I need to write a rewrite rule for Nginx so that if a user tries to go to an old image url:


and the file doesnt exist, try to redirect to:


ONLY if the image exists in the new URL, otherwise continue with the 404. The version of Nginx on our host doesn't have try_files yet.

location /images/ {
    if (-f $request_filename) {

    rewrite ^/images/(.*) /new_images/$1 permanent;

Though, you might want to bug your host to upgrade or find a better host.

  • This will redirect to /new_images on every 404 right? I don't want to do the rewrite unless I know the new_images file exists – Jose Fernandez Mar 16 '10 at 13:58
  • This checks to see if the file exists, and if that test fails, it redirects to new_images. What happens after that is not specified here. – tylerl Jul 31 '10 at 7:58
  • I'm afraid that your option is considered as common pitfalls by nginx authors nginx.com/resources/wiki/start/topics/tutorials/config_pitfalls/… – riverfall Jan 22 '18 at 10:40
  • 2
    @riverfall Heh, I wrote part of that page. My answer was written 8 years ago so yes it's a wee bit outdated, but the original question did specifically state that their host didn't provide a recent version of nginx so they didn't have access to try_files. – Martin Fjordvald Jan 24 '18 at 8:29
  • 1
    @Guillaume86 I wouldn't worry about that, an if + rewrite is totally safe and a single STAT check on a file is very light weight. It's much faster than going to a backend application to check for maintenance mode. – Martin Fjordvald Aug 30 '19 at 18:37

Please don't use if inside a location block. Bad things may happen.

location ~* ^/images/(.+)$ {
    root /www;
    try_files /path/to/$1 /website_images/path_to/$1 /any/dir/$1 @your404;

$1 becomes the filename to try in the try_files directive, which is made for what you're trying to accomplish.

This, OR, just rewrite it without checking. If that image isn't there, you'll get a 404 anyway.

  • While this answer strictly does not answer the question ("[no] try_files yet"), for future visitors coming here, this answer deserves more up-votes. – DerMike Apr 18 '19 at 8:51

You could use something like this (untested for your specific case):

location ^/images/(?<imgpath>.*)$ {

    set $no_old  0;
    set $yes_new 0;

    if (!-f $request_filename)
        set $no_old 1;

    if (-f ~* "^/new_path/$imgpath")
        set $yes_new 1$no_old;

    # replacement exists in the new path
    if ($yes_new = 11)
        rewrite ^/images/(.*)$ /new_path/$1 permanent;

    # no image in the new path!
    if ($yes_new = 01)
        return 404;

Which is basically an alternative way of writing nested if statements, since you cannot nest in Nginx. See here for official reference on this "hack".

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