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How to deploy an Apache web server quickly

Install, configure, and test a very basic web server deployment in just eight steps.
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Sometimes you need to deploy a web server quickly. A web server makes it easy to do things like test web applications, implement a proof-of-concept project, or just get familiar with web development.

The steps below cover how to do that using the venerable Apache HTTP Server. I'll begin with installation, then continue with editing a basic configuration file, creating a few documents, setting the firewall, and finally, testing the service.

Note that this is a very basic test deployment. It's not suitable for internet-facing web servers. To be production-ready, you must configure firewalls and audit your server settings.

Install Apache

If your Linux distribution doesn't already include Apache, run the following command to install the package:

$ sudo dnf install httpd

Adjust the command accordingly if you use a different package manager.

Edit the config file

Using your text editor of choice (mine is Vim, but Nano or others work just as well), open /etc/httpd/conf/httpd.conf.

These two values may already be set in that file, but confirm them to be sure:

DocumentRoot /var/www/html
Listen 80

Use the search function in your editor to find the appropriate stanzas. You may need to uncomment the DocumentRoot stanza. This article uses the standard location at /var/www/html.

The Listen directive simply indicates which port the service listens on. In this case, use the standard port 80 for HTTP.

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Manage the service

You've installed a web server, but you haven't started running it yet. Use the systemctl command to start and enable the httpd service:

$ sudo systemctl start httpd
$ sudo systemctl status httpd

Starting a service doesn't mean it will start automatically from now on. To make your web server start automatically after a reboot, use the enable subcommand:

$ sudo systemctl enable --now httpd

Open port 80

Now that the site is configured (and in a real-world situation, secured), it's time to open the firewall. I'll assume you're using firewalld, so type the following commands to permit HTTP traffic into the server:

$ sudo firewall-cmd --permanent --zone=public --add-service=http
$ sudo firewall-cmd --reload
$ sudo firewall-cmd --list-all --zone=public

You may need to adjust the zone value, depending on your distribution.

Test the server

First, test the server with a browser. Launch Firefox and navigate to localhost:80 to see the Apache web server's default confirmation page.

Create content

You probably didn't install a web server just to see "It works!" in your browser. To make your server a little more interesting, launch your favorite text editor using sudo, and create a few pages to simulate a website. Feel free to make this as simple or complex as you'd like. You can also create a text file to test downloads from the site.

Your site's homepage is by default index.html, and it's located in /var/www/html. Make a backup copy of the existing index.html file and create a new one containing the following code:

<title>Welcome to my test site!</title>
This site is for testing purposes only

Additionally, create a new text file called download-this.txt with the following content so that you can test the curl and wget commands later:

If you can read this, the download succeeded!

Store these two files at /var/www/html.

Look at files

Assuming that works, do a test download of the download-this.txt file.

Use a different system on the same segment to test the web service. On the new system, launch a web browser. In the address bar, type the web server's IP address.

Don't forget, you can launch a browser and point it at a site from the terminal:

$ firefox http://IP

Do you see your welcome page?

Sysadmins frequently use curl or wget to download files using HTTP. This ability is particularly handy for hands-free downloads in scripts or other automation scenarios.

Run these two commands to confirm file download functionality:

$ sudo dnf -y install curl

$ curl -O http://IP/download-this.txt
$ sudo dnf -y install wget

$ wget http://IP/download-this.txt

Did you receive the download-this.txt file? Use ls to display the file and cat to read its contents. You might have two copies of the file if you tested the download using both the curl and wget commands.

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Check the logs

Check the Apache log files for access information. For example, type the following to see log entries indicating the file download transactions:

$ sudo cat /var/log/httpd/access_log | grep -I download-this.txt

Wrap up

That's it! You've installed, configured, and tested a very basic web server deployment in just a few steps. Don't forget to investigate security settings before placing such a deployment in your production environment or exposing it to the outside world.

Topics:   Web servers   Software  
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Damon Garn

Damon Garn owns Cogspinner Coaction, LLC, a technical writing, editing, and IT project company based in Colorado Springs, CO. Damon authored many CompTIA Official Instructor and Student Guides (Linux+, Cloud+, Cloud Essentials+, Server+) and developed a broad library of interactive, scored labs. He regularly contributes to Enable Sysadmin, SearchNetworking, and CompTIA article repositories. Damon has 20 years of experience as a technical trainer covering Linux, Windows Server, and security content. He is a former sysadmin for US Figure Skating. He lives in Colorado Springs with his family and is a writer, musician, and amateur genealogist. More about me

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