Managing Web Sites from Web Sites using the Azure Management Libraries for .NET
I received an email from Hanselman this week, a forward of an email he received after posting his [much-appreciated and far too kind] blog post on WAML. The email was from a community member experiencing a behavior when trying to use WAML to create web sites (or manage their existing sites) from code running on the server side from another Azure Web Site. I can imagine lots of user stories when a Web Site could be used with WAML:
- I’m a software-as-a-service application business owner. I want to give users a form that, once filled out and submitted, will take user input and create a new web site and copy my application’s code into their web site
- My web application needs to create a storage account when it first starts up
- My web application needs to create a SQL Database when it first starts up
Automation isn’t limited to the desktop. With WAML you can pick and choose which areas you need to offer and install the appropriate NuGets and get up and running quickly. There are a few caveats, however, mostly deliberate design decisions based on the basic ideas of cryptography and data integrity. I spent a few hours this week talking to my good friends in the Web Sites team, along with my own awesome team in Azure Developer Experience, to work through some certificate-loading problems I was seeing in Web Sites. The ability to use a management certificate is pretty important when programming against WAML (yes, AAD support is coming soon in WAML). I’ve seen a few different forums mention similar issues. Given WAML makes use of certs, and sometimes using certs on the server side in the Web Site can be a little tricky, I thought a walk-through was in order.
How Meta. A Web Site that Makes Web Sites.
I’ve created a Visual Studio 2013 solution, with an ASP.NET project in the solution, that I’ll be using for this blog post. The code for this site is on GitHub, so go grab that first. The code in the single MVC controller shows you a list of the sites you have in your subscription. It also gives you the ability to create a new site. The results of this look like the code below.
Here’s a snapshot of the code I’m using in an MVC controller to talk to the Azure REST API using WAML.
There are a few areas that you’ll need to configure, but I’ve made all three of them appSettings so it should be relatively easy to do. The picture below shows all of these variables. Once you edit these and work through the certificate-related setup steps below, you’ll have your very own web site-spawning web site. You probably already have the first of these variables but if you don’t, what are you waiting for?
Once your Azure subscription ID is pasted in you’ll need to do a little magic with certificates. Before we get to all the crypto-magic, here’s the method that the controller calls that prepare WAML for usage by setting up an X509Certificate.
I’d been using a base 64 encoded string representation of the certificate, but that wouldn’t work on top of Web Sites. Web Sites needs a real physical certificate file.Which makes sense – you want for access to your subscription to be a difficult thing to fake, so this configuration you have to go through once to secure the communication? It’s worth it. The code below then takes that credential and runs some calls to the WebSiteManagementClient object, which is a client class in the Web Sites Management Package.
This next part is all about cryptography, certificates, and moving things around properly. It’s not too complicated or deep into the topics, just a few steps you should know just in case you need to do this again.
Don’t worry. If it were complicated, you wouldn’t be reading about it here.
Creating a Self-Signed Cert and Using the PFX and CER Files Properly with Web Sites
I’ll run through these steps pretty quickly, with pictures. There are many other great resources online on how to create certificates so I’m not going to go into great detail. This section has three goals:
- Create a self-signed certificate
- Create a *.CER file that I can use to upload to the Azure portal as a management certificate
- Use the *.PFX file I created on the way to creating my *.CER file on my web site
To create the self-signed cert open up IIS Manager (some would prefer to do this using makecert.exe) and click the Server Certificatesfeature.
Then, click the Create Self-Signed Certificate action link.
You get to walk through a wizard:
Then the new certificate will appear in the list:
Select it and click the Export action link:
Now that you’ve got the PFX file exported, it’d be a good time to drop that into the web site. Drop the PFX file into the App_Datafolder…
Once the .PFX is in the App_Data folder, copy it’s location into the Web.Config or in the portal’s configuretab.
Double-click the PFX file. Run through the subsequent steps needed to import the PFX into the personal certificate store. Once the wizard completes you’ll have the certificate installed, so the final step will be to export it. Open up your user certificates tile. I always find mine using the new Modern Tiles method.
Open up the file in the user certificate manager, and select the new certificate just created. Select the Export context menu.
Select the DER option. This is when you’ll output a CER file that can be used as your management certificate in the next step.
Save the output *.CER file on your desktop. With the PFX file set up in the web site and this file created, we’re almost finished.
Uploading the Management Cert to the Portal
With the CER file ready, all one needs to do to upload it is to go to the Management Portal. So long as the web site you’re running WAML in is trying to access resources in the same subscription, everything should work. Go to the management portal, select Settingsfrom the navigation bar, and then select the Management Certificates navigation bar.Click the Upload button to upload the *.CER file only. NOTthe PFX, yet!
Once the CER is uploaded it’ll appear in the list of management certificates.
With those configuration changes in place, I can finish the configuration by adding the password for the PFX to the Web.Config file. This part isn’t perfect, but it’s just to get you started with the difficult connecting-of-the-dots that can occur when embarking on a new feature or prototype.
Deploying the Site
The last step, following the configuration and certificates being set up, is to deploy the site. I can do that from right within Visual Studio using the publish web features. Here, I’m just creating a new site.
Once the site deploys and loads up in a browser, you can see what capabilities it’ll offer – the simple creation of other Azure Web Sites.
This article covers more how to prepare a web site with the proper certificate setup and contains code that explains the actual functional code. I’d welcome you to take a look at the repository, submit questions in the comments below, or even fork the repository and come up with a better way, or to add features, whatever you think of. Have fun, and happy coding!