Using TLS1.3 With OpenSSL

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.

In order to compile OpenSSL with TLSv1.3 support you must use the
“enable-tls1_3” option to “config” or “Configure”.

Currently OpenSSL has implemented the “draft-20” version of TLSv1.3. Many other
libraries are still using older draft versions in their implementations. Notably
many popular browsers are using “draft-18”. This is a common source of
interoperability problems. Interoperability of the draft-18 version has been
tested with BoringSSL, NSS and picotls.

Within the OpenSSL git source code repository there are two branches:
“tls1.3-draft-18” and “tls1.3-draft-19”, which implement the older TLSv1.3 draft
versions. In order to test interoperability with other TLSv1.3 implementations
you may need to use one of those branches. Note that those branches are
considered temporary and are likely to be removed in the future when they are no
longer needed.


OpenSSL has implemented support for five TLSv1.3 ciphersuites as follows:

  • TLS13-AES-256-GCM-SHA384
  • TLS13-CHACHA20-POLY1305-SHA256
  • TLS13-AES-128-GCM-SHA256
  • TLS13-AES-128-CCM-8-SHA256
  • TLS13-AES-128-CCM-SHA256

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 ECDHE, ECDSA, 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:

140460646909376:error:141A90B5:SSL routines:ssl_cipher_list_to_bytes:no ciphers available:ssl/statem/statem_clnt.c:3562:No ciphers enabled for max supported SSL/TLS version

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:

140547390854592:error:141FC0B5:SSL routines:tls_setup_handshake:no ciphers available:ssl/statem/statem_lib.c:108:No ciphers enabled for max supported SSL/TLS version

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:

$ openssl ciphers -s -v "ECDHE:!COMPLEMENTOFDEFAULT"

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 (it is
possible that DHE groups will also be supported by the time OpenSSL 1.1.1 is
actually released). 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
here for
further details). Alternatively, if applications use SSL_CONF style
configuration files then this can be configured using the Groups or Curves
command (see


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
here for
further details.

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
use SSL_CTX_remove_session() to mark a session as non-resumable (and remove it
from the cache) once it has been used.

The old SSL_get1_session() and similar APIs may not operate as expected for
client applications written for TLSv1.2 and below. Specifically if a client
application calls 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.

Note that 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

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
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
and here
for details).


TLSv1.3 does not have renegotiation so calls to SSL_renegotiate() or
SSL_renegotiate_abbreviated() will immediately fail if invoked on a connection
that has negotiated TLSv1.3.

The most common use case for renegotiation is to update the connection keys. The
function SSL_key_update() can be used for this purpose in TLSv1.3 (see

DSA certificates

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:

140348850206144:error:14201076:SSL routines:tls_choose_sigalg:no suitable signature algorithm:ssl/t1_lib.c:2308:

Please use an ECDSA or RSA certificate instead.


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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *