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Running Kirby on a Nginx web server

In its requirements, Kirby states that it is able to run on many different web servers. However, in reality it seems that most of the time it is used on Apache servers. Historically, Apache is pretty common among shared webhosting providers where many people host their Kirby sites. It's also very popular as a local development server because of tools like LAMP/MAMP/WAMP, which make it very easy to install Apache and PHP on your local computer. Even though Nginx has been around for more than 15 years and is widely considered to be more modern and more performant than Apache, it's often still seen as more complicated or not as beginner-friendly.

Nginx: No support for .htaccess

One of the best arguments for using Apache is one of its convenience features: It can be configured through files (called .htaccess) within your projects' folders. So it's no wonder that Kirby ships with a .htaccess file which makes sure that it runs flawlessly whenever Kirby is dropped into an Apache web root.

But this convenience comes at a cost: speed. All these .htaccess files have to be read and interpreted at every single request. That's why Nginx does not support .htaccess files for performance reasons.

Instead, it needs to be configured through a single, global config file. Most of the time, the config file also needs to be adjusted to the very specific server setup and operating system. Where Apache uses modules to include PHP, Nginx also does this in its global config file. This means that there is no single config file that works out of the box, which could be shipped with Kirby. So the process of configuring Nginx might seem a little bit more intimidating to beginners. However, it's really not that difficult and requires only about 20 lines of configuration to get Kirby (or most other PHP applications) running on Nginx.

The main config file for Nginx is typically found in the main Nginx folder and called nginx/nginx.conf. We don't need to edit this file, but it's still very interesting to look at. Towards the end it will typically include files from nginx/conf.d/*.conf. So to get started with your Kirby site, you can either create a new file like nginx/conf.d/kirby.conf or just edit the default file nginx/conf.d/default.conf.

Contexts and Directives

Generally speaking, an Nginx config file consists of contexts and directives. A directive is a special keyword, followed by one or multiple values (e.g. server_name localhost;) and ends with a semicolon. A context is a group and a scope for these directives (e.g. server {...}). The order of directives can matter in some cases, so try to stick to the example where possible.

Typically, when talking about an Nginx configuration, we don't need to modify the complete configuration or start completely from scratch, because Nginx comes with a very reasonable default config. We only need to create a new server context (which represents a virtual server) for our Kirby site. This part will be automatically embedded into a larger config file by default, which we don't need to touch at all.

So, let's look at a good boilerplate config for a Kirby setup. Feel free to copy this and skip the rest of this article, or keep going if you're interested in the explanation, why certain directives are needed or not.

Boilerplate config

server {
  listen 8080; # Can be omitted if Nginx runs on Port 80
  index index.php index.html;
  server_name localhost; # Adjust to your domain setup
  root /usr/share/nginx/html; # Adjust to your setup

  location / {
    try_files $uri $uri/ /index.php$is_args$args;
  }

  location ~* \.php$ {
    try_files $uri =404;
    fastcgi_pass php:9000; # Adjust to your setup
    include fastcgi.conf;
    fastcgi_split_path_info ^(.+\.php)(/.+)$;
    fastcgi_param PATH_INFO $fastcgi_path_info;
    fastcgi_param SERVER_PORT 8080; # Only needed if external port is different from the listen port
  }
}

Line-by-line explanation

server {
  listen 8080;

With the server context, we're creating a new virtual server for our Kirby site, which we're going to configure with all the following directives, which are indented by one level. With the listen directive, we're telling Nginx on which port it should listen. This directive is optional – if you omit it, Nginx will listen on the default port 80.

index index.php index.html;

The index directive contains the names of files, which Nginx will try to serve if the given request path does not directly match a file in the web root. Typically we want the index.php file to have a higher priority than the index.html file.

server_name localhost;

The server_name directive tells Nginx, which requests it should accept for the given virtual server. This needs to be adjusted to your setup. If you're running Nginx locally, you probably want this to be localhost, and if you're running it on the web, it should contain your domain name, e.g. server_name www.mykirbysite.com. You can also put down multiple server names, for example with and without www (server_name www.mykirbysite.com mykirbysite.com;). You can also use any invalid server_name like _ to create a "catch-all" server, which will accept all connections (you should not do this for security reasons).

root /usr/share/nginx/html;

This is a very important directive, as it tells Nginx where your web root is located. The files in the given directory will be served by Nginx. This should typically be the base folder of your Kirby project folder, or you should copy/extract the content of the Kirby repo/ZIP file to this location.

location / {
  try_files $uri $uri/ /index.php$is_args$args;
}

This block is extremly important, and probably the most "unique" part about this Nginx config. Without this block, links and images in Kirby will not work properly. Kirby uses a so called "front controller", which means that all requests to the Kirby site need to go through a single entrance point (which is index.php). Kirby will internally forward/handle the requests to the proper place. If you're trying to request a nested page somewhere deep in your content folder (like photography/trees), it does not exist on the file system, so the request needs to go to index.php. The try_files directive tells Nginx what files it should serve if there is no direct match for the given path. By adding /index.php$is_args$args to this list, we make sure that every request goes to the Kirby front controller if there is no corresponding file on the file system.

location ~* \.php$ {
  try_files $uri =404;

This location block configures the communication between Nginx and PHP. The ~* after the location keyword is a modifier to make the following regular expression case insensitive (this means, that .php and .PHP files will both be handled by this block. Let's look at the regular expression \.php$ in more detail:

  • \. the backslash is an escape sequence, so the following character (a period) will be treated as an actual period, and not as a placeholder (which a period normally means)
  • php$ the dollar sign at the end of php means that php needs to be at the end of a path (e.g. it will match /my/folder/index.php but not /my/folder/index.php/morestuff

The following line try_files $uri =404; is very important, and often missing in Nginx tutorials. It makes sure that only existing files will be interpreted by PHP. If this is missing, PHP will do some crazy stuff to find a file matching this request, which may result in security problems.

fastcgi_pass php:9000;

This is the line that does the handover to the PHP interpreter. We're using the FastCGI interface for this handover. It is the modern and most performant approach to connect a web server with a backend-interpreter like PHP. The fastcgi_pass takes a network address or unix socket to a PHP-FPM process. So this setting depends on your specific setup. If you're using docker, you can just put down the name of your FPM container. If you're running PHP-FPM on the same system.,you can use localhost followed by the port number.

include fastcgi.conf;
fastcgi_split_path_info ^(.+\.php)(/.+)$;
fastcgi_param PATH_INFO $fastcgi_path_info;
fastcgi_param SERVER_PORT 8080;

Including fastcgi.conf will properly set some global PHP variables like SCRIPT_NAME, which the PHP process needs. Now there's only three of them that we need to set manually starting with fastcgi_split_path_info. This directive needs to contain a regular expression with two capture groups. The first group will become the $fastcgi_script_name variable, and the second capture group will become $fastcgi_path_info. We're only interested in the second variable, which we'll use in the next line to set the PATH_INFO variable correctly. The last line is only necessary, if your Nginx is running on a different port than the one that is really exposed to the outside (e.g. if you run Nginx in a Docker container with an internal Port 80, but the port is mapped to 8080 on the host). Kirby uses this variable to create internal links – so if this is not set correctly, internal links won't work.

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