Lightweight C library for HTML5 websockets
Lws Crypto Apis


lws crypto overview

Lws provides a "generic" crypto layer on top of both OpenSSL and compatible tls library, and mbedtls. Using this layer, your code can work without any changes on both types of tls library crypto backends... it's as simple as rebuilding lws with -DLWS_WITH_MBEDTLS=0 or =1 at cmake.

The generic layer can be used directly (as in, eg, the sshd plugin), or via another layer on top, which processes JOSE JSON objects using JWS (JSON Web Signatures), JWK (JSON Web Keys), and JWE (JSON Web Encryption).

The JW apis use the generic apis (lws_genrsa_, etc) to get the crypto tasks done, so anything they can do you can also get done using the generic apis. The main difference is that with the generic apis, you must instantiate the correct types and use type-specfic apis. With the JW apis, there is only one interface for all operations, with the details hidden in the api and controlled by the JSON objects.

Because of this, the JW apis are often preferred because they give you "crypto agility" cheaply... to change your crypto to another supported algorithm once it's working, you literally just change your JSON defining the keys and JWE or JWS algorithm. (It's up to you to define your policy for which combinations are acceptable by querying the parsed JW structs).

Crypto supported in generic layer

Generic Hash

  • SHA1
  • SHA256
  • SHA384
  • SHA512

Generic HMAC

  • SHA256
  • SHA384
  • SHA512

Generic AES

  • CBC
  • CFB128
  • CFB8
  • CTR
  • ECB
  • OFB
  • XTS
  • GCM
  • KW (Key Wrap)

Generic RSA

  • PKCS 1.5
  • OAEP / PSS

Generic EC

  • ECDH
  • P256 / P384 / P521 (sic) curves

Using the generic layer

All the necessary includes are part of libwebsockets.h.

Enable -DLWS_WITH_GENCRYPTO=1 at cmake.

api header Functionality
genhash ./include/libwebsockets/lws-genhash.h Provides SHA1 + SHA2 hashes and hmac
genrsa ./include/libwebsockets/lws-genrsa.h Provides RSA encryption, decryption, signing, verification, key generation and creation
genaes ./include/libwebsockets/lws-genaes.h Provides AES in all common variants for encryption and decryption
genec ./include/libwebsockets/lws-genec.h Provides Elliptic Curve for encryption, decryption, signing, verification, key generation and creation
x509 ./include/libwebsockets/lws-x509.h Apis for X.509 Certificate loading, parsing, and stack verification, plus JWK key extraction from PEM X.509 certificate / private key

Unit tests for these apis, which serve as usage examples, can be found in ./minimal-examples/api-tests/api-test-gencrypto

Keys in the generic layer

The necessary types and defines are brought in by libwebsockets.h.

Keys are represented only by an array of struct lws_jwk_elements... the length of the array is defined by the cipher... it's one of

key elements count definition

struct lws_jwk_elements is a simple pointer / length combination used to store arbitrary octets that make up the key element's binary representation.

Using the JOSE layer

The JOSE (JWK / JWS / JWE) stuff is a crypto-agile JSON-based layer that uses the gencrypto support underneath.

"Crypto Agility" means the JSON structs include information about the algorithms and ciphers used in that particular object, making it easy to upgrade system crypto strength or cycle keys over time while supporting a transitional period where the old and new keys or algorithms + ciphers are also valid.

Uniquely lws generic support means the JOSE stuff also has "tls library agility", code written to the lws generic or JOSE apis is completely unchanged even if the underlying tls library changes between OpenSSL and mbedtls, meaning sharing code between server and client sides is painless.

All the necessary includes are part of libwebsockets.h.

Enable -DLWS_WITH_JOSE=1 at CMake.

api header Functionality
JOSE ./include/libwebsockets/lws-jose.h Provides crypto agility for JWS / JWE
JWE ./include/libwebsockets/lws-jwe.h Provides Encryption and Decryption services for RFC7516 JWE JSON
JWS ./include/libwebsockets/lws-jws.h Provides signature and verifcation services for RFC7515 JWS JSON
JWK ./include/libwebsockets/lws-jwk.h Provides signature and verifcation services for RFC7517 JWK JSON, both "keys" arrays and singletons

Minimal examples are provided in the form of commandline tools for JWK / JWS / JWE / x509 handling:

Unit tests for these apis, which serve as usage examples, can be found in ./minimal-examples/api-tests/api-test-jose

Crypto supported in the JOSE layer

The JOSE RFCs define specific short names for different algorithms


JSOE name Hash Signature
RS256, RS384, RS512 SHA256/384/512 RSA
ES256, ES384, ES521 SHA256/384/512 EC


Key Encryption Payload authentication + crypt
RSAES-PKCS1-v1.5 2048b & 4096b AES_128_CBC_HMAC_SHA_256
RSAES-PKCS1-v1.5 2048b AES_192_CBC_HMAC_SHA_384
RSAES-PKCS1-v1.5 2048b AES_256_CBC_HMAC_SHA_512
ECDH-ES (P-256/384/521 key) AES_128/192/256_GCM
ECDH-ES+A128/192/256KW (P-256/384/521 key) AES_128/192/256_GCM

Keys in the JOSE layer

Keys in the JOSE layer use a struct lws_jwk, this contains two arrays of struct lws_jwk_elements sized for the worst case (currently RSA). One array contains the key elements as described for the generic case, and the other contains various nonencrypted key metadata taken from JWK JSON.

metadata index function
JWK_META_KTY Key type, eg, "EC"
JWK_META_KID Arbitrary ID string
JWK_META_USE What the public key may be used to validate, "enc" or "sig"
JWK_META_KEY_OPS Which operations the key is authorized for, eg, "encrypt"
JWK_META_X5C Optional X.509 cert version of the key
JWK_META_ALG Optional overall crypto algorithm the key is intended for use with

lws_jwk_destroy() should be called when the jwk is going out of scope... this takes care to zero down any key element data in the jwk.