Configure Wire-Server for federation

Background

Please first understand the current scope and aim of wire-server federation by reading Understanding federation.

Warning

As of September 2021, federation implementation is still work in progress. Many features are not implemented yet, and it should be considered “alpha”: stability, and upgrade compatibility are not guaranteed.

Summary of necessary steps to configure federation

The steps needed to configure federation are as follows and they will be detailed in the sections below:

  • Choose a backend domain name

  • DNS setup for federation (including an SRV record)

  • Generate and configure TLS certificates:

    • server certificates

    • client certificates

    • a selection of CA certificates you trust when interacting with other backends

  • Configure helm charts : federator and ingress subcharts

  • Test that your configurations work as expected.

Choose a Backend Domain Name

As of the release [helm chart 0.129.0, Wire docker version 2.94.0] from 2020-12-15, a Backend Domain (set as federationDomain in configuration) is a mandatory configuration setting. Regardless of whether you want to enable federation for a backend or not, you must decide what its domain is going to be. This helps in keeping things simpler across all components of Wire and also enables to turn on federation in the future if required.

It is highly recommended that this domain is configured as something that is controlled by the administrator/operator(s). The actual servers do not need to be available on this domain, but you MUST be able to set an SRV record for _wire-server-federator._tcp.<Backend Domain> that informs other wire-server backends where to find your actual servers.

IMPORTANT: Once this option is set, it cannot be changed without breaking experience for all the users which are already using the backend.

Consequences of the choice of Backend Domain

  • You need control over a specific subdomain of this Backend Domain (to set an SRV DNS record as explained in the next section). Without this control, you cannot federate with anyone.

  • This Backend Domain becomes part of the underlying identify of all users on your servers.

    • Example: Let’s say you choose example.com as your Backend Domain. Your user known to you as Alice, and known on your server with ID ac41a202-2555-11ec-9341-00163e5e6c00 will become known for other servers you federate with as

      {
        "user": {
          "id": "ac41a202-2555-11ec-9341-00163e5e6c00",
          "domain": "example.com"
        }
      }
      
  • As of October 2021, this domain is used in the User Interface alongside user information. (This may or may not change in the future)

    • Example: Using the same example as above, for backends you federate with, Alice would be displayed with the human-readable username @alice@example.com for users on other backends.

Warning

As of October 2021, changing this Backend Domain after existing user activity with a recent version (versions later than ~May/June 2021) will lead to undefined behaviour (untested, not accounted for during development) on some or all client platforms (Web, Android, iOS) for those users: It is possible your clients could crash, or lose part of their data about themselves or other users and conversations, or otherwise exhibit unexpected behaviour. If at all possible, do not change this backend domain. We do not intend to provide support if you change the backend domain.

DNS setup for federation

SRV record

One prerequisite to enable federation is an SRV record as defined in RFC 2782 that needs to be set up to allow the wire-server to be discovered by other Wire backends. See the documentation on discovery in federation for more information on the role of discovery in federation.

The fields of the SRV record need to be populated as follows

  • service: wire-server-federator

  • proto: tcp

  • name: <backend-domain>

  • TTL: e.g. 600 (10 minutes) in an initial phase. This can be set to a higher value (e.g. 86400) if your systems are stable and DNS records don’t change a lot.

  • priority: anything. A good default value would be 0

  • weight: >0 for your server to be reachable. A good default value could be 10

  • port: 443

  • target: <federation-infra-domain>

To give an example, assuming

  • your federation Backend Domain is example.com

  • your domains for other services already set up follow the convention <service>.wire.example.org

then your federation Infra Domain would be federator.wire.example.org.

The SRV record would look as follows:

# _service._proto.name.                  ttl IN SRV priority weight port target.
_wire-server-federator._tcp.example.com. 600 IN SRV 0        10     443  federator.wire.example.org.

DNS A record for the federator

Background: federator is the server component responsible for incoming and outgoing requests to other backend; but it is proxied on the incoming requests by the ingress component on kubernetes as shown in Federation Architecture

As mentioned in DNS setup for Helm, you also need a federator.<domain> record, which, alongside your other DNS records that point to the ingress component, also needs to point to the IP of your ingress, i.e. the IP you want to provide services on.

Generate and configure TLS server and client certificates

Are your servers on the public internet? Then you have the option of using TLS certificates from Let’s encrypt. In such a case go to subsection (A). If your servers are not on the public internet or you would like to use your own CA, go to subsection (B).

(A) Let’s encrypt TLS server and client certificate generation and renewal

The following will make use of Let’s encrypt for both server certificates (used when someone sends a request to your federator.<domain-name>) and client certificates (used for making outgoing requests to other backends).

For that, you need to have jetstack/cert-manager installed. You can follow the helm chart installation here.

Once you have cert-manager, adjust the email address below, then set the following in the nginx-ingress-services overrides:

# override values for nginx-ingress-services
# (e.g. under ./helm_vars/nginx-ingress-services/values.yaml)
tls:
  useCertManager: true

certManager:
  inTestMode: false
  certmasterEmail: "certificates@example.com"
# override values for wire-server
# (e.g. under ./helm_vars/wire-server/values.yaml)
federator:
  tls:
    useSharedFederatorSecret: true

You can now skip section (B) and go to Configure CA certificates you trust when interacting with other backends.

(B) Manual server and client certificates

Use your usual method of obtaining X.509 certificates for your federation infra domain (alongside the other domains needed for a wire-server installation).

You can use one single certificate and key for both server and client certificate use.

Note

Currently (October 2021), due to a limitation of the TLS library in use for federation (hs-tls), only some ciphers are supported. Moving to an openssl-based library is planned, which will provide support for a wider range of ciphers.

Your certificates need to have the “Server” and “Client” key usage listed among the X509 extensions:

# inspect your certificate:
openssl x509 -inform pem -noout -text < your-certificate.pem
X509v3 extensions:
    X509v3 Key Usage: critical
        Digital Signature, Key Encipherment
    X509v3 Extended Key Usage:
        TLS Web Server Authentication, TLS Web Client Authentication

And your federation infra domain (e.g. federator.wire.example.com from the running example) needs to either figure explictly in the list of your SAN (Subject Alternative Name):

X509v3 Subject Alternative Name:
    DNS:federator.wire.example.com, DNS:nginz-https.wire.example.com, ...

Or you need to have a wildcard certificate that includes it:

X509v3 Subject Alternative Name: critical
    DNS:*.wire.example.com

Configure the client certificate and private key inside wire-server/federator:

# override values for wire-server
# (e.g. under ./helm_vars/wire-server/values.yaml or helm_vars/wire-server/secrets.yaml)
federator:
  clientCertificateContents: |
    -----BEGIN CERTIFICATE-----
    .....
    -----END CERTIFICATE-----
  clientPrivateKeyContents: |
    -----BEGIN RSA PRIVATE KEY-----
    .....
    -----END RSA PRIVATE KEY-----

The server certificate and private key need to be configured in nginx-ingress-services. Those are used for all of the services, not just the federator component. If you have installed wire-server before without federation, server certificates may already be configured (though you probably need to create new certificates to include the federation infra domain if you’re not making use of wildcard certificates). Server certificates go here:

# override values for nginx-ingress-services
# (e.g. under ./helm_vars/nginx-ingress-services/secrets.yaml)
secrets:
  tlsWildcardCert: |
    -----BEGIN CERTIFICATE-----
    ... <cert goes here>
    -----END CERTIFICATE-----

  tlsWildcardKey: |
    -----BEGIN RSA PRIVATE KEY -----
    ... <private key goes here>
    -----END RSA PRIVATE KEY-----

Configure CA certificates you trust when interacting with other backends

If you want to federate with servers at othercompany.example.com, then you need to trust the CA (Certificate Authority) certificate that othercompany.example.com has used to sign its client certificates.

They need to be set both for the nginx-ingress-services and the wire-server chart.

# override values for nginx-ingress-services
# (e.g. under ./helm_vars/nginx-ingress-services/values.yaml)
secrets:
  tlsClientCA: |
    -----BEGIN CERTIFICATE-----
    ... <CA in PEM format goes here>
    -----END CERTIFICATE-----
    -----BEGIN CERTIFICATE-----
    ... <another CA in PEM format goes here>
    -----END CERTIFICATE-----
# override values for wire-server
# (e.g. under ./helm_vars/wire-server/values.yaml)
federator:
  remoteCAContents: |
    -----BEGIN CERTIFICATE-----
    ... <CA in PEM format goes here>
    -----END CERTIFICATE-----
    -----BEGIN CERTIFICATE-----
    ... <another CA in PEM format goes here>
    -----END CERTIFICATE-----

Tell parties you intend to federate with about your certificates

The backends you want to federate with should add your (or Let’s Encrypt’s) CA to their store, so you should give them your CA certificate, or tell them to use the appropriate Let’s Encrypt root certificate.

Configure helm charts: federator and ingress subcharts

Set your chosen backend domain

Read Choose a Backend Domain Name again, then set the backend domain two times to the same value in the two subcharts galley and brig. You also need to set enableFederator to true.

# override values for wire-server
# (e.g. under ./helm_vars/wire-server/values.yaml)
galley:
  config:
    enableFederator: true
    settings:
      federationDomain: example.com # your chosen "backend domain"

brig:
  config:
    enableFederator: true
    optSettings:
      setFederationDomain: example.com # your chosen "backend domain"

Configure federator process to run and allow incoming traffic

For federation to work, the federator subchart of wire-server has to be enabled:

# override values for wire-server
# (e.g. under ./helm_vars/wire-server/values.yaml)
tags:
  federator: true

You also need to enable ingress->federator proxying and configure the charts to use the DNS you configured as a target in DNS setup for federation above

# override values for nginx-ingress-services
# (e.g. under ./helm_vars/nginx-ingress-services/values.yaml)
federator:
  enabled: true

config:
  dns:
    federator: federator.wire.example.org # set this to your domain!

Configure the validation depth when handling client certificates

By default, verify_depth is 1, meaning that in order to validate an incoming request from another backend, this backend needs to have a client certificate that is directly (without any intermediate certificates) signed by a CA certificate from the trust store.

Example: If you trust a CA root which signs an intermediate intermediate-1 which in turn signs intermediate-2 which finally signs leaf, and leaf is used during mutual TLS when validating incoming requests, then verify_depth would need to be set to 3.

# nginx-ingress-services/values.yaml
tls:
  # the validation depth between a federator client certificate and tlsClientCA
  verify_depth: 3 # default: 1

Configure the allow list

By default, federation is turned off (allow list set to the empty list):

# override values for wire-server
# (e.g. under ./helm_vars/wire-server/values.yaml)
federator:
  optSettings:
    federationStrategy:
      allowedDomains: []

You can choose to federate with a specific list of allowed backends:

# override values for wire-server
# (e.g. under ./helm_vars/wire-server/values.yaml)
federator:
  optSettings:
    federationStrategy:
      allowedDomains:
       - example.com
       - example.org

Alternatively, you can federate with everyone:

# override values for wire-server
# (e.g. under ./helm_vars/wire-server/values.yaml)
federator:
  optSettings:
    federationStrategy:
      allowAll: true

Applying all configuration changes

Depending on your installation method and time you initially installed your first version of wire-server, commands to run to apply all of the above configrations may vary. You want to ensure that you upgrade the nginx-ingress-services and wire-server helm charts at a minimum.

Manually test that your configurations work as expected

Manually test DNS

If you use dig to check for SRV records, use e.g.:

dig +short SRV _wire-server-federator._tcp.wire.example.com

Should yield something like:

0 10 443 federator.wire.example.com.

The actual target:

dig +short federator.wire.example.com

should also point to an IP address:

1.2.3.4 # of course you should get a valid IP here

Ensure that the IP matches where your backend ingress runs.

Manually test certificates

Refer to How can I see if my TLS certificates are configured the way I expect? and set DOMAIN to your federation infra domain. They should include your domain as part of the SAN (Subject Alternative Names) and not have expired.

Manually test that federation “works”

Prerequisites:

  • You need two backends with federation configured and enabled.

  • They both need to have each other in the allow list.

  • They both need to trust each other’s CA certificate.

Create user accounts on both backends.

With one user, search for the other user using the @username-1@example.com syntax in the UI search field of the webapp.