Debian Lenny - Installing Nginx from source

Nginx is a popular lightweight server for those who do not need the bulk and extra services that Apache may offer.

This article will look at installing Nginx from source on a Debian Lenny Slice.


At the time of writing, the latest stable version of Nginx is 0.7.61. You can check the latest versions and change logs at the main nginx site.

Do note that Nginx is also available from Lenny's 'aptitude' package manager as version 0.6.32, at the time of writing.

Using the package manager will ensure any dependencies are taken care of and any security issue (if any arise) are taken care of with a simple update. Please see this article if you want to install Nginx with the package manager.


One final difference that is worth considering is the layout differences between using the packaged version and installing from source.

Debian's packaged version of Nginx uses a 'sites-available' and 'sites-enabled' layout in the same manner as a Debian based Apache install.

Although installing from source does not automatically create this layout, I will show how to adjust the folders and config files to do so.

Mirroring the layout used in the packed version of Nginx gives us 'common ground' when moving on to creating virtual hosts and further configuration articles.


As we are not using the package manager to install nginx, we need to take care of some dependencies.

The dependencies list can be generated with aptitude:

aptitude show nginx
Depends: libc6 (>= 2.4), libpcre3 (>= 7.4), libssl0.9.8 (>= 0.9.8f-5), zlib1g
         (>= 1:1.1.4), lsb-base (>= 3.2-14)

It turns out that a few additional packages are needed to successfully install nginx from source:

sudo aptitude install libc6 libpcre3 libpcre3-dev libpcrecpp0 libssl0.9.8 libssl-dev zlib1g zlib1g-dev lsb-base


Now we can download the Nginx source code.

Create a 'sources' directory (you can download it to wherever you want):

mkdir ~/sources

Now move into the folder:

cd ~/sources/

And then download the source code:



Unpack the downloaded tar/gzip file and move into the newly created directory:

tar -zxvf nginx-0.7.61.tar.gz
cd nginx-0.7.61/


There are quite a few compile time options available.

Have a look at the Install Options page of the nginx wiki for full details.

We're going to use just two options to customize the install. The first of which is:


By default, nginx will be installed in /usr/local/nginx which, although a good place, does mean the main nginx binary will be found in /usr/local/nginx/sbin/nginx.

Not a location we are likely to find in our default search paths. So instead of adding new directories to our path (which may cause errors later on) we simply define where to put the binary.

The second option is:


Probably self explanatory, but this will enable the ssl module to be compiled so we can parse HTTPS requests.


Let's go ahead and configure the nginx compilation using those two options:

./configure --sbin-path=/usr/local/sbin --with-http_ssl_module

There will be a nice summary at the end of the compile which includes such items as:

nginx path prefix: "/usr/local/nginx"
nginx binary file: "/usr/local/sbin"
nginx configuration prefix: "/usr/local/nginx/conf"
nginx pid file: "/usr/local/nginx/logs/"

Keep a note of the output as it does contain some useful paths and locations.


Ok, let's go ahead and 'make' and then 'make install':

sudo make install


Done. We can test the install by starting nginx:

sudo /usr/local/sbin/nginx

Navigating to your Slice's IP address (assuming you have no other server listening on port 80) you will be greeted with the standard welcome page:

Nginx Welcome Screen


If you have been running Apache or some other web server (or have previously installed Nginx via a package manager) then you may be used to having a script to start and stop it, such as you might find in '/etc/init.d/'.

Unfortunately, compiling from source does not create a script like that (we will create an init script in a subsequent article.)

You may have noticed that one of the paths noted in the compile summary was:

nginx pid file: "/usr/local/nginx/logs/"

Let's make use of that to stop nginx:

sudo kill `cat /usr/local/nginx/logs/`

That will use the output of the pid file to kill the nginx process — note the use of back ticks ( ` ` ) and not single quotes ( ' ' ) in the command.


Although quite detailed, we have installed the latest version of nginx from source and compiled it with some custom options to make life a bit easier.

We also know how to start and stop nginx by hand.

As mentioned, the next couple of articles will cover creation of an init script so we have more control over Nginx, and also mirroring the 'Debian' style layout to include a 'sites-available' and a 'sites-enabled' folder and so on.

Once finished, we will then look at configuring nginx and setting up virtual hosts.

So, let's move on to the next article to create our nginx init script.

Ben B

Article Comments:

Ken commented Fri Aug 21 20:10:27 UTC 2009:

(note: I might've mis-posted this before, I can't find the previous edition)

I installed Nginx from the source, as usual, on Debian Lenny, and I can't seem to list my files by directory (without using an index file). Do I need a thumbnails file in order to be able to see my files in my public web directory and how do I make this work?

Bankruptcy commented Tue Aug 25 17:01:41 UTC 2009:

complex post. upright one detail where I bicker with it. I am emailing you in detail.

Scott Barr commented Fri Jan 15 15:13:20 UTC 2010:

I have written a post at my blog which uses gists to provide a 3 line install for Nginx on Debian.

Fidel Ramos commented Sat Jul 03 12:06:51 UTC 2010:

Nice tutorial, the nginx version on Debian repositories is usually quite old.

One tip of advice: in Debian the best way to install the compile dependencies of a package is using the aptitude build-dep command:

aptitude build-dep nginx

This will install all packages required to build the nginx package, even the ones mentioned in the article as missing in the "Depends" section from "aptitude show nginx". That dependencies are only for the binary installation of nginx (via aptitude install and the like), and not dependencies for compiling.

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