Understanding the Difference Between PFX and PEM Certificates

Before diving into the details of converting PFX to PEM format, it’s essential to understand the difference between these two types of certificates. PFX (Personal Information Exchange) is a binary format that stores the private key, public key, and the whole certificate chain in a single encrypted file. On the other hand, PEM (Privacy Enhanced Mail) is a Base64 encoded format that only contains the certificate and private key in separate files. PEM files are commonly used for web servers, while PFX is more prevalent in Windows environments.

Why Convert PFX to PEM?

While PFX files are useful in Windows environments, they are not compatible with most web servers. Therefore, it’s necessary to convert them to PEM format to use them on Linux or UNIX-based systems. Moreover, PFX files are often password protected, which can be challenging to manage in a web server environment.

Preparing the Environment for Certificate Conversion

Before converting the PFX certificate to PEM, ensure that your system has OpenSSL installed. OpenSSL is an open-source toolkit that provides support for SSL and TLS protocols. To check if OpenSSL is installed, run the following command:


If OpenSSL is not installed on your system, install it using the package manager for your operating system.

One key takeaway from this text is that PFX certificates cannot be used on most web servers, and therefore, it’s necessary to convert them to PEM format for Linux or UNIX-based systems. Additionally, OpenSSL is an essential toolkit that must be installed before converting certificates, and troubleshooting steps can be taken if issues arise during the certificate conversion process.

Converting PFX to PEM

Once you have OpenSSL installed, you can use the following command to convert the PFX file to PEM:

In this command, “example.pfx” is the input file, and “example.pem” is the output file. The “-nodes” option is used to remove the password from the private key. You will be prompted to enter the PFX password during the conversion process.

Verifying the PEM Certificate

After converting the PFX certificate to PEM, you can verify its contents using the following command:

This command will display the details of the PEM certificate, including the issuer, subject, and public key.

Troubleshooting Certificate Conversion Issues

If you encounter any issues during the certificate conversion process, there are several steps you can take to troubleshoot the problem. For instance, you can try using a different password for the PFX file, or you can try using a different input file. Additionally, you can check the OpenSSL documentation to see if there are any known issues with the version of OpenSSL you’re using.

FAQs for Convert PFX Certificate to PEM

What is a PFX certificate and a PEM certificate?

A PFX (Personal Exchange Format) certificate is a binary file format, which is used for storing certificates, certificate chains, and private keys all in one file. This format is widely used in Windows-based systems. A PEM (Privacy Enhanced Mail) certificate, on the other hand, is a base64 encoded ASCII format certificate which is used for storing the same set of data as PFX certificate. However, it divides the information into two separate files – one for the certificate and one for the private key.

Why would I need to convert a PFX certificate to a PEM certificate?

There could be several reasons for converting a PFX certificate to a PEM certificate. For instance, if you need to transfer your SSL certificate from a Windows server to a Unix server, the target Unix server may require a PEM certificate instead. Similarly, some cloud-based services such as AWS, Azure, or Google Cloud Platform require using PEM certificates instead of PFX certificates.

How can I convert a PFX certificate to a PEM certificate?

To convert a PFX certificate to a PEM certificate, you can use OpenSSL, an open-source cryptographic toolkit that supports a wide range of cryptographic algorithms. You can run a single command-line instruction in the command prompt/terminal and specify the location of the PFX file and the desired output location of the PEM certificate.

What is the OpenSSL command to convert a PFX certificate to a PEM certificate?

The OpenSSL command to convert a PFX certificate to a PEM certificate is:
openssl pkcs12 -in filename.pfx -out filename.pem -nodes
The command reads the PFX file (filename.pfx) and generates a PEM file (filename.pem) with -nodes option that includes the private key in the generated PEM.

Can I encrypt the output PEM file after converting from PFX?

Yes, you can encrypt the output PEM file with symmetric encryption. You can use the OpenSSL AES-256 cipher to encrypt the private key and the certificate data in the PEM file. However, you must ensure that you remember the passphrase you use to encrypt the PEM file, as it cannot be recovered if lost.

Can I use the converted PEM file on multiple servers?

Yes, you can use the PEM file on multiple servers. However, it is important to note that PEM files contain both the certificate and the private key, so you should ensure that the file is kept securely. You should also protect it with a passphrase when possible.

What if the PFX file I want to convert is protected by a password?

If the PFX file you want to convert is protected by a password, you will be prompted to enter the password when you execute the OpenSSL command. If you want to avoid the prompt, you can use the -passin option to pass the password in your script.