Setting up Route 53 for cert-manager

Each domain under which cert-manager needs to issue certificates must be configured in AWS. This involves creating a new hosted zone for the DNS challenges for that domain, creating an AWS service user with an appropriate IAM policy, and creating an access key for that user which will be used by cert-manager.

Normally, DNS challenges work by writing a text record to the _acme-challenge.<hostname> record for the hostname for which one is obtaining a certificate. However, Route 53 IAM policies are only granular to the level of a hosted zone. To give cert-manager write access to the whole hosted zone would be excessive, since it could then modify any other records. Therefore, we use a strategy documented in the cert-manager documentation for Route 53 to delegate only the relevant records.

To do this for a new zone, do the following. In these instructions, the new zone is shown as In practice this will be a zone like or This must be a public domain served from normal Internet domain servers. It cannot be a private domain present only in Route 53.

  1. Create a new hosted zone named in Route 53. Make a note of its zone ID.

  2. Add the NS glue record for to in Route 53. See the Route 53 documentation for more details.

  3. Create a new IAM user named cert-manager-new-zone (replace new-zone with the name of your zone). Attach an inline IAM policy for that user that gives it access to the new hosted zone.

        "Version": "2012-10-17",
        "Statement": [
                "Sid": "VisualEditor0",
                "Effect": "Allow",
                "Action": "route53:GetChange",
                "Resource": "arn:aws:route53:::change/*"
                "Sid": "VisualEditor1",
                "Effect": "Allow",
                "Action": [
                "Resource": "arn:aws:route53:::hostedzone/<zone-id>"

    Replace <zone-id> with the ID of the hosted zone (which is a string looking like Z0567328105IEHEMIXLCO.)

  4. Create an access key for that user. Store the access key and secret key pair in 1Password as cert-manager-new-zone.

You can now follow the instructions in cert-manager to set up the new cluster.

The above instructions only have to be done once per domain. After that, any new clusters in the same domain will only need the addition of a CNAME and some Vault and Argo CD configuration, as described in cert-manager.