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How to configure nginx

Once you have installed nginx, you can customise it for your use with the configuration options explained in this guide.

Server blocks

nginx organises sets of site-specific configuration details into server blocks, and by default comes pre-configured for single-site operation. This can either be used “as-is”, or as a starting template
for serving multiple sites.

The single-site configuration serves files out of /var/www/html, as defined by the server block and as provided by /etc/nginx/sites-enabled/default:

server {
        listen 80 default_server;                                                                                    
        listen [::]:80 default_server;

        root /var/www/html;                                                                                          
        # Add index.php to the list if you are using PHP                                                             
        index index.html index.htm index.nginx-debian.html;                                                          
        server_name _;                                                                                               
        location / {                                                                                                 
                # First attempt to serve request as file, then                                                       
                # as directory, then fall back to displaying a 404.                                                  
                try_files $uri $uri/ =404;                                                                           

Even for a single-site configuration, while you can place your website at /var/www/html, you may want to place the website’s files at a different location in your filesystem. For example, if you were hosting from /srv/my-site/html you might edit the above file to look like this:

server {
        listen                80;
        root                  /srv/my-site/html;
        index                 index.html;
        server_name ;

        location / {                                                                                                 
                try_files $uri $uri/ =404;                                                                           

Make sure to create your web root directory structure:

$ sudo mkdir -p /srv/my-site/html
$ sudo chmod -R 755 /srv/my-site/html
$ echo "<html><body><h1>My Site!</h1></body></html>" > /srv/my-site/html/index.html

Then, to make nginx reload its configuration, run:

$ sudo systemctl reload nginx

Check that the settings have taken effect using your web browser:

$ www-browser

Multi-site hosting

Similar to Apache, nginx uses the sites-available and sites-enabled directories for the configurations of multiple websites. Unlike with Apache, you’ll need to handle the enablement manually.

To do that, first create a new server block in a configuration file as above, and save it to /etc/nginx/sites-available/<your-domain>. Make sure to give each site a unique server_name and a different listen port number.

Next, enable the site by creating a symlink to it from the sites-enabled directory:

$ sudo ln -s /etc/nginx/sites-available/<your-domain> /etc/nginx/sites-enabled/

To disable a website, you can delete the symlink in sites-enabled. For example, once you have your new site(s) configured and no longer need the default site configuration:

$ sudo rm /etc/nginx/sites-available/default


While establishing an HTTP website on port 80 is a good starting point (and perhaps adequate for static content), production systems will want HTTPS, such as serving on port 443 with SSL enabled via cert files. A server block with such a configuration might look like:

server {
        listen                443 ssl;
        root                  /var/www/html;
        return                301 https://$host$request_url;

        root                  /srv/our-site/html;                                                                    
        index                 index.html;                                                                            
        server_name ;                                                         
        ssl_protocols         TLSv1 TLSv1.1 TLSv1.2 TLSv1.3;                                                         
        ssl_ciphers           HIGH:!aNULL:!MD5;                                                                      
        ssl_session_timeout   15m;                                                                                   
        location / {                                                                                                 
                try_files $uri $uri/ =404;                                                                           

Thanks to the return 301 line in the above configuration, anyone visiting the site on port 80 via an HTTP URL will get automatically redirected to the equivalent secure HTTPS URL.

Refer to the security - certificates page in this manual for details on how to create and manage certificates, and the OpenSSL page for additional details on configuring and using that service. The GnuTLS section explains how to configure different SSL protocol versions and their associated ciphers.

For example, to generate a self-signed certificate, you might run a set of commands similar to these:

$ sudo openssl genrsa -out 2048                                                                   
$ openssl req -nodes -new -key -out ca.csr                                                        
$ openssl x509 -req -days 365 -in -signkey -out                 
$ mkdir /etc/apache2/ssl                                                                                           
$ cp /etc/apache2/ssl/

Setting up nginx

Beyond the settings outlined above, nginx can be further customised through the use of modules. Please see the next guide in this series for details of how to do that.

Further reading

  • nginx’s beginner’s guide covers use cases such as proxy servers, FastCGI for use with PHP and other frameworks, and optimising the handling of static content.
  • The nginx documentation describes HTTPS server configuration in greater detail, including certificate chains, disambiguating various multi-site certificate situations, performance optimisations and compatibility issues.
  • For Ubuntu-specific nginx questions, ask in the #ubuntu-server IRC channel on

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