The PEM format is the most common format that Certificate Authorities issue certificates in. PEM certificates usually have extensions such as .pem, .crt, .cer, and .key. They are Base64 encoded ASCII files and contain “—–BEGIN CERTIFICATE—–” and “—–END CERTIFICATE—–” statements. Server certificates, intermediate certificates, and private keys can all be put into the PEM format.
Apache and other similar servers use PEM format certificates. Several PEM certificates, and even the private key can be included in one file, one below the other, but most platforms, such as Apache, expect the certificates and private key to be in separate files.
The DER format is simply a binary form of a certificate instead of the ASCII PEM format. It sometimes has a file extension of .der but it often has a file extension of .cer so the only way to tell the difference between a DER .cer file and a PEM .cer file is to open it in a text editor and look for the BEGIN/END statements. All types of certificates and private keys can be encoded in DER format. DER is typically used with Java platforms. The SSL Converter can only convert certificates to DER format.
The PKCS#7 or P7B format is usually stored in Base64 ASCII format and has a file extension of .p7b or .p7c. P7B certificates contain “—–BEGIN PKCS7—–” and “—–END PKCS7—–” statements. A P7B file only contains certificates and chain certificates, not the private key.
The PKCS#12 or PFX format is a binary format for storing the server certificate, any intermediate certificates, and the private key in one encryptable file. PFX files usually have extensions such as .pfx and .p12. PFX files are typically used on Windows machines to import and export certificates and private keys.