Is it possible in nginx configure different user per virtual host?

Something like

 server {
     user myprojectuser myprojectgroup;

5 Answers 5


No, because all server stanzas in an nginx config are served from the same set of worker processes. Furthermore, from a security perspective, you're better to run it like that, as it means that the content is automatically unwritable by the webserver (absent stupidities like a chmod -R 0777), so that if there is a vulnerability in nginx, none of the content is at risk.

  • 3
    So there is no way to hide user's files from another users? All the user's content should be readable by the www-data? Mar 18, 2012 at 1:28
  • 1
    Making the files accessable to www-data (or whatever user the webserver runs as) in no way requires that the files are accessable to other users on the system.
    – womble
    Mar 18, 2012 at 1:51
  • 2
    Give the document root a group of www-data and perms 0710 when you setup the vhost (since this needs root to configure nginx, it's not a problem to have your automation also set the necessary permissions). Then the contents of the docroot just need to be o+x for directories and o+r for files.
    – womble
    Mar 18, 2012 at 2:46
  • 13
    Beware: if a PHP script (or a cgi-bin process) runs under www-data, every user that can serve a PHP script or a cgi-bin process can access any file accessible to the www-data user. This appears to be non-obvious to anyone who stores database passwords in config.php.inc or similar on a shared machine. Apr 7, 2014 at 18:15
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    @Ricalsin Remember that UNIX is a multi-user operating system, and servers can have more than one user. For example, peter and john. They are hosting their web pages in ~/public_html. Absent a different approach not mentioned by any of the people discussing this above, a .php script has the same permissions as the web server as it is also executing under www-data. This means that, just like the web server and PHP interpreter, it can read any other .php script. Jun 3, 2014 at 16:59

Yes. It is possible and recommended for extra security (see why at the end).

We can use Nginx's reverse proxy capability for this. We run each host on a separate process (and user), working as individual web-servers. Nginx monitors the standard HTTP ports (80/443) and proxies the external requests to the appropriate hosts.

There are two main ways to achieve this on Nginx:

  • proxy_pass: Complex solution, but more flexible. You set a web-server instance for each virtual host. Usually it is implemented using containers (ex. docker) and setting up a linux service (systemd) to orchestrate it all;
  • fastcgi_pass: Simple and easy, but the implementation is different for each language and not supported by all languages. It has limitations, but works well for most basic cases;


For PHP users, you can easily achieve this with PHP-FPM.

If you are not sure you are using PHP-FPM, you probably are, as it is the default setup for Nginx with PHP.

The idea is to create many "spools", one for each host. Then, we associate a different user for each spool.

1. Create a user for each virtual host

Let's say we have the virtual host (aka "server block") mywebsite1. Its folder is on /var/www/mywebsite1.

First, we create a new user and group for it:

adduser myuser1

This command also creates a group with the same name (myuser1) and assigns the user to it.

Now, this user should be the only one to access its website folder and files:

chown -R myuser1:myuser1 /var/www/mywebsite1

I don't recommend adding the user to the "www-data" group.

See the "Nginx file access" section for more details and solutions if you need Nginx to access the website files.

2. Create spools

Open the main spool config file (ex. /etc/php/7.0/fpm/pool.d/www.conf) and add one spool for each virtual host:

Spool #1 (mywebsite1):

user = myuser1
group = myuser1
listen = /run/php/mywebsite1.sock
listen.owner = www-data
listen.group = www-data

Spool #2 (mywebsite2):

user = myuser2
group = myuser2
listen = /run/php/mywebsite2.sock
listen.owner = www-data
listen.group = www-data

Alternatively, you can create a new .conf file for each spool. That would make the files more organized.

The listen.owner and listen.group must be the same user Nginx uses (usually www-data). This doesn't mean the www-data user can access the website folder and its files. It's about the socket file permissions. It means www-data can send HTTP requests to the socket file.

3. Change the server blocks

Assign each server block to its spool.

Host 1:

server {
    location / {
        fastcgi_pass unix:/run/php/mywebsite1.sock;

Host 2:

server {
    location / {
        fastcgi_pass unix:/run/php/mywebsite2.sock;

4. Restart FPM and NGINX services

sudo /etc/init.d/php7.0-fpm restart
sudo service nginx restart

PS: Replace "php7.0-fpm" with your actual PHP-FPM.

5. Testing

Create a pinfo.php (or whatever name) file that will show the current process user:

echo str_replace("\n", '<br>', shell_exec('ps -u -p '.getmypid()));

Or create the pinfo.php file via terminal:

echo "<?php echo str_replace(\"\\n\", '<br>', shell_exec('ps -u -p '.getmypid()));" > pinfo.php

Then open http://.../pinfo.php on your browser.

Nginx file access

Do not add the users to the www-data group. Otherwise, it may defeat the purpose of doing all of this.

An attacker that gains control over a website can access files owned by the www-data group, including Nginx files.

Also, do not change the ownership of the files and folders to the www-data group. Otherwise, an attacker that gains control over another host can access them. Keep them owned by user:usergroup.

Nginx doesn't require direct access to the website's folders and files.

The only reason to permit direct file access for Nginx is to serve static files like images, videos, etc., more optimized.

If you want to do this, see the next section, "Serving static content via Nginx".

Serving static content via Nginx

Let's say you allow Nginx access to the public static files for performance reasons. Suppose these public static files are located on /var/www/mywebsite1/public.

First, add an alias for them, and make "fastcgi_pass" not proxy the folder:

server {
    location /public {
        alias /var/www/mywebsite1/public;

    location ~ ^/public/ {
        fastcgi_pass unix:/run/php/mywebsite2.sock;

After that, we need Nginx to have permission to access the files.

There are a few options:

1. Add the website group to the www-data user

Make the Nginx user (www-data) be in the website group (myusergroup1):

usermod -aG myusergroup1 www-data

This lets Nginx access the websites' files, but not the other way around.

2. Allow all users to read the public assets folder

These files are publicly visible on the internet anyways.

# Only do this if you don't want the previous solution
chmod -R o+r /var/www/mywebsite1/public

Why use multiple users (security reasons)

Suppose you run all your websites under the same user (ex. www-data). In this case, a PHP call to system()/passthru()/exec() will have access to all websites!

NGINX will not protect you against this.

PHP is an example, but any popular web-server language has similar calls. As a hacker, you can ls .. to navigate through all websites. You can cp/echo/mv to write your code in any file (including other website files).

Even if the same person owns all websites on the server (ex., you), running each website with a different user is advisable, as it will prevent eventual hackers and viruses from accessing your other websites.

  • I tried this but it is not working. I do not get any errors when restarting nginx or php-fpm. Is the reason this is not working for me because I am running php-fpm instead of just php? My www.conf file is located at /etc/php-fpm.d/www.conf and my .sock is at /run/php-fpm/www.sock. I've made the appropriate adjustments because of this but it still says I am running as the nginx user.
    – James
    Feb 26, 2020 at 13:37
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    If I understand it correctly: - files are owned by myuser1 - PHP pool runs as myuser1 But what about nginx? it still run as user "www-data". That can result in "permission denied" in some cases. What to do about it?
    – Slavik
    Feb 29, 2020 at 20:35
  • @Slavik I just stumbled into the issue you described. In my case, when I set chmod 500 to all files and folders then the site is working fine except for images being read by "nginx" user, which leads to 403 error
    – artnikpro
    Jul 3, 2020 at 3:59
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    So the solution for me was setting chown siteuser:nginx and chmod 440 on all images
    – artnikpro
    Jul 3, 2020 at 4:09
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    This answer is off topic, it's about php, not nginx. Jan 9, 2022 at 16:57

In response to Ivan's comment above and which seems applicable to the OP. Two things:

  1. The application document root would be something like /blah/peterWeb/html and /blah/johnWeb/html. Both NGINX and Apache2 would not allow one to peruse or operate in the other directory even if they are both running www-data as group.

  2. Placing each directory tree under their own user permission would allow each user to ssh/login to a UNIX system and keep their directories private to each - just don't put each user into the www-data group. If you agree, then your sentence:

    every user that can serve a PHP script or a cgi-bin process can access any file accessible to the www-data user.

    might be more accurately written as:

    every user that you put in the same group as the apache/nginx server (www-data) can then do whatever they want (including running a php script) in any file that is accessible to it (which would essentially be everything on a web server).

EDIT 1: Having to address some Server Admin issues I looked further into this topic. I was unaware of how accurate Ivan's information was! If you intend to give users the ability to upload and run scripts on a shared hosting configuration then take heed. Here is one approach. Hat tip to Ivan for making sure I understood this vulnerability.

  • 4
    No. You're missing it. PHP scripts, when executed in Apache's process (or other web server's) will run under the hosting process privileges. On a large number of naive setups this user is www-data. If Johnny can create a script and have it run under www-data (which on naive setups he can), then Johnny's script can read Peter's scripts and send them back to Johnny. This has nothing to do with groups. Proper solution is to have suPHP (if naively setup, bad, as poorly written code then endangers all of this user's files), or a jail, or dedicated additional web user per user. Jun 5, 2014 at 21:12
  • (Also, adding an answer instead of comment is abuse of StackOverflow-type sites, impressum you're actually providing an answer. Please avoid that.) Jun 5, 2014 at 21:13
  • @IvanVučica Updated and added a helpful link that supports your advice. Thanks.
    – Ricalsin
    Jun 8, 2014 at 13:59

I'd like to elaborate on the fine answer Col. Shrapnel posted before I could.

There are so many tutorials/answers doing php(-fpm) users and groups the wrong way

Like Daniel's asnwer for example. You shouldn't add site1_user, site2_user etc. to www-data/nginx group, but the other way around! (When I see www-data I automatically assume Apache is the webserver, as SUSE's nginx package creates accordingly named user and group, as any sane distro should...)
If you add both php user to the same web server group, you have to enable editing access sooner or later for nginx group on all of the sites' root: that just throws security out the window, you are basically back to nginx owning and running everything!
You don't want one set of users (or a single user) with write access to everything - that's the point! You want disjunct accesses: site1_group and site2_group, with only one - the webserver - singular entity in their (access) cross-section!
I see sentences like works either way around, that are so far from the truth I could scream.

It is not crystal clear in Daniel's answer (because he didn't mention any group at all!) but he is doing it the wrong way too: otherwise the pools' config wouldn't have listen.group = www-data, but listen.group = siteX_group.
The listen.user can be either the webserver's or the php/site's user, doesn't really matter if the owner group can write to the socket. The comments under that question beautifully illustrate my point: either your nginx can't access the static content and your site is broken, or you made a security nonsense.

Even better than the first option: use ACL if you can!

ACLs solve this problem in a way, that you don't have to add a/any group (*for every frickin' site!) at all!
The compiled php-fpm have to support it, and the partition should be mounted with acl flag, so maybe it is not an option for the reader. Use it however if it's available.
To share php's socket access with the webserver: Php has listen.acl_users where you should list both nginx and siteX_user. For the webroot, you set write access to both users on the webroot with setfacl -Rm u:nginx:rwx /path/to/siteX_root (for the existing files/directories) and setfacl -Rdm u:nginx:rwx /path/to/siteX_root (for access on the future files/directories) The previous commands assume the siteX_user owns its webroot (that seems logical to me) and not nginx, but you could swap the owner user and the user in the setfacl commands' argument.

Run your (master) nginx/php-fpm processes with systemd's service instances!

Here is an article, so I don't have to write as much. Basically you'll have services like php-fpm@site1, php-fpm@site2 etc., and they will have their own site1.conf, site2.conf etc - without actually writing all the systemd unit files...
You could apply this technique to the separate nginx instances Col. Shrapnel suggested, but the more important part is php-fpm: do that, if you do only one. I'd advise to copy your distro's default php-fpm systemd unit file as a starting point for the instance template, and NOT the one in the article: SUSE's packaged php-fpm unit file for example contains several additional security restrictions, like /dev write access blocking...
You could also opt to merge the php-fpm.conf and php-fpm.d/siteX.conf to a single file referenced by the templated service unit: as from now on, any php-fpm.conf would have a 1 to 1 include relation with its pool's conf anyway... The benefits are in the article, but most importantly, one fpm pool restart/error/global_fork_limit won't bring down all of your sites together. That is reason enough in itself!

You could replace the previous option with docker - but why would you?

I know there are genuine reasons to use docker, but docker is way overused. Especially if you're running all your stuff on a single VPS, I recommend your distro's packages, because Docker:

  • uselessly wastes your resources
  • obscures settings: e.g.: not environment-variable-exported settings are hard to change, often times an image rebuild is needed
  • adds burden when you have to (trust me, you'll have to sometimes) go down into a container's shell: none of your aliases (or zsh) is available there, and most of that crippled Alpine based images haven't even got less or vi(m)
  • (I hear fanboys screaming) adds security, but systemd can do most of that isolation as well...
  • constantly requires additional maintenance like image updating and trash pruning. Your decent distro could already keep you up to date with its packages while requiring less storage. And you have to update the server's distro anyway...
  • maybe makes you to fiddle less on the initial setup, but: unless you use official software vendor images, who knows how long Random Joe will maintain his snowflake images, and the initial setup could be made easier without docker (see ansible/saltstack) anyway...

If you distribute/load-balance the crap out of your shiny K8 cluster (and if you do, I doubt you are here for this rookie Q/A; if you do use K8, and nevertheless are here for an answer, than this profession has its days numbered...) then use docker/podman/whatever. Otherwise, for the sake of your sanity: keep your abstractions/layers in bay...

  • I agree that people shouldn't add users to the www-data group. My example had an issue that led to a "permission denied" error when accessing files other than ".php", like public static files. This error led people to try workarounds and found that adding the user to the www-data group fixed the issue. I have edited my answer to address this issue. Sep 1, 2022 at 2:12

I was looking for the solution myself and found two possible courses of action:

Several instances of Nginx

First, it is possible to run several instances of Nginx, each under the distinct user, which literally answers the question asked.

Of course you will need one main instance that listens to the 80/443 ports on the outside interface and proxies the respective requests to other instances that listen to different ports such as and the like. Simply create different config files with different users, and then run several instances as nginx -c /path/to/config_xxx

Setting correct folder permissions + different php-fpm users

Another solution to the actual problem, "way to hide user's files from another user" would be a combination of the Daniel's answer and making users directories inaccessible to each other yet letting Nginx to enter them.

For this, simply leave users directories under user:usergroup permissions but add www-data user to each user's group! By means of a command like usermod -a -G usergroup www-data. This simple (not to say - silly) trick will leave user folders' permissions intact, yet will let nginx to enter them and serve the static contents.

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