Running Drupal using nginx
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Nginx configuration for running Drupal


This is an example configuration from running Drupal using nginx. Which is a high-performance non-blocking HTTP server.

Nginx doesn't use a module like Apache does for PHP support. The Apache module approach simplifies a lot of things because what you have in reality is nothing less than a PHP engine running on top of the HTTP server.

Instead nginx uses FastCGI to proxy all requests for PHP processing to a php fastcgi daemon that is waiting for incoming requests and then handles the php file being requested.

Although the fcgi approach is more cumbersome to set up it provides a greater degree of control over which actions are permitted, hence greater security.

This configuration uses a lot of stuff stolen from both yhager, omega8cc and Brian Mercer configurations. I've incorporated some tidbits of advice I've gotten from both the nginx mailing list and the nginx Wiki.


The configuration has two possible choices.

  1. A non drush aware version that uses wget/curl to run cron and updating the site using update.php, i.e., via a web interface.

  2. A drush aware version that runs cron and updates the site using drush.

    To get drush to run cron jobs the easiest way is to define your own site aliases. See the example aliases file example.aliases.drushrc.php that comes under the examples directory in the drush distribution.

    Example: You create the aliases for and, with aliases @excom and @exnet respectively.

    Your crontab should contain something like:

    COLUMNS 80
    */50 * * * * /path/to/drush @excom cron > /dev/null
    1 2 * * * /path/to/drush @exnet cron > /dev/null

    This means that the cron job for will be run every 50 minutes and the cron job for will be run every day at 02:01 hours. Check the section 7 of the Drupal INSTALL.txt for further details about running cron.

    Note that the /path/to/drush is the path to the shell script wrapper that comes with drush not to to the drush.php script. If using drush.php then add php in front of the /path/to/drush.php.

Drupal 7

The example configuration can be used in a drupal 7 or drupal 6 site. In drupal 7 there are plenty of new great things. Not only is image handling in core. But also there's no need for a regex with capturing for appending the query string. Therefore the rewrite rule for the @drupal location is much simpler.

For using the drupal 7 configuration, uncomment out the:

   include sites-available/drupal7.conf;

line. And comment out:

   include sites-available/drupal.conf;

Note that you can use the drupal 6 config with drupal 7. But the drupal 7 config is faster since there's no regex involved in the rewrite and also the location where imagecache files are stored has changed in drupal 7. The drupal 6 configuration has no support for the new location. So they're interchangable only if don't use imagecache.

General Features

  1. The use of two server directives to do the domain name rewriting, usually redirecting to or vice-versa. As recommended in nginx Wiki Pitfalls page.

  2. Clean URL support.

  3. Access control for cron.php. It can only be requested from a set of IPs addresses you specify. This is for the non drush aware version.

  4. Support for the Boost module.

  5. Support for virtual hosts. The file.

  6. Support for Sitemaps RSS feeds.

  7. Support for the Filefield Nginx Progress module for the upload progress bar.

  8. Use of non-capturing regex for all directives that are not rewrites that need to use URI components.1

  9. IPv6 and IPv4 support.

  10. Support for private file serving in drupal.

  11. Use of UNIX sockets in /tmp/ subdirectory with permissions 700, i.e., accessible only to the user running the process. You may consider the init script that I make available here on github that launches the PHP FastCGI daemon and spawns new instances as required.

  12. End of the expensive 404s that Drupal usually handles when using Apache with the default .htaccess.

  13. Possibility of using Apache as a backend for dealing with PHP. Meaning using Nginx as reverse proxy.

Secure HTTP aka SSL/TLS support

  1. By default and since version 0.8.21 only SSLv3 and TLSv1 are supported. The anonymous Diffie-Hellman (ADH) key exchange and MD5 message autentication algorithms are not supported. They can be enabled explicitly but due to their insecure nature they're discouraged. The same goes for SSLv2.

  2. SSL/TLS shared cache for SSL session resume support of 10 MB. SSL session timeout is set to 10 minutes.

  3. Note that for session resumption to work the setting of the SSL socket as default, at least, is required. Meaning a listen directive like this:

    listen [::]:443 ssl default_server;

    This is so because session resumption takes place before any TLS extension is enabled, namely Server Name Indication. The ClientHello message requests a session ID from a given IP address (server). Therefore the default server setting is required.

    Another option, the one I've chosen here, is to move the ssl_session_cache directive to the http context setting. Of course the downside of this approach is that the ssl_session_cache settings are the same for all configured virtual hosts.

Security Features

  1. The use of a default configuration file to block all illegal Host HTTP header requests.

  2. Access control using HTTP Basic Auth for install.php and other Drupal sensitive files. The configuration expects a password file named .htpasswd-users in the top nginx configuration directory, usually /etc/nginx. I provide an empty file. This is also for the non drush aware version.

    If you're on Debian or any of its derivatives like Ubuntu you need the apache2-utils package installed. Then create your password file by issuing:

    htpasswd -d -b -c .htpasswd-users <user> <password>

    You should delete this command from your shell history afterwards with history -d <command number> or alternatively omit the -b switch, then you'll be prompted for the password.

    This creates the file (there's a -c switch). For adding additional users omit the -c.

    Of course you can rename the password file to whatever you want, then accordingly change its name in drupal_boost.conf.

  3. Support for X-Frame-Options HTTP header to avoid Clickjacking attacks.

  4. Protection of the upload directory. You can try to bypass the UNIX file utility or the PHP Fileinfo extension and upload a fake jpeg:

    echo -e "\xff\xd8\xff\xe0\n<?php echo 'hello'; ?>" > test.jpg

    If you run php test.jpg you get 'hello'. The fact is that all files with php extension are either matched by a particular location, as is the case for index.php, xmlrpc.php, update.php and install.php or match the last directive of the configuration:

    location ~* ^.+\.php$ {
      return 404; 

    Returning a 404 (Not Found) for every PHP file not matched by all the previous locations.

  5. Use of Strict Transport Security for enhanced security. It forces during the specified period for the configured domain to be contacted only over HTTPS. Requires a modern browser to be of use, i.e., Chrome/Chromium, Firefox 4 or Firefox with NoScript.

  6. DoS prevention with a low number of connections by client allowed: 16. This number can be adjusted as you see fit.

Private file handling

This config assumes that private files are stored under a directory named private. I suggest sites/default/files/private or sites/<sitename>/files/private but can be anywhere inside the site root as long as you keep the top level directory name private. If you want to have a different name for the top level then replace in the location ~* private in drupal.conf and/or drupal7.conf the name of your private files top directory.

Example: Calling the top level private files directory protected instead of private.

   location ~* protected {

Now any attempt to access the files under this directory directly will return a 404.

Note that this practice it's not what's usually recommended. The usual practice involves setting up a directory outside of files directory and giving write permissions to the web server user. While that might be a simple alternative in the sense that doesn't require to tweak the web server configuration, I think it to be less advisable, in the sense that now there's another directory that is writable by the server.

I prefer to use a directory under files, which is the only one that is writable by the web server, and use the above location (protected or private) to block access by the client to it.

Fast Private File Transfer

Nginx implements Lighty X-Sendfile using the header: X-Accel-Redirect.

This allows fast private file transfers. I've developed a module tailored for Nginx: nginx_accel_redirect.

Connections per client and DoS Mitigation

The connection zone defined, called arbeit allows for 16 connections to be established for each client. That seems to me to be a reasonable number. It could happen that you have a setup with lots of CDNs (see this issue) or extensive domain sharding and the number of allowed connections by client can be greater than 16, specially when using Nginx as a reverse proxy.

It may happen that 16 is not enough and you start getting a lot of 503 Service Unavailable status codes as a reply from the server. In that case tweak the value of limit_conn until you have a working setup. This number must be as small as possible as a way to mitigate the potential for DoS attacks.

Nginx as a Reverse Proxy: Proxying to Apache for PHP

If you absolutely need to use the rather bad habit of deploying web apps relying on .htaccess, or you just want to use Nginx as a reverse proxy. The config allows you to do so. Note that this provides some benefits over using only Apache, since Nginx is much faster than Apache. Furthermore you can use the proxy cache and/or use Nginx as a load balancer.


  1. Move the old /etc/nginx directory to /etc/nginx.old.

  2. Clone the git repository from github:

    git clone

  3. Edit the sites-available/ configuration file to suit your requirements. Namely replacing with your domain.

  4. Setup the PHP handling method. It can be:

    • Upstream HTTP server like Apache with mod_php. To use this method comment out the include upstream_phpcgi.conf; line in nginx.conf and uncomment the lines:

      include reverse_proxy.conf;
      include upstream_phpapache.conf;

      Now you must set the proper address and port for your backend(s) in the upstream_phpapache.conf. By default it assumes the loopback interface on port 8080. Adjust accordingly to reflect your setup.

      Comment out all fastcgi_pass directives in either drupal_boost.conf or drupal_boost_drush.conf, depending which config layout you're using. Uncomment out all the proxy_pass directives. They have a comment around them, stating these instructions.

    • FastCGI process using php-cgi. In this case an init script is required. This is how the server is configured out of the box. It uses UNIX sockets. You can use TCP sockets if you prefer.

    • PHP FPM, this requires you to configure your fpm setup, in Debian/Ubuntu this is done in the /etc/php5/fpm directory.

    Check that the socket is properly created and is listening. This can be done with netstat, like this for UNIX sockets:

    netstat --unix -l

    netstat -t -l

    It should display the PHP CGI socket.

    Note that the default socket type is UNIX and the config assumes it to be listening on unix:/tmp/php-cgi/php-cgi.socket and that you should change to reflect your setup by editing upstream_phpcgi.conf.

  5. Create the /etc/nginx/sites-enabled directory and enable the virtual host using one of the methods described below.

  6. Reload Nginx:

    /etc/init.d/nginx reload

  7. Check that your site is working using your browser.

  8. Remove the /etc/nginx.old directory.

  9. Done.

Enabling and Disabling Virtual Hosts

I've created a shell script nginx_ensite that lives here on github for quick enabling and disabling of virtual hosts.

If you're not using that script then you have to manually create the symlinks from sites-enabled to sites-available. Only the virtual hosts configured in sites-enabled will be available for Nginx to serve.

Acessing the php-fpm status and ping pages

You can get the status and a ping pages for the running instance of php-fpm. There's a php_fpm_status.conf file with the configuration for both features.

  • the status page at /fpm-status;

  • the ping page at /ping.

For obvious reasons these pages are acessed only from a given set of IP addresses. In the suggested configuration only from localhost and non-routable IPs of the network.

To enable the status and ping pages uncomment the line in the virtual host configuration file.

Getting the latest Nginx packaged for Debian or Ubuntu

I maintain a debian repository with the latest version of Nginx. This is packaged for Debian unstable or testing. The instructions for using the repository are presented on this page.

It may work or not on Ubuntu. Since Ubuntu seems to appreciate more finding semi-witty names for their releases instead of making clear what's the status of the software included, meaning. Is it stable? Is it testing? Is it unstable? The package may work with your currently installed environment or not. I don't have the faintest idea which release to advise. So you're on your own. Generally the APT machinery will sort out for you any dependencies issues that might exist.

Ad and Aditional modules support

The config is quite tight in the sense that if you have something that is not contemplated in the exact match locations, /index.php, /install.php, etc, and you try to make it work it will fail. Some Drupal modules like ad provide a PHP script. This script needs to be invoked. In the case of the ad module you must add the following location block:

   location = /sites/all/modules/ad/serve.php {
      fastcgi_pass phpcgi;

Of course this assumes that you installed the ad module such that is usable for all sites. To make it usable when targeting a single site, e.g.,, insert instead:

   location = /sites/ {
      fastcgi_pass phpcgi;
Proceed similarly for other modules requiring the usage of PHP
scripts like `ad`.   


There's a nginx group for sharing and learning more about using nginx with Drupal.

Monitoring nginx

I use Monit for supervising the nginx daemon. Here's my configuration for nginx.

Caveat emptor

You should always test the configuration with nginx -t to see if everything is correct. Only after a successful should you reload nginx. On Debian and any of its derivatives you can also test the configuration by invoking the init script as: /etc/init.d/nginx testconfig.


The great bunch at the Nginx group on They've helped me sort out the snafus on this config and offered insights on how to improve it.

My other nginx configs on github