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modutil - Manage PKCS #11 module information within the security module database.


modutil [options] [[arguments]]


This documentation is still work in progress. Please contribute to the initial review in
Mozilla NSS bug 836477[1]


The Security Module Database Tool, modutil, is a command-line utility for managing PKCS
#11 module information both within secmod.db files and within hardware tokens. modutil
can add and delete PKCS #11 modules, change passwords on security databases, set defaults,
list module contents, enable or disable slots, enable or disable FIPS 140-2 compliance,
and assign default providers for cryptographic operations. This tool can also create
certificate, key, and module security database files.

The tasks associated with security module database management are part of a process that
typically also involves managing key databases and certificate databases.


Running modutil always requires one (and only one) option to specify the type of module
operation. Each option may take arguments, anywhere from none to multiple arguments.


-add modulename
Add the named PKCS #11 module to the database. Use this option with the -libfile,
-ciphers, and -mechanisms arguments.

-changepw tokenname
Change the password on the named token. If the token has not been initialized, this
option initializes the password. Use this option with the -pwfile and -newpwfile
arguments. A password is equivalent to a personal identification number (PIN).

Verify whether the module is in the given FIPS mode. true means to verify that the
module is in FIPS mode, while false means to verify that the module is not in FIPS

Create new certificate, key, and module databases. Use the -dbdir directory argument
to specify a directory. If any of these databases already exist in a specified
directory, modutil returns an error message.

-default modulename
Specify the security mechanisms for which the named module will be a default provider.
The security mechanisms are specified with the -mechanisms argument.

-delete modulename
Delete the named module. The default NSS PKCS #11 module cannot be deleted.

-disable modulename
Disable all slots on the named module. Use the -slot argument to disable a specific

The internal NSS PKCS #11 module cannot be disabled.

-enable modulename
Enable all slots on the named module. Use the -slot argument to enable a specific

-fips [true | false]
Enable (true) or disable (false) FIPS 140-2 compliance for the default NSS module.

Disable modutil's interactive prompts so it can be run from a script. Use this option
only after manually testing each planned operation to check for warnings and to ensure
that bypassing the prompts will cause no security lapses or loss of database

-jar JAR-file
Add a new PKCS #11 module to the database using the named JAR file. Use this command
with the -installdir and -tempdir arguments. The JAR file uses the NSS PKCS #11 JAR
format to identify all the files to be installed, the module's name, the mechanism
flags, and the cipher flags, as well as any files to be installed on the target
machine, including the PKCS #11 module library file and other files such as
documentation. This is covered in the JAR installation file section in the man page,
which details the special script needed to perform an installation through a server or
with modutil.

-list [modulename]
Display basic information about the contents of the secmod.db file. Specifying a
modulename displays detailed information about a particular module and its slots and

Add the module spec string to the secmod.db database.

Display the module specs for a specified module or for all loadable modules.

-undefault modulename
Specify the security mechanisms for which the named module will not be a default
provider. The security mechanisms are specified with the -mechanisms argument.


Give the security module to access.

Give the security module spec to load into the security database.

-ciphers cipher-enable-list
Enable specific ciphers in a module that is being added to the database. The
cipher-enable-list is a colon-delimited list of cipher names. Enclose this list in
quotation marks if it contains spaces.

-dbdir [sql:]directory
Specify the database directory in which to access or create security module database

modutil supports two types of databases: the legacy security databases (cert8.db,
key3.db, and secmod.db) and new SQLite databases (cert9.db, key4.db, and pkcs11.txt).
If the prefix sql: is not used, then the tool assumes that the given databases are in
the old format.

--dbprefix prefix
Specify the prefix used on the database files, such as my_ for my_cert8.db. This
option is provided as a special case. Changing the names of the certificate and key
databases is not recommended.

-installdir root-installation-directory
Specify the root installation directory relative to which files will be installed by
the -jar option. This directory should be one below which it is appropriate to store
dynamic library files, such as a server's root directory.

-libfile library-file
Specify a path to a library file containing the implementation of the PKCS #11
interface module that is being added to the database.

-mechanisms mechanism-list
Specify the security mechanisms for which a particular module will be flagged as a
default provider. The mechanism-list is a colon-delimited list of mechanism names.
Enclose this list in quotation marks if it contains spaces.

The module becomes a default provider for the listed mechanisms when those mechanisms
are enabled. If more than one module claims to be a particular mechanism's default
provider, that mechanism's default provider is undefined.

modutil supports several mechanisms: RSA, DSA, RC2, RC4, RC5, AES, DES, DH, SHA1,
SHA256, SHA512, SSL, TLS, MD5, MD2, RANDOM (for random number generation), and
FRIENDLY (meaning certificates are publicly readable).

-newpwfile new-password-file
Specify a text file containing a token's new or replacement password so that a
password can be entered automatically with the -changepw option.

Do not open the certificate or key databases. This has several effects:

· With the -create command, only a module security file is created; certificate and
key databases are not created.

· With the -jar command, signatures on the JAR file are not checked.

· With the -changepw command, the password on the NSS internal module cannot be set
or changed, since this password is stored in the key database.

-pwfile old-password-file
Specify a text file containing a token's existing password so that a password can be
entered automatically when the -changepw option is used to change passwords.

-secmod secmodname
Give the name of the security module database (like secmod.db) to load.

-slot slotname
Specify a particular slot to be enabled or disabled with the -enable or -disable

Pass a configuration string for the module being added to the database.

-tempdir temporary-directory
Give a directory location where temporary files are created during the installation by
the -jar option. If no temporary directory is specified, the current directory is


Creating Database Files

Before any operations can be performed, there must be a set of security databases
available. modutil can be used to create these files. The only required argument is the
database that where the databases will be located.

modutil -create -dbdir [sql:]directory

Adding a Cryptographic Module

Adding a PKCS #11 module means submitting a supporting library file, enabling its ciphers,
and setting default provider status for various security mechanisms. This can be done by
supplying all of the information through modutil directly or by running a JAR file and
install script. For the most basic case, simply upload the library:

modutil -add modulename -libfile library-file [-ciphers cipher-enable-list] [-mechanisms mechanism-list]

For example:

modutil -dbdir sql:/home/my/sharednssdb -add "Example PKCS #11 Module" -libfile "/tmp/crypto.so" -mechanisms RSA:DSA:RC2:RANDOM

Using database directory ...
Module "Example PKCS #11 Module" added to database.

Installing a Cryptographic Module from a JAR File

PKCS #11 modules can also be loaded using a JAR file, which contains all of the required
libraries and an installation script that describes how to install the module. The JAR
install script is described in more detail in the section called “JAR INSTALLATION FILE

The JAR installation script defines the setup information for each platform that the
module can be installed on. For example:

Platforms {
Linux:5.4.08:x86 {
ModuleName { "Example PKCS #11 Module" }
ModuleFile { crypto.so }
Files {
crypto.so {
Path{ /tmp/crypto.so }
setup.sh {
Path{ /tmp/setup.sh }
Linux:6.0.0:x86 {
EquivalentPlatform { Linux:5.4.08:x86 }

Both the install script and the required libraries must be bundled in a JAR file, which is
specified with the -jar argument.

modutil -dbdir sql:/home/mt"jar-install-filey/sharednssdb -jar install.jar -installdir sql:/home/my/sharednssdb

This installation JAR file was signed by:


C=US, ST=California, L=Mountain View, CN=Cryptorific Inc., OU=Digital ID
Class 3 - Netscape Object Signing, OU="www.verisign.com/repository/CPS
Incorp. by Ref.,LIAB.LTD(c)9 6", OU=www.verisign.com/CPS Incorp.by Ref
. LIABILITY LTD.(c)97 VeriSign, OU=VeriSign Object Signing CA - Class 3
Organization, OU="VeriSign, Inc.", O=VeriSign Trust Network **ISSUER
NAME**, OU=www.verisign.com/CPS Incorp.by Ref. LIABILITY LTD.(c)97
VeriSign, OU=VeriSign Object Signing CA - Class 3 Organization,
OU="VeriSign, Inc.", O=VeriSign Trust Network

Do you wish to continue this installation? (y/n) y
Using installer script "installer_script"
Successfully parsed installation script
Current platform is Linux:5.4.08:x86
Using installation parameters for platform Linux:5.4.08:x86
Installed file crypto.so to /tmp/crypto.so
Installed file setup.sh to ./pk11inst.dir/setup.sh
Executing "./pk11inst.dir/setup.sh"...
"./pk11inst.dir/setup.sh" executed successfully
Installed module "Example PKCS #11 Module" into module database

Installation completed successfully

Adding Module Spec

Each module has information stored in the security database about its configuration and
parameters. These can be added or edited using the -rawadd command. For the current
settings or to see the format of the module spec in the database, use the -rawlist option.

modutil -rawadd modulespec

Deleting a Module

A specific PKCS #11 module can be deleted from the secmod.db database:

modutil -delete modulename -dbdir [sql:]directory

Displaying Module Information

The secmod.db database contains information about the PKCS #11 modules that are available
to an application or server to use. The list of all modules, information about specific
modules, and database configuration specs for modules can all be viewed.

To simply get a list of modules in the database, use the -list command.

modutil -list [modulename] -dbdir [sql:]directory

Listing the modules shows the module name, their status, and other associated security
databases for certificates and keys. For example:

modutil -list -dbdir sql:/home/my/sharednssdb

Listing of PKCS #11 Modules
1. NSS Internal PKCS #11 Module
slots: 2 slots attached
status: loaded

slot: NSS Internal Cryptographic Services
token: NSS Generic Crypto Services

slot: NSS User Private Key and Certificate Services
token: NSS Certificate DB

Passing a specific module name with the -list returns details information about the module
itself, like supported cipher mechanisms, version numbers, serial numbers, and other
information about the module and the token it is loaded on. For example:

modutil -list "NSS Internal PKCS #11 Module" -dbdir sql:/home/my/sharednssdb

Name: NSS Internal PKCS #11 Module
Library file: **Internal ONLY module**
Manufacturer: Mozilla Foundation
Description: NSS Internal Crypto Services
PKCS #11 Version 2.20
Library Version: 3.11
Cipher Enable Flags: None
Default Mechanism Flags: RSA:RC2:RC4:DES:DH:SHA1:MD5:MD2:SSL:TLS:AES

Slot: NSS Internal Cryptographic Services
Slot Mechanism Flags: RSA:RC2:RC4:DES:DH:SHA1:MD5:MD2:SSL:TLS:AES
Manufacturer: Mozilla Foundation
Type: Software
Version Number: 3.11
Firmware Version: 0.0
Status: Enabled
Token Name: NSS Generic Crypto Services
Token Manufacturer: Mozilla Foundation
Token Model: NSS 3
Token Serial Number: 0000000000000000
Token Version: 4.0
Token Firmware Version: 0.0
Access: Write Protected
Login Type: Public (no login required)
User Pin: NOT Initialized

Slot: NSS User Private Key and Certificate Services
Slot Mechanism Flags: None
Manufacturer: Mozilla Foundation
Type: Software
Version Number: 3.11
Firmware Version: 0.0
Status: Enabled
Token Name: NSS Certificate DB
Token Manufacturer: Mozilla Foundation
Token Model: NSS 3
Token Serial Number: 0000000000000000
Token Version: 8.3
Token Firmware Version: 0.0
Access: NOT Write Protected
Login Type: Login required
User Pin: Initialized

A related command, -rawlist returns information about the database configuration for the
modules. (This information can be edited by loading new specs using the -rawadd command.)

modutil -rawlist -dbdir sql:/home/my/sharednssdb
name="NSS Internal PKCS #11 Module" parameters="configdir=. certPrefix= keyPrefix= secmod=secmod.db flags=readOnly " NSS="trustOrder=75 cipherOrder=100 slotParams={0x00000001=[slotFlags=RSA,RC4,RC2,DES,DH,SHA1,MD5,MD2,SSL,TLS,AES,RANDOM askpw=any timeout=30 ] } Flags=internal,critical"

Setting a Default Provider for Security Mechanisms

Multiple security modules may provide support for the same security mechanisms. It is
possible to set a specific security module as the default provider for a specific security
mechanism (or, conversely, to prohibit a provider from supplying those mechanisms).

modutil -default modulename -mechanisms mechanism-list

To set a module as the default provider for mechanisms, use the -default command with a
colon-separated list of mechanisms. The available mechanisms depend on the module; NSS
supplies almost all common mechanisms. For example:

modutil -default "NSS Internal PKCS #11 Module" -dbdir -mechanisms RSA:DSA:RC2

Using database directory c:\databases...

Successfully changed defaults.

Clearing the default provider has the same format:

modutil -undefault "NSS Internal PKCS #11 Module" -dbdir -mechanisms MD2:MD5

Enabling and Disabling Modules and Slots

Modules, and specific slots on modules, can be selectively enabled or disabled using
modutil. Both commands have the same format:

modutil -enable|-disable modulename [-slot slotname]

For example:

modutil -enable "NSS Internal PKCS #11 Module" -slot "NSS Internal Cryptographic Services " -dbdir .

Slot "NSS Internal Cryptographic Services " enabled.

Be sure that the appropriate amount of trailing whitespace is after the slot name. Some
slot names have a significant amount of whitespace that must be included, or the operation
will fail.

Enabling and Verifying FIPS Compliance

The NSS modules can have FIPS 140-2 compliance enabled or disabled using modutil with the
-fips option. For example:

modutil -fips true -dbdir sql:/home/my/sharednssdb/

FIPS mode enabled.

To verify that status of FIPS mode, run the -chkfips command with either a true or false
flag (it doesn't matter which). The tool returns the current FIPS setting.

modutil -chkfips false -dbdir sql:/home/my/sharednssdb/

FIPS mode enabled.

Changing the Password on a Token

Initializing or changing a token's password:

modutil -changepw tokenname [-pwfile old-password-file] [-newpwfile new-password-file]

modutil -dbdir sql:/home/my/sharednssdb -changepw "NSS Certificate DB"

Enter old password:
Incorrect password, try again...
Enter old password:
Enter new password:
Re-enter new password:
Token "Communicator Certificate DB" password changed successfully.


When a JAR file is run by a server, by modutil, or by any program that does not interpret
JavaScript, a special information file must be included to install the libraries. There
are several things to keep in mind with this file:

· It must be declared in the JAR archive's manifest file.

· The script can have any name.

· The metainfo tag for this is Pkcs11_install_script. To declare meta-information in the
manifest file, put it in a file that is passed to signtool.

Sample Script

For example, the PKCS #11 installer script could be in the file pk11install. If so, the
metainfo file for signtool includes a line such as this:

+ Pkcs11_install_script: pk11install

The script must define the platform and version number, the module name and file, and any
optional information like supported ciphers and mechanisms. Multiple platforms can be
defined in a single install file.

ForwardCompatible { IRIX:6.2:mips SUNOS:5.5.1:sparc }
Platforms {
WINNT::x86 {
ModuleName { "Example Module" }
ModuleFile { win32/fort32.dll }
Files {
win32/setup.exe {
RelativePath { %temp%/setup.exe }
win32/setup.hlp {
RelativePath { %temp%/setup.hlp }
win32/setup.cab {
RelativePath { %temp%/setup.cab }
WIN95::x86 {
EquivalentPlatform {WINNT::x86}
SUNOS:5.5.1:sparc {
ModuleName { "Example UNIX Module" }
ModuleFile { unix/fort.so }
Files {
unix/fort.so {
xplat/instr.html {
IRIX:6.2:mips {
EquivalentPlatform { SUNOS:5.5.1:sparc }

Script Grammar

The script is basic Java, allowing lists, key-value pairs, strings, and combinations of
all of them.

--> valuelist

valuelist --> value valuelist

value ---> key_value_pair

key_value_pair --> key { valuelist }

key --> string

string --> simple_string

simple_string --> [^ \t\n\""{""}"]+

complex_string --> ([^\"\\\r\n]|(\\\")|(\\\\))+

Quotes and backslashes must be escaped with a backslash. A complex string must not include
newlines or carriage returns.Outside of complex strings, all white space (for example,
spaces, tabs, and carriage returns) is considered equal and is used only to delimit


The Java install file uses keys to define the platform and module information.

ForwardCompatible gives a list of platforms that are forward compatible. If the current
platform cannot be found in the list of supported platforms, then the ForwardCompatible
list is checked for any platforms that have the same OS and architecture in an earlier
version. If one is found, its attributes are used for the current platform.

Platforms (required) Gives a list of platforms. Each entry in the list is itself a
key-value pair: the key is the name of the platform and the value list contains various
attributes of the platform. The platform string is in the format system name:OS
release:architecture. The installer obtains these values from NSPR. OS release is an empty
string on non-Unix operating systems. NSPR supports these platforms:

· AIX (rs6000)

· BSDI (x86)

· FREEBSD (x86)

· HPUX (hppa1.1)

· IRIX (mips)

· LINUX (ppc, alpha, x86)

· MacOS (PowerPC)

· NCR (x86)

· NEC (mips)

· OS2 (x86)

· OSF (alpha)

· ReliantUNIX (mips)

· SCO (x86)

· SOLARIS (sparc)

· SONY (mips)

· SUNOS (sparc)

· UnixWare (x86)

· WIN16 (x86)

· WIN95 (x86)

· WINNT (x86)

For example:


The module information is defined independently for each platform in the ModuleName,
ModuleFile, and Files attributes. These attributes must be given unless an
EquivalentPlatform attribute is specified.

Per-Platform Keys

Per-platform keys have meaning only within the value list of an entry in the Platforms

ModuleName (required) gives the common name for the module. This name is used to reference
the module by servers and by the modutil tool.

ModuleFile (required) names the PKCS #11 module file for this platform. The name is given
as the relative path of the file within the JAR archive.

Files (required) lists the files that need to be installed for this module. Each entry in
the file list is a key-value pair. The key is the path of the file in the JAR archive, and
the value list contains attributes of the file. At least RelativePath or AbsolutePath must
be specified for each file.

DefaultMechanismFlags specifies mechanisms for which this module is the default provider;
this is equivalent to the -mechanism option with the -add command. This key-value pair is
a bitstring specified in hexadecimal (0x) format. It is constructed as a bitwise OR. If
the DefaultMechanismFlags entry is omitted, the value defaults to 0x0.

RSA: 0x00000001
DSA: 0x00000002
RC2: 0x00000004
RC4: 0x00000008
DES: 0x00000010
DH: 0x00000020
FORTEZZA: 0x00000040
RC5: 0x00000080
SHA1: 0x00000100
MD5: 0x00000200
MD2: 0x00000400
RANDOM: 0x08000000
FRIENDLY: 0x10000000
OWN_PW_DEFAULTS: 0x20000000
DISABLE: 0x40000000

CipherEnableFlags specifies ciphers that this module provides that NSS does not provide
(so that the module enables those ciphers for NSS). This is equivalent to the -cipher
argument with the -add command. This key is a bitstring specified in hexadecimal (0x)
format. It is constructed as a bitwise OR. If the CipherEnableFlags entry is omitted, the
value defaults to 0x0.

EquivalentPlatform specifies that the attributes of the named platform should also be used
for the current platform. This makes it easier when more than one platform uses the same

Per-File Keys

Some keys have meaning only within the value list of an entry in a Files list.

Each file requires a path key the identifies where the file is. Either RelativePath or
AbsolutePath must be specified. If both are specified, the relative path is tried first,
and the absolute path is used only if no relative root directory is provided by the
installer program.

RelativePath specifies the destination directory of the file, relative to some directory
decided at install time. Two variables can be used in the relative path: %root% and
%temp%. %root% is replaced at run time with the directory relative to which files should
be installed; for example, it may be the server's root directory. The %temp% directory is
created at the beginning of the installation and destroyed at the end. The purpose of
%temp% is to hold executable files (such as setup programs) or files that are used by
these programs. Files destined for the temporary directory are guaranteed to be in place
before any executable file is run; they are not deleted until all executable files have

AbsolutePath specifies the destination directory of the file as an absolute path.

Executable specifies that the file is to be executed during the course of the
installation. Typically, this string is used for a setup program provided by a module
vendor, such as a self-extracting setup executable. More than one file can be specified as
executable, in which case the files are run in the order in which they are specified in
the script file.

FilePermissions sets permissions on any referenced files in a string of octal digits,
according to the standard Unix format. This string is a bitwise OR.

user read: 0400
user write: 0200
user execute: 0100
group read: 0040
group write: 0020
group execute: 0010
other read: 0004
other write: 0002
other execute: 0001

Some platforms may not understand these permissions. They are applied only insofar as they
make sense for the current platform. If this attribute is omitted, a default of 777 is


NSS originally used BerkeleyDB databases to store security information. The last versions
of these legacy databases are:

· cert8.db for certificates

· key3.db for keys

· secmod.db for PKCS #11 module information

BerkeleyDB has performance limitations, though, which prevent it from being easily used by
multiple applications simultaneously. NSS has some flexibility that allows applications to
use their own, independent database engine while keeping a shared database and working
around the access issues. Still, NSS requires more flexibility to provide a truly shared
security database.

In 2009, NSS introduced a new set of databases that are SQLite databases rather than
BerkleyDB. These new databases provide more accessibility and performance:

· cert9.db for certificates

· key4.db for keys

· pkcs11.txt, which is listing of all of the PKCS #11 modules contained in a new
subdirectory in the security databases directory

Because the SQLite databases are designed to be shared, these are the shared database
type. The shared database type is preferred; the legacy format is included for backward

By default, the tools (certutil, pk12util, modutil) assume that the given security
databases follow the more common legacy type. Using the SQLite databases must be manually
specified by using the sql: prefix with the given security directory. For example:

modutil -create -dbdir sql:/home/my/sharednssdb

To set the shared database type as the default type for the tools, set the
NSS_DEFAULT_DB_TYPE environment variable to sql:

export NSS_DEFAULT_DB_TYPE="sql"

This line can be added to the ~/.bashrc file to make the change permanent for the user.

Most applications do not use the shared database by default, but they can be configured to
use them. For example, this how-to article covers how to configure Firefox and Thunderbird
to use the new shared NSS databases:

· https://wiki.mozilla.org/NSS_Shared_DB_Howto

For an engineering draft on the changes in the shared NSS databases, see the NSS project

· https://wiki.mozilla.org/NSS_Shared_DB

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