Launch processes with Vault secrets in the environment
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Latest commit 1dd681f Nov 1, 2018


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.

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 it's 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 it's 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 - run programs with secrets from HashiCorp Vault

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

Available options:
  -h,--help                Show this help text
  --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
  --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.
  --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


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 this 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 `#`.

This is mostly useful for use 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.

All while running Vaultenv without any CLI args.

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.

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.