What is an SSL Server Certificate?

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A brief overview of web server certificates, AKA server security certificates

When you’re shopping for SSL certificates, one of the things you may notice is the diversity of terminology. Each certificate authority (CA) and reseller seems to have its own wording for certain terms: SSL/TLS certificates, web server certificates, server security certificates, etc. Essentially, although there is generally agreed-upon terminology, that doesn’t mean everyone uses it.

The Terminology: Web Server Certificate vs SSL Server Certificate

Oftentimes, you’ll see SSL described in more colloquial terms, which can make seeing an official term feel a little jarring. One of the questions we get asked about a lot is “what is an SSL server certificate?” And, “is a server security certificate any different from a regular SSL certificate?”

The answer is no. SSL server certificates are the standard, default type of SSL certificate. Generally, the server portion is implied. There is an SSL client certificate, but it’s sometimes a little bit easier to think of it more as a personal authentication certificate. It doesn’t facilitate encryption; it just identifies the end user.

SSL server certificates, on the other hand, are installed on the server that hosts your website. When a client arrives, the server presents its certificate and public key, which the client can use to authenticate it.

Why Use SSL?

While the client certificate is optional, allowing for mutual authentication during the SSL/TLS handshake, the server SSL certificate is not.

As of July 2018, all websites are now required to have SSL server certificates installed. They also must be configured to use the secure HTTPS protocol and not the non-secure HTTP one. The good news is that pretty much every SSL certificate (that doesn’t say personal authentication) is an SSL server certificate.

You’ll need to obtain one and install it on the server that hosts your site. Then, migrate to HTTPS and use 301 redirects to forward traffic from your old HTTP pages.

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