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Run processes with secrets from HashiCorp Vault. It:

  1. Reads a list of required secrets
  2. Fetches them from Vault
  3. Calls exec with the secrets in the process environment

There is nothing else going on.

vaultenv supports the Vault KV API. It supports both version 1 and version 2. This support is automatic; but you do need a token which has read access on the /sys/mounts endpoint.

Comparison to alternatives

The only alternative to this tool that we are aware of is envconsul, also by HashiCorp. Unlike envconsul, vaultenv does not:

  • daemonize
  • spawn any child processes
  • manage the lifecycle of the process it provides the secrets for

All of the above should not be done by a secret fetching tool. This should be left to a service manager, like systemd.

vaultenv calls a syscall from the exec family after fetching secrets for you. This means that vaultenv replaces its own process with whatever you want. After your service has started, vaultenv is not running anymore.

This approach does mean that we cannot automatically restart services if secrets in Vault have changed.


A brief summary of Vault terminology:

A Vault secret consists of multiple key/value pairs, which are stored under a path in a backend.

Let's use the Vault CLI to write a secret to see all the concepts in action:

$ vault write secret/production/third-party api-key=fecb0f6e97c5b37b3a814107682cf68416f072a8
              ^^^^^^ ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ ^^^^^^^ ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
             backend          path            key                   value

Note: this will fail without a running Vault instance. Use vault server -dev to get one up and running locally.


Before we can start, build vaultenv locally or download a binary.

The following program depends on the secret that we stored in Vault in the previous section:


# Fail when referencing an unbound variable
set -u

# Mentally substitute the call to echo with something like:
# curl -H "Content-Type: application/json" -H "X-API-Key: ${PRODUCTION_THIRD_PARTY_API_KEY}" -X POST -d '{"my": "payload"}'

This program will fail without PRODUCTION_THIRD_PARTY_API_KEY in its environment:

$ ./
./ line 8: PRODUCTION_THIRD_PARTY_API_KEY: unbound variable

We can use vaultenv to fetch the required secret before running Create a file tutorial.secrets with the following content:


And run vaultenv like so:

$ vaultenv --token <YOUR_VAULT_TOKEN_HERE> --no-connect-tls --secrets-file ./tutorial.secrets ./

This instructs vaultenv to fetch secret/production/third-party and load the contents of api-key under PRODUCTION_THIRD_PARTY_API_KEY in the environment of


vaultenv 0.11.0 - run programs with secrets from HashiCorp Vault

Usage: vaultenv [--version] [--host HOST] [--port PORT] [--addr ADDR]
                [--token TOKEN] [--secrets-file FILENAME] [CMD] [ARGS...]
                ([--no-connect-tls] | [--connect-tls]) ([--no-validate-certs] |
                [--validate-certs]) ([--no-inherit-env] | [--inherit-env])
                [--inherit-env-blacklist COMMA_SEPARATED_NAMES]
                [--retry-base-delay-milliseconds MILLISECONDS]
                [--retry-attempts NUM] [--log-level error | info] [--use-path]

Available options:
  -h,--help                Show this help text
  --version                Show version
  --host HOST              Vault host, either an IP address or DNS name.
                           Defaults to localhost. Also configurable via
  --port PORT              Vault port. Defaults to 8200. Also configurable via
  --addr ADDR              Vault address, the scheme, either http:// or
                           https://, the ip-address or DNS name, followed by the
                           port, separated with a ':'. Cannot be combined with
                           either VAULT_PORT or VAULT_HOST
  --token TOKEN            Token to authenticate to Vault with. Also
                           configurable via VAULT_TOKEN.
  --secrets-file FILENAME  Config file specifying which secrets to request. Also
                           configurable via VAULTENV_SECRETS_FILE.
  CMD                      command to run after fetching secrets
  ARGS...                  Arguments to pass to CMD, defaults to nothing
  --no-connect-tls         Don't use TLS when connecting to Vault. Default: use
                           TLS. Also configurable via VAULTENV_CONNECT_TLS.
  --connect-tls            Always connect to Vault via TLS. Default: use TLS.
                           Can be used to override VAULTENV_CONNECT_TLS.
  --no-validate-certs      Don't validate TLS certificates when connecting to
                           Vault. Default: validate certs. Also configurable via
  --validate-certs         Always validate TLS certificates when connecting to
                           Vault. Default: validate certs. Can be used to
                           override VAULTENV_CONNECT_TLS.
  --no-inherit-env         Don't merge the parent environment with the secrets
                           file. Default: merge environments. Also configurable
                           via VAULTENV_INHERIT_ENV.
  --inherit-env            Always merge the parent environment with the secrets
                           file. Default: merge environments. Can be used to
                           override VAULTENV_INHERIT_ENV.
  --inherit-env-blacklist COMMA_SEPARATED_NAMES
                           Comma-separated list of environment variable names to
                           remove from the environment before executing CMD.
                           Also configurable via VAULTENV_INHERIT_ENV_BLACKLIST.
                           Has no effect if no-inherit-env is set!
  --retry-base-delay-milliseconds MILLISECONDS
                           Base delay for vault connection retrying. Defaults to
                           40ms. Also configurable via
  --retry-attempts NUM     Maximum number of vault connection retries. Defaults
                           to 9. Also configurable through
  --log-level error | info Log-level to run vaultenv under. Options: 'error' or
                           'info'. Defaults to 'error'. Also configurable via
  --use-path               Use PATH for finding the executable that vaultenv
                           should call. Default: don't search PATH. Also
                           configurable via VAULTENV_USE_PATH.


Vaultenv reads configuration from two types of files:

  • A specification of secrets to fetch.
  • Configuration options for vaultenv itself, mostly connection related.

Decoupling these is useful, because this allows for e.g. changing which secrets are fetched on a per project basis, while the connection options stay the same. Let's first discuss secrets files.

Secret specification

There are two versions of the secret specification format. The first version shipped with the initial version of Vaultenv, but doesn't allow users to specify custom mountpoints for backends. Vaultenv would always fetch from the generic secret backend mounted at secret/. Version 2 of the format supports custom mount points.

Example (version 1, implicit secret/ path prepended):


Vaultenv will make the following environment variables available:

  • PRODUCTION_THIRD_PARTY_API_KEY: Contents of the api-key field of the secret at secret/production/third-party.
  • PRODUCTION_ANOTHER_THIRD_PARTY_REFRESH_TOKEN: Contents of the refresh-token field of the secret at secret/production/another-third-party#refresh-token.
  • FOOBAR: Contents of the foobar field in the secret at secret/production/third-party.

The FOOBAR= syntax means: make this secret available under the FOOBAR environment variable.

Example (version 2, explicit mount paths):


MOUNT secret

MOUNT production

Vaultenv will make the following environment variables available:

  • SECRET_THIRD_PARTY_API_KEY with the contents of the api-key field of the secret at secret/third-party.
  • PRODUCTION_THIRD_PARTY_REFRESH_TOKEN with the contents of the refresh-token field from the secret at production/third-party
  • FOOBAR with the contents of the foobar field of the secret at production/third-party.

Behavior configuration

Vaultenv supports loading behavior configuration from files (in addition to the CLI flags and environment variable lookups). Vaultenv currently looks for these files in the following places:

  • /etc/vaultenv.conf
  • $HOME/.config/vaultenv/vaultenv.conf
  • $CWD/.env

These config files support the exact same syntax as the environment variables that you can use to configure Vaultenv. See the --help output for a list of what's available.

These files follow the .env format (as popularized by this Ruby gem). An example:

# /etc/vaultenv.conf
# Also: comments are allowed if they start with `#`.

All while running Vaultenv without any CLI args.

Different levels of configuration

It can happen that conflicting configuration values are send to Vaultenv. An example would be a global secret file, which is overwritten by a project specific configuration file. The order of precedence (from least precedence to most precedence) is as follows:

  • /etc/vaultenv.conf
  • $HOME/.config/vaultenv/vaultenv.conf
  • $CWD/.env
  • environment variables
  • command line options

This is useful on development machines. It allows you to:

  • Set global connection options on a per-machine basis. Useful if you run a Vault instance in your VPN.
  • Set per-user tokens.
  • Set per-project secrets files.

This means that any command line option that is present would overwrite any other configuration. If an option is not specified, the default is used. The defaults are as follows:

VAULT_HOST:                     localhost
VAULT_PORT:                     8200
VAULT_ADDR:                     https://localhost:8200
VAULT_TOKEN:                    Unspecified
VAULTENV_SECRETS_FILE:          Unspecified
CMD:                            Unspecified
ARGS:                           []
VAULTENV_LOG_LEVEL:             Error
VAULTENV_USE_PATH:              True

In cases where no default nor any value is specified, which is possible for Token, Secret file and Command, Vaultenv will give an error that it requires these values to operate.

Connection options

Vaultenv also supports the VAULT_ADDR configuration. In such a case, without specifying separate parameters for host, port and whether to use TLS or not, one can specify these values in a single value. The address always starts with either http:// or https://, followed by a either a DNS name or an ip-address. The port is specified at the end of the address, using a : to separate the host and the port. For example: would create a TLS enabled connection to the host on port 42.

Other errors can happen with the address configuration. There are two ways of specifying what the connection options are, either via the address of via a combination of the port, the host and whether to use TLS. As there are two ways of specifying this, it is also possible for these values to conflict. Consider the situation where VAULT_ADDR is and VAULT_PORT is set to 42. There are two ways Vaultenv can resolve this. In the case of the address and the port being specified in the same configuration, like the same file or both as command line options, Vaultenv will not choose either way and will report an error.

In the case they are specified in different configuration levels, like the address in a file and the port in the command line options, the higher precedence (as defined above) is used for that specific value. In this case, this would result in a host of, no usage of TLS, due to the http:// scheme, and a port of 42.

Other errors than the mismatch address error that can happen during parsing are:

  • A non-numeric port in the address, like http://localhost:my_port
  • A non-supported scheme in the address, like

Allowed characters in environment variables

We disallow the following in any path to keep the parser and format simple and unambiguous:

  • Whitespace
  • The # and = characters
  • Control characters

Everything else is allowed.

N.B.: Be careful with special characters in path components. While vault supports them, and vaultenv parses them from the secrets file just fine, you MUST specify an environment variable to put them in, otherwise you may run into unexpected behavior.

Environment variable names

The secret path and key determine the name of the environment variable that the secret contents will be available under. path and key are uppercased and concatenated by a _. All / and - characters are also replaced by underscores.

Example: the contents of production/third-party#api-key will be available as PRODUCTION_THIRD_PARTY_API_KEY.


Vaultenv is written in Haskell and builds with Stack:

stack setup
stack build

The binary can then be found at $(stack path --local-install-root)/bin/vaultenv. You can also run it directly with stack exec:

stack exec vaultenv -- --token SECRET --secrets-file foo.env /usr/bin/env

It is possible to stack build with --split-objs to produce a smaller binary. To take full advantage of this, the Stackage snapshot has to be rebuilt.

If you want a fully static executable without a runtime dependency on libc and run GNU/Linux, you can install Nix and run:

$ $(nix-build --no-link -A full-build-script nix/vaultenv-static.nix)

This has not been tested on any other platform.

That will build vaultenv (and a bunch of dependencies). The final line of the output should be a path in /nix/store which contains the final vaultenv binary.

It is possible to speed up the compilation process by copying some dependencies from a Nix cache, to not have to recompile all of Haskell and its dependencies. To set up the cache, execute these commands once before building:

$ nix run -c cachix use static-haskell-nix
$ nix run -c cachix use channable-public

Note that the build process via Nix is not (yet) reproducible, which means that different builds of the same source code may result in different Nix derivation hashes.


If you want a convenient way to gather the development dependencies of vaultenv, you can use nix.

The repository contains a default.nix which will get you stack and vault. You can then use this to get a shell with the tools in scope to work on and test vaultenv.

Get this shell with:

$ nix run

Future work

  • Support DNS SRV record lookups, so users only need to specify the host Vault runs on. This integrates vaultenv nicely with Vaults HA setup.
  • Certificate pinning/validation


3-clause BSD. See LICENSE for details.