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What is OpenSSL?

OpenSSL is an open source software cryptography library widely used by applications to encrypt communication over computer networks using Transport Layer Security (TLS) and Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) protocols. It's licensed under Apache License 2.0, so you can use it for commercial and non-commercial purposes.

OpenSSL is available for most Unix-like operating systems (Solaris, Linux, macOS, and BSD), OpenVMS, and Windows. You can use it to generate certificate signing requests (CSR) or private keys, and install and convert SSL certificates. It also includes command line utilities with quite useful tools. This article informs how OpenSSL is leveraged to verify a secure connection to a server.

Test SSL Connections Using OpenSSL

Prerequisites 

  • Internet connection.
  • Terminal access.
  • Installed OpenSSL on the operating system of your choice.
  • A domain or server hostname.

OpenSSL will be installed by default if you use a Unix/Linux OS platform. However, if you want to use OpenSSL on Windows, you will need to look into either Cygwin or Windows Subsystem for Linux.

Cygwin is a large collection of GNU and open source tools that let you have similar functionality of a Linux distribution on your Windows installation. Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) is an official implementation by Microsoft that allows developers to run most of the GNU/Linux environment utilities and applications on Windows directly without a need for a virtual machine or dual-booting.

Using OpenSSL to Test Web Connection

First, check your OpenSSL version. To do so, run the following command.

$ openssl version

You will receive the following output.

freddy@freddy-vm:~$ openssl version
OpenSSL 3.0.2 15 Mar 2022 (Library: OpenSSL 3.0.2 15 Mar 2022)

If you want more details, you can append the -a flag.

freddy@freddy-vm:~$ openssl version -a
OpenSSL 3.0.2 15 Mar 2022 (Library: OpenSSL 3.0.2 15 Mar 2022)
built on: Mon Jul  4 11:20:23 2022 UTC
platform: debian-amd64
options:  bn(64,64)
compiler: gcc -fPIC -pthread -m64 -Wa,--noexecstack -Wall -Wa,--noexecstack -g -O2 -ffile-prefix-map=/build/openssl-Q8dQt3/openssl-3.0.2=. -flto=auto -ffat-lto-objects -flto=auto -ffat-lto-objects -fstack-protector-strong -Wformat -Werror=format-security -DOPENSSL_TLS_SECURITY_LEVEL=2 -DOPENSSL_USE_NODELETE -DL_ENDIAN -DOPENSSL_PIC -DOPENSSL_BUILDING_OPENSSL -DNDEBUG -Wdate-time -D_FORTIFY_SOURCE=2
OPENSSLDIR: "/usr/lib/ssl"
ENGINESDIR: "/usr/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/engines-3"
MODULESDIR: "/usr/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/ossl-modules"
Seeding source: os-specific
CPUINFO: OPENSSL_ia32cap=0xfffa32034f8bffff:0x27ab

This server is running the Ubuntu 22.04 LTS operating system with OpenSSL version 3.0.2 but the commands below should work on the older OpenSSL versions as well.

To see all options available, use the help tool by running the openssl help command.

freddy@freddy-vm:~$ openssl help
help:

Standard commands
asn1parse         ca                ciphers           cmp               
cms               crl               crl2pkcs7         dgst              
dhparam           dsa               dsaparam          ec                
ecparam           enc               engine            errstr            
fipsinstall       gendsa            genpkey           genrsa            
help              info              kdf               list              
mac               nseq              ocsp              passwd            
pkcs12            pkcs7             pkcs8             pkey              
pkeyparam         pkeyutl           prime             rand              
rehash            req               rsa               rsautl            
s_client          s_server          s_time            sess_id           
smime             speed             spkac             srp               
storeutl          ts                verify            version           
x509              

Message Digest commands (see the `dgst' command for more details)
blake2b512        blake2s256        md4               md5               
rmd160            sha1              sha224            sha256            
sha3-224          sha3-256          sha3-384          sha3-512          
sha384            sha512            sha512-224        sha512-256        
shake128          shake256          sm3               

Cipher commands (see the `enc' command for more details)
aes-128-cbc       aes-128-ecb       aes-192-cbc       aes-192-ecb       
aes-256-cbc       aes-256-ecb       aria-128-cbc      aria-128-cfb      
aria-128-cfb1     aria-128-cfb8     aria-128-ctr      aria-128-ecb      
aria-128-ofb      aria-192-cbc      aria-192-cfb      aria-192-cfb1     
aria-192-cfb8     aria-192-ctr      aria-192-ecb      aria-192-ofb      
aria-256-cbc      aria-256-cfb      aria-256-cfb1     aria-256-cfb8     
aria-256-ctr      aria-256-ecb      aria-256-ofb      base64            
bf                bf-cbc            bf-cfb            bf-ecb            
bf-ofb            camellia-128-cbc  camellia-128-ecb  camellia-192-cbc  
camellia-192-ecb  camellia-256-cbc  camellia-256-ecb  cast              
cast-cbc          cast5-cbc         cast5-cfb         cast5-ecb         
cast5-ofb         des               des-cbc           des-cfb           
des-ecb           des-ede           des-ede-cbc       des-ede-cfb       
des-ede-ofb       des-ede3          des-ede3-cbc      des-ede3-cfb      
des-ede3-ofb      des-ofb           des3              desx              
rc2               rc2-40-cbc        rc2-64-cbc        rc2-cbc           
rc2-cfb           rc2-ecb           rc2-ofb           rc4               
rc4-40            seed              seed-cbc          seed-cfb          
seed-ecb          seed-ofb          sm4-cbc           sm4-cfb           
sm4-ctr           sm4-ecb           sm4-ofb 

For additional help, check the info and man pages using one of the following commands.

freddy@freddy-vm:~$ man openssl
freddy@freddy-vm:~$ info openssl

Using OpenSSL to Test Server Connection

Test the Connection to Port 443

The s_client command is used to analyze client-to-server communication. For example, it helps determine whether a port is open, if it can accept a secure connection, what kind of SSL certificate is present, and when it expires.

Here is the most basic syntax.

$ openssl s_client -connect <URL or IP>:<port>

For the URL or IP portion, use your URL or IP address. The port should be the port you wish to test. So, for the domain example.org, the command and subsequent output look like the following.

freddy@freddy-vm:~$ openssl s_client -connect example.org:443    
CONNECTED(00000003)
depth=2 C = US, O = DigiCert Inc, OU = www.digicert.com, CN = DigiCert Global Root CA
verify return:1
depth=1 C = US, O = DigiCert Inc, CN = DigiCert TLS RSA SHA256 2020 CA1
verify return:1
depth=0 C = US, ST = California, L = Los Angeles, O = Internet\C2\A0Corporation\C2\A0for\C2\A0Assigned\C2\A0Names\C2\A0and\C2\A0Numbers, CN = www.example.org
verify return:1
---
Certificate chain
 0 s:C = US, ST = California, L = Los Angeles, O = Internet\C2\A0Corporation\C2\A0for\C2\A0Assigned\C2\A0Names\C2\A0and\C2\A0Numbers, CN = www.example.org
   i:C = US, O = DigiCert Inc, CN = DigiCert TLS RSA SHA256 2020 CA1
   a:PKEY: rsaEncryption, 2048 (bit); sigalg: RSA-SHA256
   v:NotBefore: Mar 14 00:00:00 2022 GMT; NotAfter: Mar 14 23:59:59 2023 GMT
 1 s:C = US, O = DigiCert Inc, CN = DigiCert TLS RSA SHA256 2020 CA1
   i:C = US, O = DigiCert Inc, OU = www.digicert.com, CN = DigiCert Global Root CA
   a:PKEY: rsaEncryption, 2048 (bit); sigalg: RSA-SHA256
   v:NotBefore: Apr 14 00:00:00 2021 GMT; NotAfter: Apr 13 23:59:59 2031 GMT
---
Server certificate
-----BEGIN CERTIFICATE-----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-----END CERTIFICATE-----
subject=C = US, ST = California, L = Los Angeles, O = Internet\C2\A0Corporation\C2\A0for\C2\A0Assigned\C2\A0Names\C2\A0and\C2\A0Numbers, CN = www.example.org
issuer=C = US, O = DigiCert Inc, CN = DigiCert TLS RSA SHA256 2020 CA1
---
No client certificate CA names sent
Peer signing digest: SHA256
Peer signature type: RSA-PSS
Server Temp Key: ECDH, prime256v1, 256 bits
---
SSL handshake has read 3772 bytes and written 739 bytes
Verification: OK
---
New, TLSv1.3, Cipher is TLS_AES_256_GCM_SHA384
Server public key is 2048 bit
Secure Renegotiation IS NOT supported
Compression: NONE
Expansion: NONE
No ALPN negotiated
Early data was not sent
Verify return code: 0 (ok)
---
---
Post-Handshake New Session Ticket arrived:
SSL-Session:
    Protocol  : TLSv1.3
    Cipher    : TLS_AES_256_GCM_SHA384
    Session-ID: 24DCEA127E089EC6D5935D6CFB78B37E77DEFC7A653B2308D11146FBF05CDB32
    Session-ID-ctx: 
    Resumption PSK: C5A6FF368C81F70319AF99E8377B63BC4CADF3E131D61F112F8CB751BBB623DE96B4662C876C3A39351509B0DEEFACEE
    PSK identity: None
    PSK identity hint: None
    SRP username: None
    TLS session ticket lifetime hint: 7200 (seconds)
    TLS session ticket:
    0000 - a1 c7 6a d7 5b 6c 83 5c-f3 92 f6 0f 23 c8 c5 c3   ..j.[l.\....#...
    0010 - 29 d3 5b a4 50 6d b7 93-96 e2 68 40 93 52 22 54   ).[.Pm....h@.R"T
    0020 - 8d 4a cf bf cb 02 56 6f-1b 4b 08 05 af bf 1b dd   .J....Vo.K......
    0030 - 52 0d 3e 2a d5 4a 90 de-d9 1b f4 5d f8 06 d4 db   R.>*.J.....]....
    0040 - a4 66 7c 77 b2 73 72 02-5a ae 68 3d 61 54 c0 62   .f|w.sr.Z.h=aT.b
    0050 - 00 74 81 b1 47 38 cd fc-4a 14 d4 7c 83 43 f8 9c   .t..G8..J..|.C..
    0060 - ce 08 f2 a0 68 52 f5 66-37 c5 4f 9d 88 c4 93 c1   ....hR.f7.O.....
    0070 - 18 61 c1 b5 01 1c 3a 6e-9c 53 0f eb cd ed da a7   .a....:n.S......
    0080 - af f5 84 ed 4b fb c5 fd-98 e4 ed dd e2 44 e5 51   ....K........D.Q
    0090 - 0e d9 f5 0d 6b f5 11 75-88 c8 2c da 74 dc d1 a8   ....k..u..,.t...
    00a0 - 65 10 4b e0 df 1e c7 2e-b0 16 8e dc 06 19 1d 34   e.K............4
    00b0 - 19 04 b7 10 d6 95 6d 2b-64 b4 ea e3 99 d8 0b c1   ......m+d.......

    Start Time: 1666844343
    Timeout   : 7200 (sec)
    Verify return code: 0 (ok)
    Extended master secret: no
    Max Early Data: 0
---
read R BLOCK
---
Post-Handshake New Session Ticket arrived:
SSL-Session:
    Protocol  : TLSv1.3
    Cipher    : TLS_AES_256_GCM_SHA384
    Session-ID: D23A9980357E2CF2B9DAA63C022E57C06C588022E981A86D0997D15DFED3DFC5
    Session-ID-ctx: 
    Resumption PSK: A31A023F56B24CA274F6267C496A72E0777BCB5EC8C2590275531FB26B23E86736CE59C40ABB52556B81120FB46BA105
    PSK identity: None
    PSK identity hint: None
    SRP username: None
    TLS session ticket lifetime hint: 7200 (seconds)
    TLS session ticket:
    0000 - a1 c7 6a d7 5b 6c 83 5c-f3 92 f6 0f 23 c8 c5 c3   ..j.[l.\....#...
    0010 - 46 94 9b 6f 98 3f 52 72-e4 06 c4 51 24 78 5e 62   F..o.?Rr...Q$x^b
    0020 - fa 63 aa 37 ad 09 ea b9-38 16 14 85 10 85 1e 2d   .c.7....8......-
    0030 - b0 89 44 97 63 f3 08 5b-6a f8 bc 99 31 8d 1b 81   ..D.c..[j...1...
    0040 - 2a 29 36 9c 09 5c e6 35-53 8d 30 d5 5a d2 da a4   *)6..\.5S.0.Z...
    0050 - 04 c6 c7 f5 d8 f7 84 15-02 22 ce 95 72 d5 97 e2   ........."..r...
    0060 - 16 7b e2 06 db e3 2f 27-a7 83 72 67 1a e3 cb 21   .{..../'..rg...!
    0070 - e7 0a 51 d5 fa d8 8e 2f-77 6d 2a 17 49 a8 27 b4   ..Q..../wm*.I.'.
    0080 - 07 c3 f1 d5 ca 49 93 e2-1b 2d c5 d3 95 e2 ea fd   .....I...-......
    0090 - 44 a4 95 9d e0 d9 d8 af-92 b6 d0 ec bc 20 75 a0   D............ u.
    00a0 - 5e 8b 55 2f 5a 31 e5 a6-cc e6 98 7d 5b ac 30 d8   ^.U/Z1.....}[.0.
    00b0 - aa 95 cc c5 1a c2 4b 3a-ff ed d9 bf af 91 ef bd   ......K:........
    00c0 - 82 bf 31 1c d0 21 92 f9-9a 59 08 26 b2 79 4f 9c   ..1..!...Y.&.yO.

    Start Time: 1666844343
    Timeout   : 7200 (sec)
    Verify return code: 0 (ok)
    Extended master secret: no
    Max Early Data: 0
---
read R BLOCK

You will notice that your cursor is below the output instead of a new line. This is because OpenSSL is still connected to the server and waiting for further commands. You can send a HEAD command with your HTTP request, for example. To do so, type the following.

HEAD / HTTP/1.1

Press Enter once, then type in your domain name again in the same manner as below, exchanging example.org with your domain.

Host: example.org

Press Enter again to view the output.

[truncated for space reasons]

read R BLOCK
HEAD / HTTP/1.1
Host: example.org

HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Content-Encoding: gzip
Accept-Ranges: bytes
Age: 234808
Cache-Control: max-age=604800
Content-Type: text/html; charset=UTF-8
Date: Thu, 27 Oct 2022 10:54:56 GMT
Etag: "3147526947"
Expires: Thu, 03 Nov 2022 10:54:56 GMT
Last-Modified: Thu, 17 Oct 2019 07:18:26 GMT
Server: ECS (dcb/7EA3)
X-Cache: HIT
Content-Length: 648

The successful OpenSSL test connection to port 443 provides quite a bit of information such as the certificate chain, ciphers that are in use, the TLS protocol version used, and the overall SSL handshake process. If you are trying to send the HEAD request and it gives you an HTTP/1.1 400 Bad Request error, you need to append the -crlf flag. This flag will help the server understand what we are trying to do.

freddy@freddy-vm:~$ openssl s_client -connect example.org:443 -crlf

You can press CTRL + C to quit or insert the echo command, which will terminate the OpenSSL test connection to the server immediately after a check.

What Will the Output Be if You Cannot Establish a Connection?

You can expect a similar output if the port is closed or the web server is down.

freddy@freddy-vm:~$ openssl s_client -connect example.org:443 -tls1_2
4037C54E1A7F0000:error:8000006F:system library:BIO_connect:Connection refused:../crypto/bio/bio_sock2.c:125:calling connect()
4037C54E1A7F0000:error:10000067:BIO routines:BIO_connect:connect error:../crypto/bio/bio_sock2.c:127:
connect:errno=111

Can Your OpenSSL Test Connection Be Shorter?

Yes. You can achieve this by adding the -brief flag, which excludes most of the output.

freddy@freddy-vm:~$ openssl s_client -connect example.org:443 -brief
CONNECTION ESTABLISHED
Protocol version: TLSv1.3
Ciphersuite: TLS_AES_256_GCM_SHA384
Peer certificate: C = US, ST = California, L = Los Angeles, O = Internet\C2\A0Corporation\C2\A0for\C2\A0Assigned\C2\A0Names\C2\A0and\C2\A0Numbers, CN = www.example.org
Hash used: SHA256
Signature type: RSA-PSS
Verification: OK
Server Temp Key: ECDH, prime256v1, 256 bits

So, in this case, the port is open, and we can establish the connection. But just because the connection over a secure port was established doesn't mean that the certificate is valid.

If your certificate is expired for example, or the certificate hostname doesn’t match your domain it would still show you the output above even though your visitors would be getting security warnings in their browsers.

Certificate Expiry Date

Another useful OpenSSL command is x509. If you pipe s_client output into x509 with the -date flag, you can get the start and end date for certificates. Also, use the -noout flag to suppress outputting the encoded certificate and save screen space. You will also add an echo command and ignore errors using 2>/dev/null to give a cleaner output.

freddy@freddy-vm:~$ echo | openssl s_client -connect example.org:443 2>/dev/null | openssl x509 -noout -dates
notBefore=Mar 14 00:00:00 2022 GMT
notAfter=Mar 14 23:59:59 2023 GMT

Can You Make an OpenSSL Test Connection With a Specific TLS Version?

Yes. You can specify your desired TLS version by using flags. Instead of using decimal delineation, use underscores. Some flag examples would be -tls1_1, -tls1_2, or -tls1_3. For the following command and subsequent output, the test SSL connection established with OpenSSL uses TLS version 1.2.

freddy@freddy-vm:~$ echo | openssl s_client -connect example.com:443 -tls1_2 -brief
CONNECTION ESTABLISHED
Protocol version: TLSv1.2
Ciphersuite: ECDHE-RSA-AES128-GCM-SHA256
Peer certificate: C = US, ST = California, L = Los Angeles, O = Internet\C2\A0Corporation\C2\A0for\C2\A0Assigned\C2\A0Names\C2\A0and\C2\A0Numbers, CN = www.example.org
Hash used: SHA256
Signature type: RSA-PSS
Verification: OK
Supported Elliptic Curve Point Formats: uncompressed:ansiX962_compressed_prime:ansiX962_compressed_char2
Server Temp Key: ECDH, prime256v1, 256 bits
DONE

How Can You Check Your Certificate SANs?

The Subject Alternative Name (SAN) in a certificate allows for securing multiple domains with just one certificate. You can check it by piping the s_client output into an x509 command. Here is the appropriate syntax.

$ echo | openssl s_client -connect example.org:443 2>/dev/null | openssl x509 -noout -ext subjectAltName

The following shows the output.

freddy@freddy-vm:~$ echo | openssl s_client -connect example.org:443 2>/dev/null | openssl x509 -noout -ext subjectAltName
X509v3 Subject Alternative Name: 
    DNS:www.example.org, DNS:example.net, DNS:example.edu, DNS:example.com, DNS:example.org, DNS:www.example.com, DNS:www.example.edu, DNS:www.example.net

Using OpenSSL to Test Mail Server Connection

We can use OpenSSL to troubleshoot connection to the mail server using IMAP, POP3, and SMTP protocols. Depending on the tested port, you need to instruct the mail server to upgrade the connection to a secure one, accomplished using the STARTTLS command. 

What Are Explicit and Implicit Ports?

Explicit ports are not automatically secured and start the TLS handshake to secure the connection only if they receive a STARTTLS command. You have a choice of connecting over a secure or unsecured connection.

Implicit ports are always secured and will immediately start the TLS handshake to secure the connection. If this is not possible, the connection is rejected entirely.

OpenSSL Test Connection for IMAP

Here are the syntax and output for explicit port 143. Change mail.example.org to the URL for your mailserver.

freddy@freddy-vm:~$ openssl s_client -connect mail.example.org:143 -starttls imap -brief
CONNECTION ESTABLISHED
Protocol version: TLSv1.2
Ciphersuite: ECDHE-RSA-AES256-GCM-SHA384
Peer certificate: CN = example.org
Hash used: SHA256
Signature type: RSA
Verification: OK
Supported Elliptic Curve Point Formats: uncompressed:ansiX962_compressed_prime:ansiX962_compressed_char2
Server Temp Key: ECDH, prime256v1, 256 bits
. OK Pre-login capabilities listed, post-login capabilities have more.

Here are the syntax and output for the implicit port 993. Change mail.example.org to the URL for your mailserver.

freddy@freddy-vm:~$ openssl s_client -connect mail.example.org:993 -brief
CONNECTION ESTABLISHED
Protocol version: TLSv1.2
Ciphersuite: ECDHE-RSA-AES256-GCM-SHA384
Peer certificate: CN = example.org
Hash used: SHA256
Signature type: RSA
Verification: OK
Supported Elliptic Curve Point Formats: uncompressed:ansiX962_compressed_prime:ansiX962_compressed_char2
Server Temp Key: ECDH, prime256v1, 256 bits
* OK [CAPABILITY IMAP4rev1 SASL-IR LOGIN-REFERRALS ID ENABLE IDLE NAMESPACE LITERAL+ AUTH=PLAIN AUTH=LOGIN] Dovecot ready.

OpenSSL test connection for POP3

Here are the syntax and output for explicit port 110. Remember to change mail.example.org to the URL for your mailserver.

freddy@freddy-vm:~$ openssl s_client -connect mail.example.org:110 -starttls pop3 -brief
CONNECTION ESTABLISHED
Protocol version: TLSv1.2
Ciphersuite: ECDHE-RSA-AES256-GCM-SHA384
Peer certificate: CN = example.org
Hash used: SHA256
Signature type: RSA
Verification: OK
Supported Elliptic Curve Point Formats: uncompressed:ansiX962_compressed_prime:ansiX962_compressed_char2
Server Temp Key: ECDH, prime256v1, 256 bits
+OK Dovecot ready.

Here are the syntax and output for implicit port 993. Change mail.example.org to the URL for your mailserver.

freddy@freddy-vm:~$ openssl s_client -connect mail.example.org:993 -brief
CONNECTION ESTABLISHED
Protocol version: TLSv1.2
Ciphersuite: ECDHE-RSA-AES256-GCM-SHA384
Peer certificate: CN = example.org
Hash used: SHA256
Signature type: RSA
Verification: OK
Supported Elliptic Curve Point Formats: uncompressed:ansiX962_compressed_prime:ansiX962_compressed_char2
Server Temp Key: ECDH, prime256v1, 256 bits
* OK [CAPABILITY IMAP4rev1 SASL-IR LOGIN-REFERRALS ID ENABLE IDLE NAMESPACE LITERAL+ AUTH=PLAIN AUTH=LOGIN] Dovecot ready.

OpenSSL test connection for SMTP

Here are the syntax and output for explicit ports 25 and 587. Change mail.example.org to the URL for your mailserver.

freddy@freddy-vm:~$ openssl s_client -connect mail.example.org:25 -starttls smtp -brief
CONNECTION ESTABLISHED
Protocol version: TLSv1.2
Ciphersuite: ECDHE-RSA-AES256-GCM-SHA384
Peer certificate: CN = example.org
Hash used: SHA256
Signature type: RSA
Verification: OK
Supported Elliptic Curve Point Formats: uncompressed:ansiX962_compressed_prime:ansiX962_compressed_char2
Server Temp Key: ECDH, prime256v1, 256 bits
250 HELP
freddy@freddy-vm:~$ openssl s_client -connect mail.example.org:587 -starttls smtp -brief
CONNECTION ESTABLISHED
Protocol version: TLSv1.2
Ciphersuite: ECDHE-RSA-AES256-GCM-SHA384
Peer certificate: CN = example.org
Hash used: SHA256
Signature type: RSA
Verification: OK
Supported Elliptic Curve Point Formats: uncompressed:ansiX962_compressed_prime:ansiX962_compressed_char2
Server Temp Key: ECDH, prime256v1, 256 bits
250 HELP

Here are the syntax and output for implicit port 465. Change mail.example.org to the URL for your mailserver.

freddy@freddy-vm:~$ openssl s_client -connect mail.example.org:465  -brief
CONNECTION ESTABLISHED
Protocol version: TLSv1.2
Ciphersuite: ECDHE-RSA-AES256-GCM-SHA384
Peer certificate: CN = example.org
Hash used: SHA256
Signature type: RSA
Verification: OK
Supported Elliptic Curve Point Formats: uncompressed:ansiX962_compressed_prime:ansiX962_compressed_char2
Server Temp Key: ECDH, prime256v1, 256 bits
220-host.example.org ESMTP Exim 4.95 #2 Thu, 27 Oct 2022 11:41:44 -0400 
220-We do not authorize the use of this system to transport unsolicited, 
220 and/or bulk e-mail.

Wrapping Up

OpenSSL is a great toolkit to test if you have a secure connection to a server. This functionality is only a tiny part of this powerful and helpful tool that already comes preinstalled on most Unix platforms. Learning to use OpenSSL is an invaluable tool for testing your SSL connections.

Are you looking to take your hosting environment to the next level? Consider Liquid Web’s VPS Hosting, Cloud Dedicated Servers, or Dedicated Servers. Our managed environments have what you need to elevate your next hosting project. Contact our sales team to get started.

Avatar for Freddy Reese

About the Author: Freddy Reese

Freddy works in the Liquid Web Managed Hosting Support team with a strong passion for all things related to Linux administration, cybersecurity, and aviation. In his free time, he likes to keep up with the latest news on topics ranging from fusion to space technologies. His hobbies include automating all kinds of stuff using Arduino/Raspberry Pi, learning and flying around in flight simulators, playing with his dog Chupko, swimming at nearby beaches, and staying physically and mentally healthy by going to the gym.

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