Using SSL with the Postgres JDBC Driver

The PostgreSQL JDBC Driver defaults to using an unencrypted connection. At Heroku, this presented a problem when we decided to move certain database types to dedicated single-tenant instances. Our hope was to improve performance for our customers without them needing to change a single line of code. But the new database instances required an SSL connection, which meant our customers would need to adjust their database configuration before we could migrate them.

To make the user experience more streamlined, we decided to turn SSL on globally for anyone using the Postgres JDBC driver on the platform. In this way, customers would get more powerful databases without even touching their code.

It’s useful to understand how we did this because it can be replicated in your development environment to ensure SSL is used when connecting to a remote test, stage or even production database.

Setting the SSL mode

Since version 9.2-1002-jdbc4, the PostgreSQL JDBC driver has supported the sslmode property, which corresponds to the sslmode setting in libpq. The desired value when connecting to a Heroku PostgreSQL server is sslmode=require. In a JDBC URL, it might look like this:


The “require” value ensures that the connection will be encrypted but trusts that the network will make the correct connection. That is, if there is a certificate present it will validate it, but if a certificate is not present it will still make an encrypted connection.

This parameter can easily be added to a connection string, but that requires a little work to make sure everything is correct in all the right places. If it is not correct, the connection will fail if the server requires SSL (as they do on Heroku). Furthermore, there are frameworks that automatically create a JDBC URL for you, and it is not always simple to append parameters to these URLs.

Thus, Heroku needed a way to set sslmode outside of the connection string.

Adding driver properties to the classpath

The Postgres JDBC Driver will check the JVM’s classpath for a org/postgresql/ file, which can contain any number of properties, just as the JDBC URL would. On Heroku, we created a small JAR file containing only this properties file, with the following contents:


Then, using the a buildpack, we put the JAR file in the lib/ext directory of the JDK, which means it will be on the classpath of every JVM-based application on Heroku.

Do this at home kids

The approach used on Heroku is also great for your local development environment. If you prefer developing against a cloud based Postgres instance instead of hosting a Postgres server locally, then you may want to set the sslmode property for all your JVM processes.

One way to do this is by simply dropping the Heroku JAR file that enables SSL into your JAVA_HOME/jre/lib/ext directory. Then if you need to connect to a database without SSL, you can add the URL parameter sslmode=disable. Thus, you’ll default to the safe approach.

Another method is setting this property on an app-by-app basis. That is, create a src/resources/org/postgresql/ file in your project with the same contents shown above, and put it on the classpath for your app.

Whatever method you choose, you’ll know that SSL is being used, which I’m sure your users will appreciate as much as ours.