Apache - Serving up the Web

[Ref: Apache HTTP Server Version 1.3]

[OpenBSD 3.5 and Apache]

The Apache Web Server is installed as part of the OpenBSD base system. If you have a need for a different version of Apache than that supplied with the Base system then you can look at the ports collection.

To see how configurable the Apache/OpenBSD combination is we will configure the Web server to start with each reboot, manually start and stop the server as well as setting up a basic test site. We will look at creating web space for the users on your system which may all make your system insecure, after the experimentation please reset these things or just reinstall the whole system.

As a final piece we will look at setting up SSL Certificates for our web server.

Apache is run in a chroot environment with OpenBSD, of course you can do the unspeakable and run it however you want including decreased security by not running the server in the chroot environment.

Setting Apache to start every time the system is started/restarted

[Ref: httpd(8), ssl(8)]

The first thing we consider about the Apache web-server is turning it on, and setting it up so it turns on automatically if the system is restarted. To do this we make single change to the startup configuration file: /etc/rc.conf.local

Edit /etc/rc.conf.local to add the following line into Section 1

httpd_flags=""          # note the use of two double-quotes

This will override the settings in /etc/rc.conf which reads:

# use -u to disable chroot, see httpd(8)
httpd_flags=NO           # for normal use: "" (or "-DSSL" after reading ssl(8))

Save the changes and when the computer is restarted, the /etc/rc routines will automatically launch the Apache server httpd with every system restart.

Manually starting Apache

We can test the Apache server without the need to restart the computer. To manually start | restart the Apache server you can use the /usr/sbin/apachectl program

# /usr/sbin/apachectl start
/usr/sbin/apachectl start: httpd started

Your server is up and running.

Testing that it works

We can test the web server because OpenBSD installs Apache with a sample website that is full of documentation. This sample website is placed into the Document Root directory /var/www/htdocs.

To quickly view whether the web server is up and running, start your browser and test specify your server address. From a command prompt, check using lynx .

# lynx localhost
[ lynx displays the following ...]


                                     It Worked!

     If you can see this page, then the people who own this host have just
     activated the Apache Web server software included with their OpenBSD
     System. They now have to add content to this directory and replace this
     placeholder page, or else point the server at their real content.
   [ ... more stuff cut out ... ]<

Setting some status configurations

Can we get more information on what the Server is doing?

The OpenBSD apache distribution is compiled with mod_status which allows us to configure the server so we can take a look at it's operational status. I put this in here as a another means for checking the server's functionality while setting it up. (AKA. what's an interesting task for changing the server configuration without having to do too much work.)

To activate the server-status reports in Apache we need to make the following changes to the configuration file:

File: /var/www/conf/httpd.conf, Change the lines that read:

#ExtendedStatus On

# Allow server status reports, with the URL of http://servername/server-status
# Change the ".your_domain.com" to match your domain to enable.
#<Location /server-status>
#    SetHandler server-status
#    Order deny,allow
#    Deny from all
#    Allow from .your_domain.com

To Read:

ExtendedStatus On

  <Location /server-status>
      SetHandler server-status
      Order deny,allow
      Deny from all
      Allow from

(The above lines are not connected together in the configuration file as in this example.)

We can check the above configuration change let's you check the server status with at least two methods: opening a browser and pointing to the /server-status url or by using apachectl.

Restart the server and check if server-status is accessible.

# apachectl restart
# apachectl status 
[ displays the following ...]
            Apache Server Status for example.com

Server Version: Apache/1.3.29 (Unix) PHP/4.3.5RC3 mod_ssl/2.8.16
Server Built: Mar 29 2004 10:31:17

Current Time: Tuesday, 29-Jun-2004 13:37:09 EST
Restart Time: Tuesday, 29-Jun-2004 13:34:09 EST
Parent Server Generation: 0


  [ ... more stuff cut out ... ]

As mentioned earlier, a similar command to apachectl status is to directly access the website location specified above in our configuration

# lynx http://localhost/server-status

Note: Here we are accessing the server-status from within the server (ie. 'localhost')

If you try to connect to the http://server-name/server-status from a separate workstation on the network, you should get a 403 Forbidden error message (You don't have permission to access … ) If you do want to give other workstations access to this page, then you can add further Allow from lines such as:

File: /var/www/conf/httpd.conf

ExtendedStatus On   
<Location /server-status> 
    SetHandler server-status     
    Order   deny,allow     
    Deny from all
    Allow from 192.168.101. .example.com 

The above changed lines will allow access to the /server-status from any client with 192.168.101.xyz ip address, and any client with the domain suffix example.com

Creating User personal web pages

The chroot environment of OpenBSD's Apache creates a dilemma for those wishing to allow personal web pages for its users. Since Apache can no longer get to the root/home/user-name directory.


The process discussed here selects the creation of user accounts within the Apache chroot environment (/var/www) of /users/user-account/

let's you create alias' (conceptually similar to symbolic links ?) to any point on your server (and possibly beyond.) But one advantage of Apache is how easy it is to let every user on your system have their own private web space. Again, the OpenBSD distribution httpd has this feature built into the binary and it is a simple matter of just modifying the configuration file and restarting Apache to see things work.

  • Modify configuration file /var/www/conf/httpd.conf
  • Restart apache
  • Create public_html in user accounts
  • Access user accounts with the URL form http://server-name/~user-id/
  1. Our modifications to the configuration is to enable the mod_userdir.c module which let's Apache talk with your user accounts and their home directories. We specify which directory within each users home directory we will send http requests for files.

File: /var/www/conf/httpd.conf, Change the lines that read:

# UserDir: The directory which is prepended onto a users username, within
# which a users's web pages are looked for if a ~user request is received.
# Relative pathes are relative to the user's home directory.
# "disabled" turns this feature off.
# Since httpd will chroot(2) to the ServerRoot path by default,
# you should use
#       UserDir /var/www/users
# and create per user directories in /var/www/users/

#UserDir disabled

# Control access to UserDir directories.  The following is an example
# for a site where these directories are restricted to read-only and
# are located under /users/
# You will need to change this to match your site's home directories.
#<Directory /users/*>
#    AllowOverride FileInfo AuthConfig Limit
#    Options MultiViews Indexes SymLinksIfOwnerMatch IncludesNoExec
#        Order allow,deny
#        Allow from all
#    </Limit>
#        Order deny,allow
#        Deny from all
#    </Limit>

To read:

UserDir /var/www/users
<Directory /users/*>
AllowOverride FileInfo AuthConfig Limit
Options MultiViews Indexes SymLinksIfOwnerMatch IncludesNoExec
    Order allow,deny
    Allow from all
    Order deny,allow
    Deny from all

In the above example, we specify that under the /var/www/users directory will be the directory space for each user-account's 'personal' webspace.

Note: If you want to use a directory name other than those specified in the httpd.conf file, then you may need to modify the mod_userdir source.

Restart apache

Before the configuration goes into effect, we need to force httpd to re-read it's configuration file.

# apachectl restart

Seems to simple, but if you forget to restart the server, you will be frustrated in trying to test the changes when the running server does not recognise them.

Link from user accounts to chroot'd account directory

The convention has been to use a directory called 'public_html' (or similar) within the users home directory to specify their web-space. Since Apache has now been chroot'd this will not work, as Apache cannot traverse below /var/www.

One of the ways to allow for this chroot behaviour is to create a 'symlink' from the users normal file space to the Apache Server's user space.

Our process will be:

  • Create the users Web Space under /var/www/users
  • 'symlink' to it from the users standard home directory
  • Give the user full ownership to files in /var/www/users/username
  • Change to the user so we can create some test files
  • Change to the users standard home directory
  • Change into the 'public_html' directory
  • Create the test "index.html" file

For our example user johndoe:

# mkdir /var/www/users/johndoe
# ln -s /var/www/users/johndoe/ /home/johndoe/public_html
# chown -R johndoe:johndoe /var/www/users/johndoe 
# su johndoe
$ cd ~
$ cd public_html
$ echo "<html><body><h1>Success</h1>Now, get real content</body></html>" > index.html

Of course, you could move or place some more sophisticated files into this directory, but this is an adequate start for a test.

Access user accounts with the URL form http://server-name/~user-id/

Now we try to access the web page.

# lynx localhost/~johndoe/
[ lynx displays the following ...]


     Now, get real content
  [ ... more stuff cut out ... ]

Similarly from a GUI Browser you get <h1> settings for Success, and the rest of the page as plain text.

You now not only have a working website (example.com) but your users can also have their own web space (http://example.com/~johndoe/)

Securing public_html

There are security concerns with opening web space for users since we do not want to explicitly trust all users will not leave holes in their websites that can be exploited. To minimise security holes with allow User space these are some precautions you can take.

  1. disable root having web space.

UserDir disabled root

(I'll add more as I find out about it, hopefully not because someone has successful whacked my system.)

Securing the Site with SSL

[Ref: OpenBSD FAQ 10.6 Setting up a Secure HTTP Server with SSL] [local: openss# - Secured Communications] ]

For pumping out dynamic and static pages with public content, the webserver so far is just fine.

When you want to secure content, such as credit-card transactions or webmail services, then we need to take a look at data encryption which is served through SSL. Fortunately, OpenBSD was one of the first (if not the first) operating system releases to come with SSL enabled by default for its basic configuration.

SSL is described in detail on a number of websites as well as the standard Apache documentation that is shipped with OpenBSD.

Since SSL is part of OpenBSD's install the 1st step is to create an SSL server certificate. Refer to the FAQ or Secured Communications notes for creating an SSL and then continue below.

After you have successfully created or recieved an SSL server certificate, we can stop the web server and restart it using the new certificate.

# apachectl stop
 /usr/sbin/apachectl stop: httpd stopped 
# apachectl startssl
/usr/sbin/apachectl startssl: httpd started 

To ensure SSL is started when we restart the host we need to modify the /etc/rc.conf.local file and make the following changes.

In /etc/rc.conf.local Section 1, the lines that read :

httpd_flags=""            # or it could have httpd_flags=NO

Should be changed to:

httpd_flags="-DSSL"            # note the use of two double-quotes

Problems with Browsers

I began having weird problems with SSL connections where the browser seemed to lose the sessions, connections.

Fortunately (not?) the environment I had was a controlled environment (MSIE 5.x) and we were eventually able to track the culprit down to an MSIE deficiency. Unfortunately there are problems with other browsers, so it will be best for you if you take a look at the FAQ.

Securing Virtual Hosts

[Ref: http://www.incyte-studios.com/ssl.htm]

Trey Stout published an article for those who have a need to put several SSL hosts on a single machine.