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TLS Routing

  • Available for:
  • OpenSource
  • Team
  • Cloud
  • Enterprise

In TLS routing mode Teleport proxy multiplexes all client connections on a single TLS port.

With TLS routing, cluster administrators can simplify network configurations since proxy only listens on one port. All connections are authenticated with mutual TLS and users are able to tunnel protocols that may be blocked on the network such as SSH.

To implement TLS routing, Teleport uses SNI (Server Name Indication) and ALPN (Application-Level Protocol Negotiation) TLS extensions.

Support for TLS Routing behind layer 7 (HTTP/HTTPS) load balancers and reverse proxies is available starting from Teleport 13.0.

How it works

The Teleport Proxy Service listens for all client connections on its web_listen_addr by default:

  web_listen_addr: ""

All Teleport clients including SSH, web browser, kubectl, database and reverse tunnel clients establish a TLS tunnel to the proxy's web port and indicate the protocol they're requesting using SNI and ALPN TLS extensions.

Upon accepting a new connection, the proxy inspects the SNI/ALPN value in the TLS handshake and forwards the connection to appropriate backend service.

Local proxy

Clients like psql or mysql implement TLS handshake as a part of their protocol-specific connection negotiation phase (aka STARTTLS).

To support these clients, as well as clients that do support TLS but don't allow setting custom ALPN values, Teleport's tsh client includes ability to start a local TLS routing aware proxy.

Such clients connect to the local proxy instead of Teleport proxy directly. The local proxy establishes a TLS connection to the Teleport proxy with the proper SNI/ALPN values set and tunnels the client's connection over it.

In most cases, clients handle TLS routing transparently when establishing connection. For example, tsh client starts local proxy and sets appropriate SNI/ALPN values automatically. For some clients, like native/GUI database clients instead of tsh db connect, the user needs to start the local proxy so these clients can connect to it.


TLS routing

Let's take a look at how each protocol Teleport supports implements TLS routing.


Teleport client tsh, when connecting to an SSH node, first dials Teleport proxy over TLS and requests teleport-proxy-ssh ALPN protocol.

No local proxy is started in this case as tsh uses this TLS connection as a transport to establish the SSH connection.


To support standard OpenSSH client, Teleport provides a tsh proxy ssh command which can be used as a ProxyCommand.

Similarly to tsh ssh, tsh proxy ssh establishes a TLS tunnel to Teleport proxy with teleport-proxy-ssh ALPN protocol, which ssh then connects over.

See the OpenSSH client guide for details on how it's configured.

Reverse tunnels

Reverse tunnel workers within the Teleport SSH, Application, and Database Services, as well as for trusted clusters, open a TLS tunnel to the cluster's Proxy Service with the teleport-reversetunnel ALPN protocol. The workers then dial SSH over the tunnel, establishing a secure connection.


Kubernetes client kubectl uses HTTPS API and TLS handshake to talk to the API server.

As such, it is not possible to request a custom ALPN protocol using kubectl. Instead, Teleport leverages SNI and sets a ServerName prefixed with kube-teleport-proxy-alpn. when generating a kubeconfig file during tsh kube login:

apiVersion: v1
kind: Config
- cluster:
    certificate-authority-data: ...
  name: example


The tsh db connect command executes an appropriate database client for the database you're connecting to.

In TLS routing mode, tsh starts a local proxy which database client connections are tunneled through. The local proxy uses ALPN values like teleport-mysql depending on the database. The proxy is shut down when the database session ends.

Native and GUI clients

For the native or graphical database clients to work with TLS routing, they must be connecting to the local proxy instead of Teleport proxy directly.

Teleport provides a tsh proxy db command to launch a local database proxy:

tsh proxy db example-db

See GUI clients guide for a usage example.

Web UI, apps and desktops

Application access, desktop access and Teleport web UI are served by the Teleport proxy's web listener and don't require a local proxy or any special ALPN/SNI negotiation. These web connections use standard http1.1 and h2 protocols for ALPN.

Working with layer 7 load balancers or reverse proxies

Starting from version 13.0, TLS routing can now be enabled allowing the Teleport Proxy Service to serve a single port behind a layer 7 load balancer or reverse proxy.

It is expected that the layer 7 load balancer or reverse proxy will terminate TLS with a public certificate, such as using ACM for AWS ALB. This means that the Proxy Service does not require a Web TLS certificate using http_keypair or acme.

Teleport clients automatically detect whether the Teleport Proxy Service is behind a layer 7 load balancer or a reverse proxy. In such cases, the client initiates a connection upgrade and then sends the TLS routing request through the upgraded connection.

The initial client implementation sends a Teleport-custom upgrade 'alpn', which uses the same connection upgrade principle as WebSockets. Starting from version 15.1, Teleport clients will send native WebSocket upgrades to extend its compatibility with more load balancers and reverse proxies.

Non-Teleport clients should require local proxies that can perform the special connection upgrades.

Let's take a closer look at how each protocol functions in this configuration.


When transporting the SSH protocol over TLS routing, tsh make connection upgrades seamlessly. This is applicable to tsh ssh/scp commands, as well as tsh proxy ssh when connected via ProxyCommand using OpenSSH clients.


The tsh proxy kube command creates a local proxy and an ephemeral kubeconfig for Kubernetes clients like kubectl. The local proxy generates a self-signed certificate to secure local communications with the Kubernetes clients.

When forwarding the requests to the Proxy Service, the local proxy performs necessary connection upgrades and sets the required SNI for the TLS handshake.

The tsh kubectl and tsh kube exec commands also start a local proxy automatically when connection upgrades are required.


In TLS routing mode, tsh db connect starts a local proxy which database client connection is tunneled through. The local proxy initiates a connection to the Proxy Service with the connection upgrade then uses database specific ALPN values for the TLS handshake.

Similarly, native and GUI clients can connect through tsh proxy db which starts a local proxy that handles the connection upgrades.

Web UI and Desktops

The Teleport Web UI is fully functional with standard browsers, without any special ALPN/SNI values or connection upgrades.


For both HTTP and TCP apps, tsh proxy app can launch a local proxy that handles the connection upgrades and sets appropriate ALPN value for TLS routing.

tsh CLI commands for accessing Cloud APIs, e.g., tsh aws, transparently start a local proxy that performs connection upgrades for TLS routing. To start local proxies for native applications, you can use tsh proxy aws.

Client source IPs

When proxy_service.trust_x_forwarded_for is set to true, the Proxy service will take the client source IPs from the "X-Forwarded-For" headers set by the load balancer or the reverse proxy. This also applies to TLS routing requests that utilize connection upgrades, since they are essentially HTTP requests.

To prevent IP spoofing, only a single IP address is expected in the "X-Forwarded-For" headers per request. Any requests with multiple IP addresses will be rejected.


Does TLS routing work behind a layer 4 load balancer that terminates TLS?

Yes. When the Teleport Proxy Service is behind a layer 4 load balancer that terminates TLS, Teleport clients handle the situation similarly to when a layer 7 load balancer is present, performing the connection upgrades.

Note that the load balancer must forward the TLS layer to the Teleport Proxy Service. For example, an AWS Network Load Balancer (NLB) must use "TLS" protocol for the target group.

Will TLS routing work behind my reverse proxy?

Starting version 15.1, TLS routing is compatible with any reverse proxies that supports WebSocket.

For Teleport version before 15.1, the reverse proxy must support custom connection upgrades and long-lived connections.

You can set up a Teleport Proxy Service behind the reverse proxy and run the following command to test the connection:

$ curl -v https://<>/webapi/connectionupgrade -H "Connection: Upgrade" -H "Upgrade: alpn-ping" --no-alpn

For a successful upgrade, the server should return "101 Switching Protocols" with the requested upgrade type and you should also get some binary output in about 30 seconds running the curl command:

< HTTP/1.1 101 Switching Protocols
< Connection: Upgrade
< Upgrade: alpn-ping
< X-Teleport-Upgrade: alpn-ping
Warning: Binary output can mess up your terminal.

How can I access Kubernetes clusters without using tsh proxy kube?

Local proxies are required when the Teleport Proxy Service is behind layer 7 load balancers or reverse proxies.

One alternative to tsh proxy kube is to use tsh kubectl which starts a local proxy automatically when connection upgrades are required.

To completely avoid local proxies, either use layer 4 load balancers in TCP mode instead of layer 7 load balancers, or configure your Teleport Proxy Service in separate port mode and use a separate Kubernetes port that is not behind layer 7 load balancers.

Next steps

  • See migration guide to learn how to upgrade an existing cluster to use TLS routing.
  • Read through TLS routing design document RFD.