I am new to the realm of security and keep hearing about "certificates" containing "keys". But no one has been able to actually explain to me what is actually meant by this.

I assume that the cryptographic key is really just a numeric/alpha-numeric identifier that can be represented in plaintext. Yes?

Furthermore, I assume that a certificate is nothing more than a plaintext file literally containing 1+ of these keys. Yes?

If my assumptions are correct, can someone just please confirm them (I think that would be enormously helpful for future newcomers who are really trying to understand the fundamentals)? And if my assumptions are incorrect or mislead, can someone please correct them for me?


Yes they can be represented in plain text. both your assumptions can be true.

Most certificates usually follow the x509 standard based on RFC5280

A x509 Certificate can be represented in a PEM format - which is plaintext. It can include an entire certificate chain including public key, private key, and root certificates.

there are also other formats that exist like PKCS12 which may require a password as they can hold the private key.

If you are a newcomer, then the Link suggested by @BadSkillz is the best place to start.

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