Note : This is not really a question because I already found the answer but since I didn't find it easily here I will post it so that it can benefit others.

Question : How to read a concatenated PEM file as the one used by apache/mod_ssl directive SSLCACertificateFile ?

Answer (original) (source) :

cat $file|awk 'split_after==1{n++;split_after=0} /-----END CERTIFICATE-----/ {split_after=1} {print > "cert" n ".pem"}'

This can leave an empty file if there's a blank line at the end, such as with openssl pkcs7 -outform PEM -in my-chain-file -print_certs. To prevent that, check the length of the line before printing:

cat $file|awk 'split_after==1{n++;split_after=0}
   /-----END CERTIFICATE-----/ {split_after=1}
   {if(length($0) > 0) print > "cert" n ".pem"}' 

Answer 29/03/2016 :

Following @slugchewer answer, csplit might be a clearer option with :

csplit -f cert- $file '/-----BEGIN CERTIFICATE-----/' '{*}'
  • This may be a dumb question, but why would I need to split my pem file? Mar 26, 2016 at 8:06
  • 11
    @AshwaniAgarwal You want to split a PEM file when it contains several certificates and you wish to examine the certificates individually with tools such as openssl that take one certificate to analyze.
    – Law29
    Mar 26, 2016 at 9:13
  • 2
    Additionally, some tools or servers want a combined file with cert and key, while others want them separate.
    – captncraig
    Jan 6, 2017 at 17:55
  • 3
    use "csplit -z" to not leave empty files.
    – Paul M
    Oct 20, 2017 at 10:53
  • 1
    The question appears to assume that everyone uses the Unix/Linux operating systems. I doubt that this is the case. There is nothing wrong with giving information relevant to one OS, but the name of the OS ought to be stated for clarity. Other ways to specify algorithms would include programming languages available on almost all OSs, such as JavaScript, which is available locally, supported by almost all browsers (notable exception: Lynx). Oct 18, 2019 at 11:56

9 Answers 9


The awk snippet works for extracting the different parts, but you still need to know which section is the key / cert / chain. I needed to extract a specific section, and found this on the OpenSSL mailinglist: http://openssl.6102.n7.nabble.com/Convert-pem-to-crt-and-key-files-tp47681p47697.html

# Extract key
openssl pkey -in foo.pem -out foo-key.pem

# Extract all the certs
openssl crl2pkcs7 -nocrl -certfile foo.pem |
  openssl pkcs7 -print_certs -out foo-certs.pem

# Extract the textually first cert as DER
openssl x509 -in foo.pem -outform DER -out first-cert.der
  • 1
    nice command set :) I'll keep it for future use, but in my use case above, I'm working with a cert-only file containing 50+ CA certs ==> no pkey nor chain
    – Cerber
    Mar 20, 2015 at 12:42
  • 3
    I think this is superior to awk solution, let the openssl do the parsing + you get the conversion.
    – Rusty
    Mar 24, 2016 at 16:22
  • 1
    I'm sorry but only pkey command is correct. Second and third don't do what you advertise - they do something else. In some cases the result is good in some cases it can generate mysterious behaviors in consumers. Edited a bit.
    – kubanczyk
    Jun 22, 2017 at 4:46
  • 2
    Any idea how to get the textually 3rd cert in this way?
    – flickerfly
    Sep 6, 2019 at 13:36
  • 1
    @iRas Q: Assuming chain.pem contains multiple certificates in unknown order, which one the command will output? First? Last? Something else? Aug 11, 2021 at 7:41

The split command is available on most systems, and its invocation is likely easier to remember.

If you have a file collection.pem that you want to split into individual-* files, use:

split -p "-----BEGIN CERTIFICATE-----" collection.pem individual-

If you don't have split, you could try csplit:

csplit -s -z -f individual- collection.pem '/-----BEGIN CERTIFICATE-----/' '{*}'

-s skips printing output of file sizes

-z does not create empty files

  • 6
    Sorry, none of my systems (busybox, fedora, centos) show a -p option (nor the manpages I read) on split. Maybe you're using a special binary / package
    – Cerber
    Mar 25, 2016 at 10:25
  • 2
    @Cerber Could try csplit instead... (see edit above) Mar 26, 2016 at 5:33
  • 2
    works fine with csplit !
    – Cerber
    Mar 29, 2016 at 8:52
  • 1
    On FreeBSD I get from csplit: csplit: *}: bad repetition count (but split seems to work) Aug 10, 2017 at 22:11
  • This one worked for me, although the first file was size 0.
    – MDMoore313
    Jan 21, 2021 at 22:53

This was previously answered on StackOverflow :

awk '
  split_after == 1 {n++;split_after=0}
  /-----END CERTIFICATE-----/ {split_after=1}
  {print > "cert" n ".pem"}' < $file

Edit 29/03/2016 : See @slugchewer answer

  • Works on Linux only, fails on FreeBSD.
    – Michael-O
    Jan 7, 2015 at 22:07
  • 4
    Inspired by this I've created an awk script that splits out certs and keys into separate files: gist.github.com/jinnko/d6867ce326e8b6e88975
    – JinnKo
    Mar 23, 2015 at 18:12
  • On Windows, add a caret ^ before > to run it in git-bash. And that < is superfluous.
    – Amit Naidu
    Oct 10, 2022 at 22:07

If you want to get a single certificate out of a multi-certificate PEM bundle, try:

$ openssl crl2pkcs7 -nocrl -certfile INPUT.PEM | \
    openssl pkcs7 -print_certs | \
    awk '/subject.*CN=host.domain.com/,/END CERTIFICATE/'
  • The first two openssl commands will process a PEM file and and spit it back out with pre-pended "subject:" and "issuer:" lines before each cert. If your PEM is already formatted this way, all you need is the final awk command.
  • The awk command will spit out the individual PEM matching the CN (common name) string.

source1 , source2

  • I don't see this in your source. Beside, PEM are Base64 encoded you won't find text like "subject", "CN", ... with awk
    – Cerber
    May 12, 2016 at 9:29
  • 1
    Yes, this doesn't work for every type of PEM. If you extract a P7B to PEM using openssl, it will have a subject line listed before each certificate. Or you can modify to any string you segment your PEM file with.
    – cmcginty
    May 12, 2016 at 9:54
  • Updated answer to handle when PEM does not contain "subject"
    – cmcginty
    May 13, 2016 at 1:22

If you are handling full chain certificates (i.e. the ones generated by letsencrypt / certbot etc), which are a concatenation of the certificate and the certificate authority chain, you can use bash string manipulation.

For example:

# content of /path/to/fullchain.pem
some long base64 string containing
the certificate

another base64 string
containing the first certificate
in the authority chain

another base64 string
containing the second certificate
in the authority chain
(there might be more...)

To extract the certificate and the certificate authority chain into variables:

# load the certificate into a variable
CHAIN=$(echo -e "${FULLCHAIN#*-----END CERTIFICATE-----}" | sed '/./,$!d')


Instead of using awk or openssl (which are powerful tools but not always available, i.e. in Docker Alpine images), you can use bash string manipulation.

"${FULLCHAIN%%-----END CERTIFICATE-----*}-----END CERTIFICATE-----": from end of the content of FULLCHAIN, return the longest substring match, then concat -----END CERTIFICATE----- as it get stripped away. The * matches all the characters after -----END CERTIFICATE-----.

$(echo -e "${FULLCHAIN#*-----END CERTIFICATE-----}" | sed '/./,$!d'): from the beginning of the content of FULLCHAIN, return the shortest substring match, then strip leading new lines. Likewise, the * matches all the characters before -----END CERTIFICATE-----.

For a quick reference (while you can find more about string manipulation in bash here):

${VAR#substring}= the shortest substring from the beginning of the content of VAR

${VAR%substring}= the shortest substring from the end of the content of VAR

${VAR##substring}= the longest substring from the beginning of the content of VAR

${VAR%%substring}= the longest substring from the end of the content of VAR

  • 1
    For the less bash savvy, when you echo these variables out surround the variable with quotes to preserve the line breaks the way you are used to seeing them. I remember when that wasn't so obvious to me. Fabio, sweet use of bash string manipulation!
    – flickerfly
    Sep 6, 2019 at 13:46

Also worth noting that PEM files are just a collection of keys/certificates inside BEGIN/END blocks, so it's pretty easy to just cut/paste if it's just a single file with one or two interesting entities...


Hmmm...almost same way I prepared the solution ( as suggested y @Cerber ) without realizing that this situation seems many people have. My solution follow almost same logic but use some more basic commands:

My all certs are in file: certin.pem

while read line
    if echo $line | grep END; then
    echo $line >> certout$c.pem
    c=`expr $c + 1`
     echo $line
     echo $line >> certout$c.pem
done < /tmp/certin.pem

This basically keep writing in a file until encounters "END" and then start writing to another file in incremented way. This way you will have "N" number of output files (certout0.pem, certout1.pem and so on..) files depending on how many certificates are there in your input pem file ( certin.pem ).


You can use awk as follows:

awk '/-----BEGIN CERTIFICATE-----/ {f=1} /-----END CERTIFICATE-----/ {print; f=0} f' cert_and_key.pem
awk '/-----BEGIN PRIVATE KEY-----/ {f=1} /-----END PRIVATE KEY-----/ {print; f=0} f' cert_and_key.pem

The command awk '/hello/ {f=1} /world/ {print; f=0} f' some_file will print all lines in some_file that between the lines hello and world, inclusive.

  • 2
    As already shown in several other answers, awk '/matchbegin/,/matchend/' is an easier way to print such a block. But your method only separates (all) certs from privatekey(s), which was not the question; this question wants to separate multiple certs from each other and your answer doesn't help at all for that. Feb 21, 2022 at 7:06

full.pem can be easily splited into cert.pem and chain.pem using grep and tail:

grep -B 1000 -m 1 -F -e "-----END CERTIFICATE-----" full.pem > cert.pem
tail -n +2 full.pem | grep -A 1000 -m 1 -F -e "-----BEGIN CERTIFICATE-----" > chain.pem

For cert.pem: search the first string -----END CERTIFICATE----- and take all before -B 1000 then output in cert.pem.

For chain.pem: skip the first line with tail -n +2 then search the first string -----BEGIN CERTIFICATE----- and take all after -A 1000 then output in chain.pem.

  • Sorry Nicolas, this is not about "full chain file" but more about a stack of unrelated PEM like the one required by Apache's SSLCaCertificateFile
    – Cerber
    Sep 15, 2022 at 14:44

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