Managing App Signing Keys

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1 Introduction

To create a mobile app, you need platform-specific app signing keys. A mobile app is signed with a digital signature by its developers before publication. These signatures are used by both app stores and devices to verify that the app is authentic.

Depending on which platforms you want to target, you will need to create the required signing keys. The following sections describe (per platform) how to create those keys.

2 iOS

Unfortunately, signing keys are always required for iOS app deployment, even if you just want to test the app on your personal device and do not want to publish to the Apple App Store. This section describes how to create the required files.

It is convenient to have an Apple Mac available, but it is not a requirement. You do always need an Apple Developer Account.

2.1 On Apple Macs

If you have an Apple Mac available, see the Apple developer documentation on certificate management for information on how to obtain an iOS signing certificate and distribution profile. Next, see the Apple documentation on how to create the required distribution profile.

2.2 On Other Platforms

If you do not have an Apple Mac available, you can create a certificate signing request manually. First, create a private key and certificate signing request with the OpenSSL utilty. The following steps assume you have a Windows machine, but these are equally applicable to Linux machines, which usually have the OpenSSL package pre-installed.

To create a certificate signing request manually, follow these steps:

  1. Download OpenSSL for Windows and install it. You just need to download and install the Win32 OpenSSL Light package (get the latest version at the top of the list).
    • If the setup process complains about a missing VC++ redistributable libraries package, cancel the installation, and first download and install the Visual C++ 2008 Redistributables from the same list of packages (you will be redirected to a Microsoft download page). Install OpenSSL to, for example, C:\OpenSSL (make note of this directory, as you will need it in step 3).
  2. Open a command line interface (CLI) such as Command Prompt. On most systems, you need to do this as an administrator (right-click the Windows start menu link and select Run as Administrator).
  3. Generate a private key with the OpenSSL program that you just installed. Replace C:\OpenSSL with where you installed OpenSSL in step 1. The private key file is stored at the location specified after the -out parameter. The following example will store the file in the root directory of your C: drive (you can change this to anything you want, just select a convenient place and keep track of where the file is stored): "C:\OpenSSL\bin\openssl.exe" genrsa -out "C:\private.key" 2048. The command will output “Generating RSA private key, 2048 bit long modulus” and lots of dots and plus signs.
  4. Generate a certificate signing request (CSR). The file is again stored in the same folder, but can be placed anywhere. Make sure to point to the private key file that was created in the previous step: "C:\OpenSSL\bin\openssl.exe" req -new -key "C:\private.key" -out "C:\ios.csr". The command will print some text and then ask you for several different pieces of information related to your identity. Only the Common Name is relevant. Fill in your own name, so that the certificate is easily recognized later on after uploading it to the Apple Developer Member Center.

The resulting ios.csr file must be uploaded to the Apple Developer Member Center to generate a signed certificate. Follow these steps to do that:

  1. Open the Apple Developer Member Center.
  2. Under iOS, tvOS, watchOS, click Certificates, All.
  3. In the iOS Certificates overview, click the plus button on the top-right. This will open the Add iOS Certificate wizard in the Select Type step with the caption “What type of certificate do you need?”.
    • If the plus button is disabled (greyed out), you do not have enough rights. Ask the company account administrator to give you extra rights.
  4. Under Development, select iOS Development Certificate.
  5. Click Continue. You are now at step About Creating a Certificate Signing Request (CSR). This page describes how to create a certificate signing request on Macs. You can ignore it.
  6. Click Continue again. You are now at step Generate, captioned Generate your certificate.
  7. Under Upload CSR file, click Choose File ….
  8. Select the ios.csr certificate signing request file that you created.
  9. Click Continue. Apple will sign your CSR and make the signed certificate available for download.
    • If you are presented with a message that says that your certificate signing request is pending approval, you do not have enough rights. Ask the company account administrator to approve your certificate signing request.
  10. Click Download and store the .cer file on your disk at a convenient place (for example, next to the private key and CSR files).
  11. Click Done. The iOS Certificates overview page becomes visible again. Your new certificate should be in the list. Here, you can download it again, or you can revoke it (in case you lose the corresponding private key).

2.3 Creating the Required Distribution Profile

Once you have the certificate file, you need to obtain a distribution profile. The Apple Developer Member Center allows you to define an app identifier, a test device, and finally a distribution profile. For more information, check the Apple documentation on how to maintain identifiers, devices and profiles.

3 Android

Android apps can be developed and deployed to Android devices without signing the apps. However, to publish to app stores, signed apps are required. This requires you generate a keystore and then upload it to Adobe PhoneGap Build.

3.1 Generating a Keystore

To generate a keystore for Android, follow these steps:

  1. Install Java JDK either for Mac or Windows. Remember where you installed your JDK, as the JDK bin folder will be used later.
  2. Open your Command Prompt and run your new keytool.exe located in your JDK’s bin folder.
  3. The keytool.exe program can be found in the bin directory of your Java installation (for example: C:\Program Files\Java\jre1.8.0_20\bin):

    keytool location

  4. Type in the following command line prompt while still pointing to the keystore.exe:

    "{{keytool -genkey -v -keystore file.keystore -alias YOUR_ALIAS_NAME -storepass YOUR_ALIAS_PWD -keypass YOUR_ALIAS_PWD -keyalg RSA -validity 36500}}"

    Be sure to replace YOUR_ALIAS_NAME and YOUR_ALIAS_PWD with your alias name and password:

    name and password

  5. Answer the subsequent questions, click Enter after each question, and type yes when asked to confirm your information:

    info questions

  6. Finishing these questions generates a keystore which will be saved into a file.keystore file in your current working directory.