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This is yet another guide describing how to setup private write/push-enable HTTP-accessible Git repositories on Dreamhost using Git's git-http-backend (a.k.a git's Smart HTTP protocol).



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Private GIT repositories (on DreamHost)

Author: Tiago Alves Macambira
Licence:Creative Commons By-SA

1   Introduction

This is yet another guide describing how to setup private HTTP-accessible Git repositories on Dreamhost using Git's git-http-backend (a.k.a git's Smart HTTP protocol). While similar guides can easily be found by the thousands in the Web (I've listed some of them in the References section), I've found that some guides have outdated information or that the setup described in them could be improved. Thus, this guide tries to update, improve and consolidate the information dispersed in such sources.

Some might ask "Why on Earth would someone opt to create its own private Git hosting solution while better offerings are available from sites such as, let's say, GitHub?" As the guy from RailsTips pointed out in one of his articles, sometimes you don't need or don't want to "share" a project with anyone but yourself and paying for a GitHub-like service might just not make sense. If that's your case, than this guide is for you.

While aimed at a Dreamhost-hosted accounts and the environment such accounts have as of 2010-10-17, I believe the process described here can be used in other hosting providers as well.

It is important to highlight that one of the objectives of this guide is to describe a process that:

  • should be easy to perform by just renaming or editing this guide's companion files and
  • once complete, can be easily be reused to generate other "collection of repositories", with different URLs and passwords.

1.1   Assumptions and requirements

  • No WebDav or SSH support is needed nor used for serving Git repositories.

    Once again, the focus is on HTTP access using git-http-backend. As for SSH, guides describing how to setup a similar environment for SSH-accessible repositories can be found easily on the web.

  • Repositories will be password protected and available for both reading and writing.

    As we will explain later, in the Setup git-http-backend for your repositories section, we will have to password-protect our repositories in order to be able to git push to them through HTTP.

  • We will stick to a DRY (Don't Repeat Yourself) philosophy.

    Thus, we want configuration options to be repeated in as few places as possible. We will use environment variables in Apache configuration files to do this. If this makes you uncomfortable, well, you can always manually spread configuration options all over the place. :-) Your call.

  • The web server being used is Apache.

    Well, that is what Dreamhost allows me to use so that is going to be the focus of this guide. While it should not be that difficult to port the settings here to something suitable for another web server, describing how to do it is out of the scope of this guide.

  • We are able to run CGI scripts.

    DreamHosts puts some restrictions on how a CGI script can be executed and the environment where it runs. We will abide to those restrictions.

  • ScriptAlias is not allowed by the web server.

    The instructions given in git-http-backend manpage will not work as they use ScriptAlias. The idea is to use common CGI scripts and mod_rewrite instead, roughly following the ideas presented in .

  • SuExec is used to run CGI scripts.

    Notice that, as stated in DreamHost page on CGI, SuExec "wipes out all environment variables that don't start with HTTP_". All our env. vars. will have this prefix.

  • Your private git repositories will be accessible in a subpath of your domain.

    The idea is that your private git repos will be available in an address such as http://www.example.tld/corporate-git/. Adapting the instructions below so you can serve them from the root of a domain of its own, say http://corporate-git.example.tld should be fairly simple.

1.2   About this document

This document and its companion files are initially hosted on

The file README.rst is generated from README-real.rst. So, if you plan on doing any updates or fixes, README-real.rst is the file you ought to edit. Just run make afterwards in order to get README.rst updated as well. This is done because I wanted to use GitHub's automatic rendering of README files but I didn't want to just paste the contents of the companion files in this README.rst and risk getting the Guide and files out of sync. Unfortunately, GitHub does not allow the use of RestructuredText's include directive, so I had to fake it -- and here is the reason why we have README-real.rst.

This guide is distributed under the Creative Common BY-SA license while companion files are distributed under a MIT License.

2   Installation

All the commands and instructions given bellow should be performed on the machine in Dreamhost where your account is installed. So ssh to it and let's start.

2.1   Install Git

Well, this should probably be a non-issue since git comes pre-installed on most Dreamhost machines. To verify it:

$ git --version
git version

As you see, the box that serves my domain in DreamHost has git version installed. Anything greater than 1.6.6 shall do.

If you don't have git installed in you box, have an old version or if for some other reason your need to compile git, follow Craig's instructions in Hosting Git Repositories on Dreamhost.

2.2   Create the directory where your repositories will live

It should reside somewhere not accessible from the web or directly served by the web server. We will tell Apache and git-http-backend how to properly and securely serve those repositories later. For now, we want them protected from third parties.

Say we decided to store them in ~/private_repos/. We will refer to this directly by GIT_REPOS_ROOT in the rest of this guide. Create this directory and protect it against file system access from others:

export GIT_REPOS_ROOT="~/private_repos/"
chmod 711 ${GIT_REPOS_ROOT}

2.3   Setup the bare repository creation script

We will use the script, presented bellow, to create new repositories [1] [2] . Remember to modify the value of the GIT_REPOS_ROOT variable in it to match our setup:


# this script is based on code from the following blog post
# and

set -e

# Please, configure a default GIT_REPOS_ROOT to match your config

DEFAULT_DESCRIPTION='no description :('

# describe how the script works
  echo "Usage: $0 [ -h ] [ -r directory] [ -d description ] [ -n projectname ]"
  echo ""
  echo "If no projectname is given, the name of the parent folder will be used as project name."
  echo ""
  echo "  -r directory   : (root) directory holding your git repositories"
  echo "  -d description : description for gitweb"
  echo "  -h             : print this screen"
  echo "  -n name        : name of the project (should end in .git)"
  echo ""


# evaluate the options passed on the command line
while getopts r:d:n:h option
  case "${option}"
    h) usage
      exit 1;;

# check if repositories directory is given and is accessible
if [ -z $GIT_REPOS_ROOT  ]; then
    exit 1
if ! [ -d $GIT_REPOS_ROOT  ]; then
    echo "ERROR: '${GIT_REPOS_ROOT}' is not a directory"
    echo ""
    exit 1

# check if name of repository is given. if not, use folder name
if [ -z $REPONAME ]; then
  REPONAME=$(basename $PWD)

# Add .git at and if needed
if ! ( echo $REPONAME | grep -q '\.git$'); then

# Ready to go

mkdir ${REP_DIR}
pushd ${REP_DIR}
git --bare init
git --bare update-server-info
cp hooks/post-update.sample hooks/post-update
chmod a+x hooks/post-update
echo $DESCRIPTION > description
# This mark the repository as exportable.
# For more info refer to git-http-backend manpage
touch git-daemon-export-ok
exit 0

Move or copy this file to an appropriate path (say, your home directory would be fine) and turn it into an executable:

chmod u+x ~/
[1]This script is based in
[2]Other guides prefer to use something similar wrapped as a Bash function but I'd rather have it as a script

2.4   Apache Setup

Now, let's configure Apache to securely serve those repositories.

2.4.1   Setup your .htaccess

As we stated in Assumptions and requirements, we want to serve our files from http://www.example.tld/corporate-git/. So, go to the directory holding your domain files (~/www.example.tld, in our example), create a corporate-git directory in it if it doesn't exist yet and create a .htaccess file in it:

cd ~/www.example.tld
mkdir corporate-git
cd corporate-git
export GIT_WEB_DIR=`pwd` # we will use it in later steps
touch .htaccess
chmod 644 .htaccess

Now, edit this .htaccess contents to match the text presented bellow or just copy the contents of the file model-htaccess into it and adapt it to match your config:

Options +Indexes

# GIT BEGIN ###########################################################

SetEnv HTTP_GIT_PROJECT_ROOT /home/user/private_repos/
SetEnv HTTP_GITWEB_CONFIG /home/user/private_repos/gitweb_config.perl

RewriteEngine On
DirectoryIndex  gitweb_wrapper.cgi
# The following two rules can be used instead of DirectoryIndex
#RewriteRule ^$  gitweb_wrapper.cgi/ [L,E=SCRIPT_URL:/$1]
#RewriteRule ^([?].*)$ gitweb_wrapper.cgi/ [L,E=SCRIPT_URL:/$1]

# Everything else that is not a file is forwarded to git-http-backend
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-f
RewriteRule ^([^?].+)$ git-http-backend-private.cgi/$1

# GIT END ############################################################

# AUTHENTICATION BEGIN ###############################################
AuthType Digest
AuthName "Private Git Repository Access"
# AuthDigestDomain /corporate-git/
AuthUserFile /home/user/private_repos/.htpasswd
Require valid-user
# AUTHENTICATION END  ################################################

For now we will focus on the area between the # GIT BEGIN and # GIT END blocks. Modify HTTP_GIT_PROJECT_ROOT to match you setup: it should point to the full path where you store your private repositories. Just expand the value of GIT_REPOS_ROOT to get this information:

$ (cd ${GIT_REPOS_ROOT}; pwd)

So, in our example, HTTP_GIT_PROJECT_ROOT value should be set to /home/user/private_repos/, as presented in the example above.

2.4.2   Setup git-http-backend for your repositories

Not we will create a CGI script that will invoke git-http-backend. In your .htaccess this script is referred as git-http-backend-private.cgi. Create it in the same directory where your .htaccess is by coping the one that comes with this guide to that directory or by creating an empty file with the following contents:

export GIT_PROJECT_ROOT=${HTTP_GIT_PROJECT_ROOT:?HTTP_GIT_PROJECT_ROOT env. variable not set. Aborting.}

Turn it into an executable file:

chmod 755 git-http-backend-private.cgi


You may need to update the path to git-http-backend executable if git was installed in a non-default location.

And that's it. No need to setup anything: all the settings this scripts are passed to it through environment variables set by Apache and defined in the .htaccess file.

From this point on you should be able to create repositories from the command line and access them through HTTP, but they will be read-only. As stated in git-http-backend manpage, "by default, only the ``upload-pack`` service is enabled, which serves git ``fetch-pack`` and git ls-remote clients, which are invoked from ``git fetch``, ``git pull``, and ``git clone``". For write access, i.e., to be able to perform a git push, the receive-pack service is needed, and it is only enabled when the client is authenticated.

2.4.3   Password-protect your repository

We are almost set. Let's configure password protection for this whole thing. We will focus on the latter part of your .htaccess, the one between # AUTHENTICATION BEGIN and # AUTHENTICATION END that we reproduce bellow:

# AUTHENTICATION BEGIN ########################
AuthType Digest
AuthName "Private Git Repository Access"
AuthUserFile /home/user/private_repos/.htpasswd
Require valid-user
# AUTHENTICATION END  #########################

You will have to create the password file pointed by AuthUserFile and use the htdigest tool to add a user to this file

touch /home/user/private_repos/.htpasswd
htdigest /home/user/private_repos/.htpasswd "Private Git Repository Access" username

You will be prompted for a password. And that's it.


  • we are using Digest Authentication. It is supposed to be more secure than plain authentication.
  • The password file should be keep in a place not directly accessible from the web. Ideally it should not even be placed in the directory to be served by git-http-backend but I'm lazy and I hope this will be enough. :)
  • If you update the value of the AuthName setting you must also change the 2nd. parameter passed to htdigest, i.e., the Realm, as they must match! Odd, I know. But that's the way it is.

2.4.4   Setup GitWeb

If you followed this guide up to this point than you are able to use your repositories with git with no major issues. But you will not be able to browse them with a web browser, retrieve the list of repositories you have, see diffs, commit messages nor nothing like that. To make things better, let's install GitWeb, another CGI interface that will provide a web interface that allows to do all those things I just said you couldn't.


Most of the content in this section comes from Kang's Hosting Git repositories on Dreamhost.   Retrieving and installing

GitWeb comes in the same source package as git itself. Unfortunately, Dreamhost doesn't install it by default so we will have to install it manually ourselves. Do your remember what is your git version? No? Find it all:

git --version

Go to git homepage and download the corresponding source package. In my example, in which my git version is, I would need to grab the git- source package:

cd ~ # Yep, we will download it in our home directory

Unpack it, build GitWeb:

tar zxvf git-
cd git-
make prefix=/usr/bin gitweb/gitweb.cgi
rm gitweb/gitweb.perl # we won't need it

We will install it into ~/gitweb/:

export GITWEB_INSTALL_DIR="~/gitweb"
cp -r gitweb ${GITWEB_INSTALL_DIR}

We are almost there.   Setting up GitWeb

Now, copy all the GitWeb's media files into the directory where your .htaccess is:

cp ${GITWEB_INSTALL_DIR}/*.{css,png,js} ${GIT_WEB_DIR}
# in this example, GIT_WEB_DIR points
# to ~/www.example.tld/corporate-git

Get back to where your .htaccess file is (i.e. GIT_WEB_DIR). We will create a wrapper CGI for GitWeb. Just copy gitweb_wrapper.cgi or create an empty file with the contents bellow:

export GITWEB_CONFIG=${HTTP_GITWEB_CONFIG:?HTTP_GITWEB_CONFIG env. variable not set. Aborting.}
export GIT_PROJECT_ROOT=${HTTP_GIT_PROJECT_ROOT:?HTTP_GIT_PROJECT_ROOT env. variable not set. Aborting.}

# Replace "/home/user/gitweb/" for the correct path to where
# gitweb.cgi was installed.


Turn it into an executable file:

chmod 755 gitweb_wrapper.cgi


Remember to to update this file by replacing /home/user/gitweb to match gitweb's install location, i.e., to match the contents of ${GIT_WEB_DIR}.

Once again, we are using settings stored in .htaccess file and passing them to a script using environment variables set by Apache. In this case, we are informing the wrapper script where our repositories are with HTTP_GIT_PROJECT_ROOT, and informing it where GitWeb configuration file is with HTTP_GITWEB_CONFIG. The wrapper script, in turn, will forward these informations to both GitWeb and to its config file.

Now, let's create GitWeb configuration file. Just copy gitweb_config.perl provided with this guide to ${GIT_REPOS_ROOT}/gitweb_config.perl or create an empty file in that path location with the following contents:

# where is the git binary?
$GIT = "/usr/bin/git";
# where are our git project repositories?
$projectroot = $ENV{'GIT_PROJECT_ROOT'};
# what do we call our projects in the gitweb UI?
$home_link_str = "My Git Projects";
#  where are the files we need for gitweb to display?
@stylesheets = ("gitweb.css");
$logo = "git-logo.png";
$favicon = "/favicon.png";
# what do we call this site?
$site_name = "My Personal Git Repositories";

You can customize it a little bit, if you want, but the most important setting, $projectroot, is set to match the value of HTTP_GIT_PROJECT_ROOT, a env. var. set by Apache.

Notice that this file, gitweb_config.perl is stored in the same directory where your repositories are, in ${GIT_REPOS_ROOT}. If, for some reason, you prefer to store it elsewhere, you will have to update this information in the .htaccess file.

2.5   Troubleshooting

So, something is not working as expected?

2.5.1   Disable authentication

Comment out the authentication code. This will ease your "debugging" process.

Remember to uncomment it later.

2.5.2   Use info.cgi script to check CGI script's environment

A nice way to check if there is something really wrong with your setup is to use the info.cgi, whose code is presented bellow. This script is only a minor modification to the one presented in Dreamhost wiki page on CGI and allows your to do verify if you are able to execute CGI scrips and what settings Apache is passing to the other CGI scripts we use here.


# disable filename globbing
set -f

echo "Content-type: text/plain; charset=iso-8859-1"

echo CGI/1.0 test script report:

echo argc is $#. argv is "$*".

echo ""

exit 0

Copy it to GIT_WEB_DIR, turn it into an executable script (chmod 755 ...) and point your browser to it ( That would be http://www.example.tld/corporate-git/ in our example).

2.5.3   Check the server logs

We are listing this as a last step but that's probably the fist place where you should have looked for clues: your server logs.

For example:

[Mon Oct 25 18:30:28 2010] [error] [client] Service not enabled: 'receive-pack'

This message says that 'receive-pack' was not enable -- probably because you are trying to push to a repository and authentication was disabled. As we explained in Setup git-http-backend for your repositories, you must use authentication to be able to write (push) to repositories using git-http-backend.

This one should be pretty obvious:

Digest: user username: password mismatch: /corporate-git/test.git/info/refs

And so on...

3   Usage

So everything is ready to use. How do you actually create and use these new repositories?

3.1   Creating new bare repositories

In order to create a new repository, say toyproject.git, all you have to do is ssh into your Dreamhost account and:

~/ -r ${GIT_REPOS_ROOT} -d "My first private repository" -n toyproject

That's it: your created and empty repository in you repository collection. You can clone it if you want.

3.2   Cloning an empty repository

So, you got a new pristine and empty repository. Let's clone it, shall we?:

$ git clone http://username@www.example.tld/corporate-git/toyproject.git
Initialized empty Git repository in /private/tmp/teste/.git/
warning: You appear to have cloned an empty repository.


Have you noticed that we have a username@ in the URL? This tells git that it must athenticate to the server before trying to access the git repository.

In this example, we are acessing the repository with the crentials of the user username, the one we setup in Password-protect your repository. Modify it to match the user you created in that step.

But what if you already have a local repository and all you want is push it and its history to the server?

3.3   Pushing to a new empty repository

What you usually do is creating a local repository, adding file to it and committing this repository history to the new, empty and pristine repository in your web server:

mkdir toyproject
cd toyproject
git init
touch README
git add README
git commit -m 'first commit'
git remote add origin http://username@www.example.tld/corporate-git/toyproject.git
git push origin master

If you have an existing Git Repo, that's the procedure:

cd existing_toyproject_git_repo
git remote add origin http://username@www.example.tld/corporate-git/toyproject.git
git push origin master

The above workflow follows what is presented in

4   Final remarks

If you need more than one collection of private repositories (say, one for you and one to share privately with a group of coworkers), all you need to do is:

  1. Create a directory for each of these collections.
  2. Create copies of, one for each collection, and setup the value of GIT_REPOS_ROOT in each of them.
  3. Adapt each .htaccess accordingly.
  4. GitWeb: copy its files too.. Or just sym-link it from a pristine copy.

5   TODOs

  • Focus on reusability.
  • Write the Final remarks section properly. -- serve directly w/ apache if...

Adding project .description directly in the scripts

6   References


This is yet another guide describing how to setup private write/push-enable HTTP-accessible Git repositories on Dreamhost using Git's git-http-backend (a.k.a git's Smart HTTP protocol).







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