Debian Lenny - Apache Virtual Hosts #1

Now we have Apache installed and running, we can configure it to serve multiple domains using Virtual Hosts.

Do note the layout used in these articles is explained here - feel free to use the directories of your choice.

Create the layout

In this example we'll be using two domains: and

In your home directory create a 'public_html' folder:

cd ~
mkdir public_html

Now for each domain we want to host create a folder with a standard set of sub-folders:

mkdir -p public_html/{public,private,log,cgi-bin,backup}


mkdir -p public_html/{public,private,log,cgi-bin,backup}

That will create the folders public, private, log, cgi-bin and backup for each of our domains ( and


The content of the public folder is, naturally, up to you but for this example I am going to use a very simple html file so we can check the virtual hosts work.

So for each domain create an index.html file:

nano public_html/

add the following to the index.html file:


Repeat the process so you have a similar file for (simply replace all instances of '' with '

OK. Now we have a basic structure for our two domains we can look at defining two virtual hosts.


With virtual hosts, one thing that often confuses people is the NameVirtualHost setting.

For each interface and port on which Apache is set to listen on, we need a NameVirtualHost directive. Something to keep in mind is you can only define it once per port.

In the Apache layout for Debian Lenny there is a default NameVirtualHost directive in the 'ports.conf' file. If you've worked through the Apache configuration #1 article for Lenny, you may remember it being noted previously.

Let's take another look at the contents of 'ports.conf':

cat /etc/apache2/ports.conf

You should get the following output (unless you've previously modified the file):

# If you just change the port or add more ports here, you will likely also
# have to change the VirtualHost statement in
# /etc/apache2/sites-enabled/000-default
# This is also true if you have upgraded from before 2.2.9-3 (i.e. from
# Debian etch). See /usr/share/doc/apache2.2-common/NEWS.Debian.gz and
# README.Debian.gz

NameVirtualHost *:80
Listen 80

<IfModule mod_ssl.c>
    # SSL name based virtual hosts are not yet supported, therefore no
    # NameVirtualHost statement here
    Listen 443

The default NameVirtualHost setting satisfies our requirements at present — Apache will apply named based virtual host logic and settings for HTTP requests made on any available interface (*) at port 80.

Custom Virtual Hosts

We've set up the basics and now we're ready to add our own virtual hosts so we can start to serve our domains.

Let's go ahead and create the vhost file for domain1:

sudo nano /etc/apache2/sites-available/

The contents look like this:

# Place any notes or comments you have here
# It will make any customisation easier to understand in the weeks to come

# domain:
# public: /home/demo/public_html/

<VirtualHost *:80>

  # Admin email, Server Name (domain name) and any aliases

  # Index file and Document Root (where the public files are located)
  DirectoryIndex index.html
  DocumentRoot /home/demo/public_html/

  # Custom log file locations
  LogLevel warn
  ErrorLog  /home/demo/public_html/
  CustomLog /home/demo/public_html/ combined



Now we have the site available, we need to enable it:

sudo a2ensite

The output of the command is:

Site installed; run /etc/init.d/apache2 reload to enable.

Seems like good advice:

sudo /etc/init.d/apache2 reload


To test the domain without creating a DNS zone and record(s) on some Internet namserver(s), I've modified the '/etc/hosts' file on my local computer to include some entries mapping '', etc. to the demo Slice's public IP:    localhost

# entries related to the demo slice

You can add similar entries in your own 'hosts' file, though it's location will vary depending on what OS is loaded on your local computer (try a Google search).

NOTE: entries in the 'hosts' file will need to be removed prior to testing and using live DNS zones and records created on Internet nameservers. Failure to remove them will likely lead to confusion on your part and inaccurate tests of new or modified public DNS records.

With such changes made for testing purposes, you can navigate to your site in a web browser on your local computer:

Domain1 Home Page

Tada! You now have the contents of public/index.html being shown:


Note that in the vhost file, we set a ServerAlias. Providing you have the DNS set up correctly you can also use that address — for quick testing purposes you can place another entry in your 'hosts' file (I've already done so in the example code given above):

Domain1 Home Page (hostname alias)

We'll talk about forcing one address or the other in a later article about rewrite rules.

Repeat as necessary

To create and enable simply go through the process again:

sudo nano /etc/apache2/sites-available/
# Enter the details for as per the example shown above

Then enable the site and restart Apache:

sudo a2ensite
sudo /etc/init.d/apache2 reload

Finally navigate to your second domain:

All being well, you will see the '' index file.

Log Files

As defined in the vhosts file, each domain has its own log files. Let's take a quick look:

ls /home/demo/public_html/

The output is exactly as expected:

access.log  error.log

This makes for much easier analysis as each set of logs is self contained.


Remember that although we changed the default virtual host, we did leave it in place.

Now, if someone enters the IP address of the Slice they are served the contents of that default vhosts file (providing, of course, you have not set up a separate vhost for the IP address).

Why are they served from that vhost file?

Apache searches the enabled vhosts in alphabetical order and if it can't find one for the requested IP address or domain name, it serves the first one (alphabetically).

If we had disabled or deleted the default vhost, then the contents of would be displayed (being before alphabetically).

This is something to keep in mind when planning your websites. Do you want a particular domain to be the default? Do you want the IP address to have completely different content?


We've gone into some detail here but, overall, setting up a virtual host is relatively easy. Of course, there are many settings and configurations to take into account but you should have your site up and running in no time.

The next virtual host article will look in more detail at some of the settings that are available and what they mean.

Ben B

Article Comments:

Johan commented Thu Jun 04 22:11:29 UTC 2009:

Wow, what a great explaination on how to create virtual hosts !! It really helpt me to set it up on my Debian server and i'am just starting with it. Hope te see more of those tuts from you ;)

Greets J.

richard commented Wed Aug 19 10:50:58 UTC 2009:

What about email addresses for the virtual host users?

Abdoulaye commented Thu Aug 27 09:55:42 UTC 2009:

good job! clear and well written article!

Marc commented Sat Oct 17 06:21:35 UTC 2009:

Ben, this is so far the best description of how to setup vhosts on Lenny. It worked right out of the box. Well done!!!

Robert commented Thu Dec 16 16:47:58 UTC 2010:

Thanks alot! I just finished server configuration in less than 2 minutes! :)

Tourmondo commented Sun Jan 16 11:46:09 UTC 2011:

I'm new to Debian Lenny and thought it would be hard work to configure everything. But not with tutorials like this!

rutchy commented Tue Feb 15 12:41:02 UTC 2011:

thanks but if i want to add two website in virtual host?

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