My goal is to provide a secure email service from a new Ubuntu 16.04 server. In order to do this, I want to set up Apache2 with nginx running as its reverse proxy.

My immediate problem is that Apache fails to start, claiming that there is no SSL certificate assigned (see output from Terminal at the end of this question), even though I am not (yet) attempting to use HTTPS.

My questions:

  • If Apache is running on a local port, is it not enough that nginx knows about any SSL certificates?
  • What do I need to do to get Apache to start listening on at a local address?

Here is my understanding of what I need to do. I would be grateful if you could point out where my understanding is mistaken.

  • Install nginx and Apache2
  • Create a nginx server block to:
    • Listen on ports 80 (and 443)
    • (Redirect traffic from port 80 to port 443)
    • (Deal with an SSL certification)
    • Forward any requests for a PHP file to Apache at
  • Set up Apache to:
    • Listen only on port 8080, not on port 443
    • Remain ignorant of any SSL certification

I like to deal with one problem at a time, so I am currently leaving aside the question of SSL certificates and attempting to get Apache running with nginx as its reverse proxy on port 80 only.

Here are the configuration files that I have in place:


$ sudo nano /etc/nginx/sites-available/webmail

server {
  listen   80;

  root /var/www/webmail/web;
  index index.php index.html index.htm;

  server_name webmail.mydomain.com;

  # Look for...
  # * the exact path
  # * a default (index.*) file, considering the path to be a directory
  # ... and if that fails:
  # * get the index.php script at the root to deal with the request

  location / {
    try_files $uri $uri/ /index.php;

  # If the chosen path leads to a PHP fie:
  # * forward the request to Apache running at
  # * after having modified certain headers

  location ~ \.php$ {
    proxy_set_header X-Real-IP  $remote_addr;
    proxy_set_header X-Forwarded-For $remote_addr;
    proxy_set_header Host $host;

  # If there are any Apache HT files in the chosen directory
  # ignore any direct requests for them

  location ~ /\.ht {
    deny all;


$ sudo nano /etc/apache2/sites-available/webmail.conf 

        ServerName webmail.mydomain.com
        ServerAdmin admin@mydomain.com
        DocumentRoot /var/www/webmail/web
        <Directory "/var/www/webmail/web">
            Options FollowSymLinks
            AllowOverride All

        ErrorLog ${APACHE_LOG_DIR}/error.log
        LogLevel warn
        CustomLog ${APACHE_LOG_DIR}/access.log combined

Apache2 ports

$ sudo nano /etc/apache2/ports.conf


#<IfModule ssl_module>
#       Listen 443

#<IfModule mod_gnutls.c>
#       Listen 443

Note that I am explicitly not asking Apache to listen on port 443. Is there another place in some other config file that is telling Apache to listen on port 443?

Here are my placeholder PHP and HTML files, in their expected places:


$ sudo nano /var/www/webmail/web/index.php

  echo "PHP from /var/www/webmail/web/index.php\n";


$ sudo nano /var/www/webmail/web/index.html

  HTML from /var/www/webmail/web/index.html

In the browser, a request to http://webmail.mydomain.com/index.html succeeds as expected, but a request to http://webmail.mydomain.com/index.php results in the file being downloaded, not executed.

Here's what happens when I try to start Apache2:

$ sudo /etc/init.d/apache2 restart
[ ok ] Restarting apache2 (via systemctl): apache2.service.

$ sudo service apache2 status
* apache2.service - LSB: Apache2 web server
   Loaded: loaded (/etc/init.d/apache2; bad; vendor preset: enabled)
  Drop-In: /lib/systemd/system/apache2.service.d
   Active: inactive (dead) since <Time>; 3s ago
     Docs: man:systemd-sysv-generator(8)
  Process: 16059 ExecStop=/etc/init.d/apache2 stop (code=exited, status=0/SUCCESS)
  Process: 16043 ExecStart=/etc/init.d/apache2 start (code=exited, status=0/SUCCESS)

systemd[1]: Starting LSB: Apache2 web server...
apache2[16043]:  * Starting Apache httpd web server apache2
apache2[16043]: Action 'start' failed.
apache2[16043]: The Apache error log may have more information.
apache2[16043]:  *
apache2[16059]:  * Stopping Apache httpd web server apache2
apache2[16059]:  *
systemd[1]: Started LSB: Apache2 web server.

Here's the contents of the error.log:

$ sudo nano /var/log/apache2/error.log

[ssl:emerg] [pid 15943] AH02572: Failed to configure at least one certificate and key for myhostname.hostingservice.com:443
[ssl:emerg] [pid 15943] SSL Library Error: error:140A80B1:SSL routines:SSL_CTX_check_private_key:no certificate assigned
[ssl:emerg] [pid 15943] AH02311: Fatal error initialising mod_ssl, exiting. See /var/log/apache2/error.log for more information

(This is in var/log/apache2/error.log, and there is no more information.)

What have I been missing?

NOTE: The primary purpose of this server is to deliver a Meteor app. I have chosen to do this using Phusion Passenger and Nginx. In addition to the email service, Apache will also be used to deliver a WordPress site.

  • What web / mail server are you using and is https working on nginx ? I do not see nginx listening on port 443 in your configuration. Do you have a working ssl cert for "webmail.mydomain.com" ?
    – Panther
    Nov 1, 2017 at 1:09
  • I'm out of the loop on this one a bit but after skimming over it, how are you processing the PHP? Did you install mod_php or are you using PHP-FPM or ...? Doesn't installing mod_php on Ubuntu also put the correct config lines in? FWIW Digital Ocean has good server commissioning guides.
    – pbhj
    Nov 1, 2017 at 5:07

1 Answer 1


I have got it working now. I had neglected to remove /etc/apache2/sites-disabled/default-ssl.conf, so Apache was trying to run a secure site that wasn't needed.

I subsequently used sudo certbot --nginx to obtain a certificate for Nginx, and now everything is working securely.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.