I recently changed my nginx config to redirect all http traffic to https (and all www traffic to no-www).

Would it make sense to also add add_header Strict-Transport-Security "max-age=31536000; includeSubDomains" always; to my server blocks as well? Or that's unneeded since I'm already redirecting all traffic? Would be great to know the pros (and cons, if any).

In case relevant, my current virtual host configuration is:

server {
    server_name example.com www.example.com;

    listen 80;

    return 301 https://example.com$request_uri;

server {
    server_name www.example.com;

    listen 443 ssl;

    ssl_certificate /etc/nginx/ssl/cert_chain.crt;
    ... other SSL related config ...

    return 301 https://example.com$request_uri;

server {
    server_name example.com;

    listen 443 ssl;
    ... other SSL related config ...

    ... remaining server configuration ...

HSTS tells the browser to always use https, rather than http. Adding that configuration may reduce the need for forwarding from http to https, so it may very slightly increase website performance and very slightly decrease server load.

For reference, here's the security headers I use on my Nginx based websites. I save this to a single file and include it from all servers that need it, including http and https servers. It allows some common resources like Google and Facebook to load.

# Security headers
add_header Strict-Transport-Security "max-age=2592000; includeSubDomains; preload";
add_header X-Frame-Options DENY;
add_header X-Content-Type-Options nosniff;
add_header Content-Security-Policy "default-src 'self' www.google-analytics.com ajax.googleapis.com www.google.com google.com gstatic.com www.gstatic.com connect.facebook.net facebook.com;";
add_header X-XSS-Protection "1; mode=block";
add_header Referrer-Policy "origin";


You still need the http to https redirection in place.

  • Okay, good answer but it creates one confusion for me. I.e., would I need to do away with the redirection going on in my nginx config? I'm now confused as to what the final config would look like. Would be great if you could add a bit more illustration to your answer. – Hassan Baig Sep 21 '17 at 22:32
  • 1
    The best practice is to use both redirect and HSTS. Redirect makes sure that first-time visitors to your site get forwarded to a TLS connection. HSTS makes sure that browsers won't even try to connect via HTTP, which makes things more secure. You should add Tim's directives to your server block for the TLS connections (port 443). – Tero Kilkanen Sep 21 '17 at 22:35
  • I never said to remove redirection. You want both. – Tim Sep 21 '17 at 22:40
  • @TeroKilkanen: and like you advised previously, I should add these headers under all blocks using listen 443 ssl;, or just the one containing the main configuration? – Hassan Baig Sep 21 '17 at 22:47
  • Put the directives into a single file, include them from every server block - not just the https servers, include the http servers. – Tim Sep 21 '17 at 23:28

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