Setting Up Name Based Virtual Hosting

By | 2008/01/09

Setting up name-based virtual hosting on Ubuntu

I do apologize again for some of the recent downtime on the blog. I’ve been researching tuning options all evening to try to bring the memory consumption lower. I did also add an additionl 256M RAM to the machine hoping that will help. Thanks for the patience during this bumpy ride.

I wanted to put down some of my notes concerning configuring Apache2 with virtual hosts for hosting multiple sites. This is something I have done quite a bit before but had a little trouble on this last setup. So in an attempt to better document my steps here is what I did.

Installing Apache 2

I’ll be discussing name based virtual hosting with Apache (Apache 2 to be specific). We’ll need to install that before we dive in:

sudo aptitude install apache2

Once these are setup you should be able to connect to localhost in your browser and see a test page.


With the default configuration you are only serving up one site, and that site is based on your IP address. What I’m setting up is name-based virtual hosting, meaning the Apache server will serve specific content based on the domain name requested. In this way a single server can host multiple sites, and serve up unique content based on the domain requested.

My preferred method of using name based virtual hosting is creating a seperate file for each domain. These can all be done within one file, but I’ll be creating a new file for each site.

First we need to define to Apache that we’re using name based virtual hosting instead of IP based. You can append the following line to your /etc/apache2/apache2.conf to define this:

NameVirtualHost ip.address:port

The above should be your public facing IP address (assuming you’re creating a public site), and port is generally port 80 by default. After this we’ll create the base configuration for your virtual hosts. Debian and Ubuntu use /etc/apache2/sites-available/ and /etc/apache2/sites-enabled/ directories for defining virtual hosting. One nice thing about this is that you can have more sites “available” than you have “enabled”, meaning not everything configured is actually live and listening. This is nice to quickly disable a site for whatever reason.

I like to create unique files for each of my domains within the /etc/apache2/sites-available/ folder. For example I have a file called “” in that directory, with the following contents:

DocumentRoot /var/www/

What these settings do is as follows:

  • ServerName listens for requests asking for a certain domain
  • ServerAlias defines any additional domains that should match
  • ServerAdmin is the contact for the site
  • DocumentRoot is the path to the content for that site

Now that this file is created in the /etc/apache2/sites-available/ folder we’re just about ready to start, but we need to enable it. We can do that by creating a symbolic link from one folder to the next.

cd /etc/apache2/sites-enabled/
ln -s ../sites-available/ .

This site is now available (as in configured) and enabled (as in listening) once we restart the apache service:

sudo /etc/init.d/apache2 restart


To test your configuration you can, temporarily, configure your /etc/hosts file to point the domain to your IP address and see if your server loads up the correct site. This is only needed if the hostname or domain name does not already resolve to your IP address. Editing the /etc/hosts by adding the following line:

ip.address domain.tld

Open your browser, try to access domain.tld and see if it loads the contents from your local DocumentRoot (from the configuration above). You might want to drop a file in the DocumentRoot to verify its pulling your local content.

cd /var/www/
echo "Hello World" > index.html


I hope I didn’t miss anything here. One of the main purposes of this writeup is to document what I did to setup my server. I do it so rarely I don’t always remember all the steps when I need to. If this helps you setup name based virtual hosting, great. Leave a comment and let me know. If I forgot anything critical please also let me know so I can update the contents.

57 thoughts on “Setting Up Name Based Virtual Hosting

  1. Julien

    Looks good, just you can use a2ensite to avoid the symlink :

    sudo a2ensite && sudo /etc/init.d/apache2 restart

    will do the trick, more in the debi^w ubuntu way ;-)

  2. Eelco

    To make sure every one (including search engines) only index the ‘short URL’ I use a rewrite rule simular to the one below for most of my sites. To keep things clean. You mave have to enable the mod_rewrite module first.

    RewriteEngine On
    RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} .
    RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} !^ubuntu-tutorials\.com [NC]
    RewriteRule (.*)$1 [R=301,L]

  3. LornaJane

    What a good idea, I’ve got name-based virtual hosting set up but it took a couple of days of following instructions and I’m not sure I could do it again. The steps you have posted look correct to me, I’ll be using this tutorial next time I need to do this. Thanks :)

  4. TomTom

    The first site that I create works just fine. Let’s say e.x But when I create another one, It directs me to the default-root (/var/www/) and not /var/www/

    Why? I have added it into /etc/hosts and I also checked that the symlink and the /etc/apache2/sites-available/ is correct.

  5. admin Post author

    @TomTom – you’ll want to make sure that your documentroot setting is different for foo and bar. also restart apache after you create any new hosts.

  6. beerfan


    I use this more generic RewriteRule to redirect requests for www.* which doesn’t require you to modify it for every site.

    # Redirect all requests for a www host
    RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^www\.(.*)$ [NC]
    RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://%1/$1 [R=301,QSA,L]

    @post author (no attribution?)

    If you merely want to add new sites you can also use force-reload which is faster.

    sudo /etc/init.d/apache2 force-reload

  7. jirik

    You might consider using VirtualDocumentRoot; that way, you won’t have to set up every single site (but it has some downsides)

  8. John Lusth

    I have the same problem as tomtom. My second site still redirects to the first site. I have different document roots and I have restarted apache.


    DocumentRoot /var/www/


    DocumentRoot /var/www/

  9. Madhusudan.C.S

    Thanks a lot for the post. I had a similar article myself on virtual hosts and have been following that procedure on Feisty and Gutsy. But somethings seems not to be working in Hardy. I have created a file called drupal6 and it looks like this

    ServerName drupal6

    DocumentRoot /home/madhu/mywebdevelopment/drupal6.0/

    Options FollowSymLinks
    AllowOverride All

    Options Indexes FollowSymLinks MultiViews
    AllowOverride All
    Order allow,deny
    allow from all

    ScriptAlias /cgi-bin/ /usr/lib/cgi-bin/

    AllowOverride None
    Options +ExecCGI -MultiViews +SymLinksIfOwnerMatch
    Order allow,deny
    Allow from all

    ErrorLog /var/log/apache2/error.log

    # Possible values include: debug, info, notice, warn, error, crit,
    # alert, emerg.
    LogLevel warn

    CustomLog /var/log/apache2/access.log combined
    ServerSignature On

    Alias /doc/ “/usr/share/doc/”

    Options Indexes MultiViews FollowSymLinks
    AllowOverride None
    Order deny,allow
    Deny from