I have just installed Ubuntu Server 10.04 with a LAMP setup. I want to host a website there but I'm not sure which is the best way to get/edit my files on the server. Googling provides many options but I'm not sure which is best?

Unless there's a better option, I'd like to be create the pages on another PC (Windows or Linux) and use SFTP to sync the changes to the server - but do I do this to a symlinked folder in ~/ or by changing rights on the /var/www/ folder?


7 Answers 7


Every setup is different. For me I have a lot of users on a server that each hosts websites, for you, you likely won't need to create more than just one user on the system. However, if you manage multiple websites on this server this setup will help you to manage, configure, and debug each domain in a fashion easier than a standard LAMP setup. In order for that to happen I utilize several devices by Apache to get around permission errors.

First, this is the document structure I use:


Each user has their own account with a domains folder (which I added to /etc/skel so it gets created every time. Each domain has it's own folder in the domains folder with an html folder (I have my reasons for this, primarily so domains can have web files outside of the public realm). Feel free to modify this structure as you see fit, just remember to carry those changes throughout this post.

Secondly, I host a lot of PHP sites so I use suPHP in my configuration. By default the standard archive package doesn't have the proper compile flag enabled resulting in a less secure version of suPHP. I've made my own suPHP package which I use on my servers, installation instructions below. suPHP allows you to define what user PHP scripts should be executed as (among other things including: custom php.ini for each site, etc). I also enable suExec for Apache - further removing the need to have any ownership to www-data user (a user which I despise).

First ensure you have Apache, and all other services installed on your server. Make sure they are at least working. After that I recommend installing suphp-common and the required libapache2-mod-suphp module (More information: What are PPAs and how do I use them?). Then, after those install, activate suPHP and suexec using a2enmod

sudo a2enmod suphp
sudo a2enmod suexec
sudo a2dismod php5

sudo /etc/init.d/apache restart

Next will come the configuration file. I've made various tools that automatically generate the configuration files everytime I add a new site; however, here is the basic template I use:

<VirtualHost *:80>
    ServerAdmin [EMAIL]
    ServerName [DOMAIN]
    ServerAlias www.[DOMAIN] [DOMAIN]
    DocumentRoot /home/[USER]/domains/[DOMAIN]/html

    <Directory /home/[USER]/domains/[DOMAIN]>
            Options Indexes FollowSymLinks MultiViews
            AllowOverride all

    ErrorLog /home/[USER]/domains/[DOMAIN]/logs/error.log

    # Possible values include: debug, info, notice, warn, error, crit,
    # alert, emerg.
    LogLevel warn

    CustomLog /home/[USER]/domains/[DOMAIN]/logs/access.log combined

    SuexecUserGroup [USER] [USER]

    suPHP_UserGroup [USER] [USER]
    suPHP_ConfigPath /home/[USER]/etc

This sets up logging for that domain, the document root, and all other basic necessities for the domain to operate. I place these files in /etc/apache2/sites-available/ typically named [USER]-[DOMAIN] and enable/disable them with a2ensite like so:

sudo a2ensite [USER]-[DOMAIN]
sudo a2dissite [USER]-[DOMAIN]

After each modification to configuration files Apache will need to be reloaded with

sudo /etc/init.d/apache reload

While it may seem like a lot to setup the amount of flexibility gained, in my opinion, far outweighs the setup time. Though you only need a single user webserver, in the future if you ever wanted anything other than a single user webserver, you would need to perform further actions (or just drop security all together) in order to do so.

  • +1 for every setup is different and using separate user accounts for each website
    – Lekensteyn
    Jun 1, 2011 at 20:38
  • 1
    This is great for a multi-user LAMP system, but the question was about a single-user LAMP system, in which case this answer is overkill. :)
    – Kees Cook
    Jun 1, 2011 at 20:53
  • @Kees same principle applies - only you don't have to make more users. This way you never have to worry about user or permission issues - and if a single user has multiple domain this setup will cover that. Jun 1, 2011 at 21:12
  • Marco, you can implement this method at the very point in time that you get your second user. That first one though, should be far simpler unless its certain you'll have more.
    – SpamapS
    Jun 2, 2011 at 0:28
  • +1 - this is the safest and most sensible configuration. Jun 2, 2011 at 4:42

Sftp is very easy to install. Just install the package openssh-server and you will have sftp. Make sure your user has a good password if you can get to it from the internet. (8+ characters, not a dictionary word, has symbols and numbers).

For permissions, I usually do this
sudo adduser <username> www-data
sudo chown -R www-data:www-data /var/www
sudo chmod -R g+rw /var/www
You should then be able to post pages by connecting with sftp (using your username and password) and then going to the /var/www folder and placing your files there.

  • 1
    A more secure method is key-based authentication (with the private key password protected of course)
    – Lekensteyn
    May 27, 2011 at 14:04
  • @Lekensteyn I considered suggesting that, but I was trying to keep it simple. Craig T might have a look at help.ubuntu.com/community/SSH/OpenSSH/Keys and help.ubuntu.com/community/SSH/OpenSSH/… if he wants to set up the more secure Key based authentication.
    – Azendale
    May 27, 2011 at 14:22
  • 2
    This is the simplest approach to getting the files into the right place on a single-instance web server without wrecking file permissions. :) Additionally, rsync could be used instead of sftp. Both use SSH under the hood (and I would recommend using ssh keys instead of passwords, but someone already mentioned that).
    – Kees Cook
    Jun 1, 2011 at 20:52
  • 1
    +1, agree with Kees, this is super simple and works for the stated question. I've used almost the exact same setup for production clusters with 40+ nodes, restricting access to SSH keys only.
    – SpamapS
    Jun 2, 2011 at 0:26

I use webdav. It's very easy to install on Ubuntu Server. If you have apache installed you're almost done. Just sudo a2enmod dav; service apache2 restart. You'll need to do a little configuration of your virtual site. Here's an example that I'm using in production:

<VirtualHost *>
    ServerName webdav.mysite.com
    ServerAdmin webmaster@mysite.com

    DocumentRoot /srv/mysite
    DAVLockDB /var/lock/apache2/DAVLock
    <Directory /srv/mysite>
        Order allow,deny
        Allow from all
    Dav On
    DAVMinTimeout 600
    DAVDepthInfinity On
AuthName "mysite login"
AuthType Basic
AuthUserFile /srv/mysite/.htpassword
Require valid-user

php_admin_value engine off

<VirtualHost *>

    ServerName mysite.com
    ServerAlias *.mysite.com
    ServerAdmin webmaster@mysite.com

    DocumentRoot /srv/mysite/www
    <Directory /srv/mysite/www>
        Order allow,deny
        Allow from all

    ScriptAlias /cgi-bin/ /srv/mysite/cgi-bin/

You can put this in /srv/etc/apache2/sites-available/mysite and then do sudo a2ensite mysite; sudo service apache2 reload.

What is happening here is you've created two virtual sites. One is www.mysite.com and the other is webdav.mysite.com. PHP has been disabled on webdav.mysite.com which is important.

Now you can access your site over http on Ubuntu, Windows and MacOS. All three have built in webdav support. Here are instructions on adding a webdav network location in Ubuntu.

  • Why is this good? Because you can access your site from any operating system with no additional software (sftp works in Ubuntu, needs a separate program in other OSs). Also, with a site like wordpress, permissions are already correct for dealing with file uploads since apache deals with both aspects. And if you want security, standard https is available as well. (you can use different ports if you have multiple sites on the same IP)
    – newz2000
    Jun 1, 2011 at 20:11
  • By the way, instructions above assume you've created a place for your site: mkdir -p /srv/mysite/www; chown -R www-data.www-data /srv/mysite.
    – newz2000
    Jun 1, 2011 at 20:14
  • 1
    DAV isn't certain to be encrypted (unless your webserver is also running SSL), so I would recommend SFTP or rsync over DAV in general.
    – Kees Cook
    Jun 1, 2011 at 20:50

I would give write permissions to /var/www to the www-data and add your user to that group. That way it would be easy to control which users can write to that directory.

sudo chgrp -R www-data /var/www
sudo chmod g+w -R /var/www 
usermod -a -G www-data your-user

Are you using any framework for your site? Drupal, Wordpress, etc? Drupal for example has tools to upload via browser interaction.

Have you looked into Samba? You can setup a Samba share (and there are tons of resources on the web for them) and simply use Windows Explorer to open/edit/save/delete. Setup /var/www to be shared and then map the "network drive" to windows.

Is this a work or a home environment? It sounds like home, but if you are in a work environment... you can pair Samba with Active Directory with tools like Likewise-Open. I have a server/website setup such that those in the IT shop can log in to either side of the server (linux or website) via their AD credentials.

I'd also suggest looking into something like Mercurial. Create a repository on the server, and sync with windows via something like TortiseHG. I assume it's like rsync, but you would have version-ing, backups, ability to distribute, etc (SVN, Mercurial, Git, etc all options)


You can use sshfs. https://help.ubuntu.com/community/SSHFS


Are you after something like this

rsync -az --rsh "ssh" --rsync-path "sudo rsync" ~/website ubuntu@REMOTE-IP:/var/www
  • 1
    Logging in as root seems like serious overkill.
    – Kees Cook
    Jun 1, 2011 at 20:50

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