinfo” API. This provides an even more basic interface that can be configured at run time. One use case for this is Certificate Transparency. OpenSSL provides built-in support for the client side of Certificate Transparency but there is no built-in server side support. However this can easily be achieved using “serverinfo” files. A serverinfo file containing the Certificate Transparency information can be configured within OpenSSL and it will then be sent back to the client as appropriate.
In TLSv1.3 the use of extensions is expanded significantly and there are many more messages that can include them. Additionally some extensions that were applicable to TLSv1.2 and below are no longer applicable in TLSv1.3 and some extensions are moved from the ServerHello message to the EncryptedExtensions message. The old custom extensions API does not have the ability to specify which messages the extensions should be associated with. For that reason a new custom extensions API was required.
The old API will still work, but the custom extensions will only be added where TLSv1.2 or below is negotiated. To add custom extensions that work for all TLS versions application developers will need to update their applications to the new API (see here for details).
The “serverinfo” data format has also been updated to include additional information about which messages the extensions are relevant to. Applications using “serverinfo” files may need to update to the “version 2” file format to be able to operate in TLSv1.3 (see here and here for details).
TLSv1.3 does not have renegotiation so calls to
SSL_renegotiate_abbreviated() will immediately fail if invoked on a connection
that has negotiated TLSv1.3.
A common use case for renegotiation is to update the connection keys. The
SSL_key_update() can be used for this purpose in TLSv1.3 (see
Another use case is to request a certificate from the client. This can be
achieved by using the
SSL_verify_client_post_handshake() function in TLSv1.3
for further details).
DSA certificates are no longer allowed in TLSv1.3. If your server application is using a DSA certificate then TLSv1.3 connections will fail with an error message similar to the following:
Please use an ECDSA or RSA certificate instead.
Middlebox Compatibility Mode
During development of the TLSv1.3 standard it became apparent that in some cases,
even if a client and server both support TLSv1.3, connections could sometimes
still fail. This is because middleboxes on the network between the two peers
do not understand the new protocol and prevent the connection from taking place.
In order to work around this problem the TLSv1.3 specification introduced a
“middlebox compatibility” mode. This made a few optional changes to the protocol
to make it appear more like TLSv1.2 so that middleboxes would let it through.
Largely these changes are superficial in nature but do include sending some
small but unneccessary messages. OpenSSL has middlebox compatibility mode on by
default, so most users should not need to worry about this. However applications
may choose to switch it off by calling the function
SSL_OP_ENABLE_MIDDLEBOX_COMPAT as an argument (see
for further details).
If the remote peer is not using middlebox compatibility mode and there are problematic middleboxes on the network path then this could cause spurious connection failures.
TLSv1.3 represents a significant step forward and has some exciting new features but there are some hazards for the unwary when upgrading. Mostly these issues have relatively straight forward solutions. Application developers should review their code and consider whether anything should be updated in order to work more effectively with TLSv1.3. Similarly application deployers should review their configuration.