I am running Debian Squeeze on a dedicated server, using it as a web- and db-server (nginx, apache & mysql).

I followed a few tutorials on how to setup nginx as a reverse proxy for apache - and most works just fine and I have to say - wow, nginx is very fast.

But, their are also some problems I encountered during "testing". And here we are, at the point I hope someone from serverfault's able to help me. :)

So let me first show you me complete configuration and explain the scenario.


To manage clients on the server I am using the ISPConfig Control Panel, configured to handle apache (you can choose between nginx or apache).

Since I don't want that the clients do have to configurate special rewrite rules etc. I am trying to tweak nginx very transparent, meaning it really does only serve static files and all other requests are passed to apache, so rewrite rules etc. still work.


What I currently have is:

  • a normal apache installation, listening on port 82
  • mod_rpaf enabled to forward the real IP to apache

  • nginx installed with the following configuration(s):


user www-data;
worker_processes 4;

error_log  /var/log/nginx/error.log;
pid        /var/run/nginx.pid;

events {
    worker_connections 2048;

http {
    include     /etc/nginx/mime.types;
    access_log  /var/log/nginx/access.log;

    sendfile on;
    tcp_nopush on;

    keepalive_timeout 4;
    tcp_nodelay on;

    # Hide version information
    server_tokens off;

    # Include configurations
    include /etc/nginx/conf.d/*.conf;
    include /etc/nginx/sites-enabled/*;


gzip on;

# Compression level
gzip_comp_level 6;

# HTTP version
gzip_http_version 1.0;

# File min lenght to compress
gzip_min_length 0;

# Compress all proxied files
gzip_proxied any;

# Mimes to compress
gzip_types text/plain text/css application/x-javascript text/xml \
        application/xml application/xml+rss text/javascript;

# Disable for IE 6 and below
gzip_disable "MSIE [1-6]\.";

gzip_vary on;


# Set locations and sizes
proxy_cache_path /var/cache/nginx levels=1:2 keys_zone=nginx_cache:10m max_size=500m;
proxy_temp_path /tmp/nginx;

# Putting the host name in the cache key allows different virtual hosts to share the same cache zone
proxy_cache_key "$scheme://$host$request_uri";

# Cache different return codes for different lengths of time
proxy_cache_valid 200 302 10m;
proxy_cache_valid 404 1m;


proxy_redirect off;

# Set proxy headers
proxy_set_header Host $host;
proxy_set_header X-Real-IP $remote_addr;
proxy_set_header X-Forwarded-For $proxy_add_x_forwarded_for;

# Client configuration
client_max_body_size 10m;
client_body_buffer_size 128k;
client_header_buffer_size 64k;

# Connection and buffer
proxy_connect_timeout 60;
proxy_send_timeout 60;
proxy_read_timeout 60;
proxy_buffer_size 16k;
proxy_buffers 32 16k;
proxy_busy_buffers_size 64k;


server {

    # Listen on Port 80
    listen 80 default;

    # Resolve server_name with DNS
    server_name _;
    server_name_in_redirect off;

    # Strip www from host
    if ($host ~* ^www\.(.*)) {
            set $cleanhost $1;
    if ($cleanhost = "") {
            set $cleanhost $host;

    access_log /var/log/ispconfig/httpd/$cleanhost/access.log;

    # Serve static files through nginx
    #location ~* ^.+.(jpg|jpeg|gif|png|ico|css|zip|tgz|gz|rar|bz2|doc|xls|e$
    location ~* ^.+.(jpg|jpeg|gif|png|ico|css|zip|tgz|gz|rar|bz2|doc|xls|ex$
            root /var/www/$cleanhost/web;
            access_log off;
            expires max;
            error_page 404 /;

    # Apache backend for dynamic files
    location / {
            root /var/www/$cleanhost/web;
            index index.html index.htm index.php;
            access_log off;
            proxy_cache nginx_cache;
            proxy_pass http://$cleanhost:82;
            proxy_pass_header Set-Cookie;

What for?

As you can see, I am trying to serve static files through nginx and compress them. All other requests are passed to apache, and the result get's cached from nginx (within tmpfs).

With this default site, I don't have to create a config for every domain on the server.


OK, since you've seen the config, let's move over the the problems I got with these configurations:

  • If a website uses mod_rewrite to rewrite URLS like index.php?page=home to */page/home.html, nginx thinks that this is a static file (because of the .html ending) - and I get an error "not found".

  • On wordpress blogs, you are not able to insert medias into posts. You can upload them, but as soon as you push the "insert into post" button, you'll get an 403 - forbidden error.

  • Every website has it's own error documents folder /var/www/domain.tld/web/errors/[404.html|500.html etc.]. How do I tell nginx/apache to serve these and not the nginx/apache's default error pages?

What would help me?

If someone could walk through the configurations and look for parts, which could cause the named errors/problems.

Also, in general, general hints and tipps related to performance/security etc. are appreciated :)

Thank you very much for your time and help!

Regards, MaddinXx

  • A bit unrelated, but do you really need apache? It would be best to just cut out the middle man and use nginx with php-fpm. The few rewrites shouldn't be a problem using rewrite and also try_files. Cutting out apache would, I'm sure, solve the first two problems. As per your third issue, error_page along with your $cleanhost should work fine.
    – Sašo
    Jun 27, 2012 at 7:50
  • @Sašo thank you for a very quick answer. To your question if I need apache or not, I would definitly say "YES" as the server is used for shared hosting and I think that a lot of customers just don't want to rewrite their rules etc. Because of this, nginx really should just stay "in the background". But of course, your setup would perform better...
    – MaddinXx
    Jun 27, 2012 at 7:55

1 Answer 1


Two things: you should not use the version shiped with debian. Mine was eating cookies, which took me half a day to figure out. Use the latest debian package supplied by the nginx folks. They supply a repo, so its quite convenient.

For the redirect: I see you are using proxy_redirect off;. Try something like

proxy_redirect http://$host/index.php?page=home http://$host/page/home.html;

  • Hi @Isaac. Thank you for looking into it. I followed your first hint, using the official nginx repos. Second one may work, but is exactly what I don't want, as this can change for every site and I want it to have dynamic. Wouldn't there be a method first trying to serve with nginx and if it throughs an error 404 (because it can not be found because of the rewrite) pass it to the apache backend - it may work then.
    – MaddinXx
    Jun 27, 2012 at 11:02

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