IISExpress 8, SSL and Ports 80/443

IISExpress 8 is a nice little component of Visual Studio 2012. It allows you to test and debug websites without having to learn how to administer IIS. You just hit F5 and go.

But it does have some limitations. For example, by default it doesn’t run on ports 80 and 443, the latter being for SSL-enabled http interactions. That’s apparently to maintain system security. Unfortunately, it makes testing in a real world environment — virtually everything on the web runs over 80 and 443! — more challenging than it should be. I hope Microsoft changes the installation routine for Visual Studio so that it defaults instead to a lower security, but more realistic, environment which has IISExpress run over 80 and 443.

You can get there today, but it takes a little command line work and config file modification. Because many of the explanations I found online were both confusing and somewhat misleading I thought I’d detail the steps I went through in this posting. I’ve included some explanatory commentary, but be advised I’m no IIS or SSL expert, so that material could be wrong.

All the instructions here refer to IISExpress8, Visual Studio 2012, and were performed under Windows 8 64 bit.

The game plan for enabling 80/443 support in IISExpress8 is to create a security certificate to identify your development machine as an authorized machine, make IISExpress available over ports 80/443, and then configure IISExpress to serve up those ports for your development site.

Some online instructions call for you to create a single certificate to do this (e.g., Scott Hanselman’s blog entry). But that involves moving the certificate you create into your trusted root certificate store, and that relocation process can cause problems, depending upon how you do it (see the comments at the end of Scott’s post). In addition, configuring Windows http processing to use an SSL certificate seems to require the certificate be located in your personal certificate store, not trusted root. This caused me no end of trouble trying to figure out obscure error messages about specified logon sessions not existing. The problem was solved in yet another comment to Scott’s post, located part way down the page.

In what I outline here you avoid the issue entirely because you create two certificates, one that you put into the trusted root store and one which you put into your personal certificate store. The first certificate is a trusted root certification authority — a certificate used to sign other certificates. It’s used to sign a second certificate you create to identify your IISExpress server, which is in turn placed, and left, in your personal certificate store.

I found instructions on how to do this at Raj Rao’s blog. His post is intended to configure IIS, not IISExpress, so I had to adapt it a bit. It also references a more in-depth discussion which you may find helpful to review.

Here are the commands I used (you’ll need to be doing all of this at an administrative command prompt; I ran ‘Developer Command Prompt for VS2012’, created when Visual Studio 2012 is installed). So you’ll have the certificate and key files available for later use you should do this in a directory you’ve set up to store them.

makecert -r -pe -n "CN=Kensei Root CA" -ss Root -sr localMachine -a sha1 -sky signature -sv KenseiCA.pvk KenseiCA.cer

“Kensei Root CA” is the common name for the certificate authority I’m creating. I called mine ‘Kensei Root CA’, without the quotes, because my development system is named Kensei. I also adjusted the file names for the key and certificate files accordingly (i.e., the .pvk and .cer files at the end of the command line), calling them ‘KenseiCA’ to signify that they’re a certificate authority for Kensei.

You’ll have to assign some passwords when this command executes. Don’t forget them! To keep things simple I used the same password for all the password requests.

This installs a newly-created certificate in your trusted root store. As Raj points out, you can check this by firing up MMC.exe, installing the Certificate snap-in and looking in the trusted root store. Remember to choose ‘Computer Account’ and ‘Local Computer’ when it prompts you for which set of certificate stores to access, assuming you’re working directly on your development machine. The certificate’s uses should be “all”:mmc-cert

Next we create the server identity certificate. You do this by creating certificate and key files, signing them with the trusted root certificate authority you just created, combining them in a single PFX file, and then importing the resulting PFX file into your personal certificate store.

makecert -pe -n "CN=Kensei" -a sha1 -sky exchange -eku -ic KenseiCA.cer -iv KenseiCA.pvk -sp "Microsoft RSA SChannel Cryptographic Provider" -sy 12 -sv KenseiServer.pvk c:KenseiServer.cer

pvk2pfx -pvk KenseiServer.pvk -spc KenseiServer.cer -pfx KenseiServer.pfx

The first command creates a pair of files, KenseiServer.pvk and KenseiServer.cer, which containing a private key and the server identity certificate. Notice the references to the certificate authority you just created (KenseiCA.cer and KenseiCA.pvk in my case; use whatever names you specified in creating your certificate authority). You’ll have to supply the certificate authority’s password when the makecert command runs. The second command packages the key and certificate files into a PFX file. It doesn’t assign a password to the resulting file.

I’m pretty sure the common name (“CN=…”) used is important. It should match your development computer’s name. In my case that’s kensei.

Import the PFX file into your personal certificate store using MMC, by right clicking on Certificates -> Personal -> Certificates -> All Tasks -> Import..:


When using the import wizard, you want to import into Local Machine (although actually I don’t think you’ll be given any other choice). Also, when you select the file to import, remember to pick the PFX file you created, not any of the CER files which may first show up in the dialog; use the file filter dropdown to show the PFX file. Finally, when the ‘supply password’ screen shows up, remember the PFX file has no password, so leave the password field blank.

When you’re done you should have a newly-minted security certificate in your personal certificate store. You’ll need its thumbprint — it’s “ID” — which you can get by double-clicking the certificate name, selecting the Details tab and scrolling down to Thumbprint:


Copy and paste the thumbprint information from the textbox below the field list into Notepad, and delete all the spaces from the thumbprint. It’s this compressed version of the thumbprint which acts as the certificate’s ID.

We’re done with certificates and MMC, so you can close it down. The next commands finish off the Windows http configuration:

netsh http add sslcert ipport= appid={214124cd-d05b-4309-9af9-9caa44b2b74a} certhash=107c0a5f8baf14ebe204ac2b7247b8ad7069e6b8

netsh http add urlacl url=http://kensei:80/ user=Everyone

netsh http add urlacl url=https://kensei:443/ user=Everyone

netsh firewall add portopening TCP 80 IISExpressWeb enable ALL

netsh firewall add portopening TCP 443 IISExpressWeb enable ALL

The first command tells Windows to use the server identity certificate as an SSL certificate on port 443. The appid is a GUID, which you can generate using uuidgen.exe or just use the one here (the odds are vanishingly small that this will duplicate a GUID on your system, or so I’ve been led to believe).

The certhash parameter is the id you created in Notepad from your server identity certificate’s thumbprint. If you copy and paste it from within Notepad, be aware that an invisible UTF character is often present at the very beginning of the id string. This will show up as a square box in the command prompt window when you paste the id, and will cause the command to complain bitterly. Just recall the command, cursor back to the square box, delete it and hit enter again.

The next two commands tell Windows to listen to ports 80 and 443 when processing http requests. By default, these are turned off (i.e., the ports are ignored). Note that these particular commands allow access by every user. If you want to restrict access to only particular users adjust the commands accordingly. Note that the server name specified here should match the common name (CN) you used to create the server identification certificate. In my case I kept things simple by using my computer’s name, kensei, throughout the commands.

The last two commands tell your firewall to let other IP addresses access ports 80 and 443 on your machine. This is useful if you want to see how your site looks and works from, say, a smartphone tied in to your LAN. These particular commands enable access from any other IP address, so they’re pretty insecure. That’s okay in my case because my LAN is behind a firewall, but your mileage may differ.

By the way, the firewall editing commands (i.e., the last two) are obsolete/deprecated. They still work on Windows 8, which is why I include them here, but technically I believe you’re supposed to use the following commands in their place:

netsh advfirewall firewall add rule name="IISExpressWeb" dir=in protocol=tcp localport=80 profile=private remoteip=localsubnet action=allow

netsh advfirewall firewall add rule name="IISExpressWeb" dir=in protocol=tcp localport=443 profile=private remoteip=localsubnet action=allow

I haven’t tried these myself. Also, note the profile parameter, set to private. I believe that refers to the firewall zone you’re modifying, of which there are three: private, public and domain (assuming your system runs inside a Windows domain). You may well have to tweak the profile parameter to get things to work, and may have to issue the commands multiple times, for different zones, as well.

Now, modify IISExpress’ configuration file. It’s located at C:\Users\[your user name]\Documents\IISExpress\config\applicationhost.config. Open it (Notepad will do fine, or use Visual Studio) and locate the entry for the website you’re debugging (note: you’ll have to have run the website at least once from inside Visual Studio for the entry to exist):



You may have any number of websites listed, each with its own <site> section, so be careful to modify the correct one. You want to change the <binding protocol…> lines so that the bindingInformation parameters refer to ports 80 and 443, each on a separate <binding…> line (there may only be one entry present if you haven’t debugged the site under SSL). The format, as you can see from the sample above, is:

bindingInformation=”*:[port number]:[server name]”

In this case the quotes are important. You want to use the same server name as you specified in the “netsh http add urlacl” command you issued a few moments ago. In my case, that’s ‘kensei’, without the quotes.

Now it’s time for the final step, tweaking the Visual Studio project file for your website so it knows to run SSL over port 443. You do this by opening the project file in Notepad. Don’t just double-click the file; if you do, it’ll launch Visual Studio. Instead, right click the file in a directory window and select Open With -> Notepad.

Search for and modify the <IISExpressSSLPort> line so that it refers to port 443 (it’ll have some high port number, like 44300, by default):



If you don’t do this then when you enable SSL on the site’s property page within Visual Studio it’ll use whatever default port value was in the project file. That won’t be compatible with the port 443 approach you just set up.

That’s it! Happy debugging!

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