Nginx webserver

Nginx is a high-performance HTTP/S server with other functions as well. It is a perfect candidate to run on OpenWrt due to the performance and memory handling. NB: At this time (2020-07-21), the configuration described below is contained in the master, but not in the current release (19.07).

We can install Nginx with SSL (using libopenssl) by:

 opkg update && opkg install nginx-ssl 

Of course there will be port issues if we installed LuCI before or after Nginx, since the standard LuCI package installs uHTTPd, which also wants to claim port 80 (and port 443 for HTTPS). So configuring and/or portforwarding may be neccessary. There are ways to run LuCI with Nginx but that is not coverd here. For a quick fix, just change the uhttpd port to something else in /etc/config/uhttpd.

The official Documentation contains a Admin Guide. Here we will look at some often used configuration parts and how we handle them at OpenWrt. At different places there are references to the official Technical Specs for further reading.

tl;dr: When starting Nginx by /etc/init.d/nginx, it creates its main configuration dynamically based on a minimal template and the 🡒UCI configuration.

The UCI /etc/config/nginx contains initially:

config server '_lan' Default server for the LAN, which includes all /etc/nginx/conf.d/*.locations.
config server '_redirect2ssl' Redirects inexistent URLs to HTTPS.

It enables also the /etc/nginx/conf.d/ directory for further configuration:

/etc/nginx/conf.d/$NAME.conf Is included in the main configuration. It is prioritized over a UCI config server '$NAME' .
/etc/nginx/conf.d/$NAME.locations Is include in the _lan server and can be re-used for others, too.
/etc/nginx/restrict_locally Is include in the _lan server and allows only accesses from LAN.

Setup configuration (for a server $NAME):

nginx-util [add_ssl|del_ssl] $NAME Add/remove a self-signed certificate and corresponding directives.
uci set nginx.$NAME.access_log='logd openwrt' Writes accesses to Openwrt’s 🡒logd.
uci set nginx.$NAME.error_log='logd' Writes errors to Openwrt’s 🡒logd.
uci [set|add_list] nginx.$NAME.key='value' Becomes a key value; directive if the key does not start with uci_.
uci set nginx.$NAME=[disable|server] Disable/enable inclusion in the dynamic conf.
uci set Use a custom /etc/nginx/nginx.conf rather than a dynamic conf.

We modify the configuration by changing servers saved in the UCI configuration at /etc/config/nginx and/or by creating different configuration files in the /etc/nginx/conf.d/ directory. These files use the file extensions .locations and .conf plus .crt and .key for SSL certificates and keys.1) For the new configuration to take effect, we must reload it by:

service nginx reload

For OpenWrt we use a special initial configuration, which is explained in the section 🡓OpenWrt’s Defaults. So, we can make a site available at a specific URL in the LAN by creating a .locations file in the directory /etc/nginx/conf.d/. Such a file consists just of some location blocks. Under the latter link, you can find also the official documentation for all available directives of the HTTP core of Nginx. Look for location in the Context list.

The following example provides a simple template, see at the end for different 🡓Locations for Apps2):

location /ex/am/ple {
	access_log off; # default: not logging accesses.
	# access_log /proc/self/fd/1 openwrt; # use logd (init forwards stdout).
	# error_log stderr; # default: logging to logd (init forwards stderr).
	error_log /dev/null; # disable error logging after config file is read.
	# (state path of a file for access_log/error_log to the file instead.)
	index index.html;
# location /eg/static { … }

All location blocks in all .locations files must use different URLs, since they are all included in the _lan server that is part of the 🡓OpenWrt’s Defaults.3) We should use the root URL for other sites than LuCI only on other domain names, e.g., we could make a site available at In order to do that, we create 🡓New Server Parts for all domain names. We can also activate SSL thereby, see 🡓SSL Server Parts. We use such server parts also for publishing sites to the internet (WAN) instead of making them available just locally (in the LAN).

Via /etc/nginx/conf.d/*.conf files we can add directives to the http part of the configuration. If you would change the configuration uci.conf.template instead, it is not updated to new package's versions anymore. Although it is not recommended, you can also disable the whole UCI config and create your own /etc/nginx/nginx.conf; then invoke:

uci set

For making the router reachable from the WAN at a registered domain name, it is not enough letting the 🡒firewall accept requests (typically on ports 80 and 443) and giving the name server the internet IP address of the router (maybe updated automatically by a 🡒DDNS Client).

We also need to set up virtual hosting for this domain name by creating an appropriate server section in /etc/config/nginx (or in a /etc/nginx/conf.d/*.conf file, which cannot be changed using UCI). All such parts are included in the main configuration of OpenWrt (🡓OpenWrt’s Defaults).

In the server part, we state the domain as server_name. The link points to the same document as for the location blocks in the 🡑Basic Configuration: the official documentation for all available directives of the HTTP core of Nginx. This time look for server in the Context list, too. The server part should also contain similar location blocks as before.

We can add directives to a server in the UCI configuration by invoking uci [set|add_list] nginx.example_com.key=value. If the key is not starting with uci_, it becomes a key value; directive.

We cannot use dots in a key name other than in the value. In the following example we replace the dot in by an underscore for the UCI name of the server, but not for Nginx's server_name:

uci add nginx server &&
uci rename nginx.@server[-1]=example_com &&
uci add_list nginx.example_com.listen='80' &&
uci add_list nginx.example_com.listen='[::]:80' &&
uci set nginx.example_com.server_name='' &&
uci add_list nginx.example_com.include='conf.d/'
# uci add_list nginx.example_com.location='/ { … }' # root location for this server.

We can disable respective re-enable this server again by:

uci set nginx.example_com=disable # respective: uci set nginx.example_com=server

These changes are made in the RAM (and can be used until a reboot), we can save them permanently by:

uci commit nginx

For creating a similar /etc/nginx/conf.d/, we can adopt the following:

server {
	listen 80;
	listen [::]:80;
	include 'conf.d/';
	# location / { … } # root location for this server.

🡓OpenWrt’s Defaults include the UCI server config server '_redirect2ssl' . It acts as default_server for HTTP and redirects requests for inexistent URLs to HTTPS. For making another domain name accessible to all addresses, the corresponding server part should listen on port 80 and contain the FQDN as server_name, cf. the official documentation on request_processing.

Furthermore, there is a UCI server named _lan. It is the default_server for HTTPS and allows connections from LAN only. It includes the file /etc/nginx/restrict_locally with appropriate allow/deny directives, cf. the official documentation on limiting access.

For enabling HTTPS for a domain we need a SSL certificate as well as its key and add them by the directives ssl_certificate respective ssl_certificate_key to the server part of the domain (TLS SNI is supported by default). The rest of the configuration is similar as for general 🡑New Server Parts. We only have to adjust the listen directives by adding the ssl parameter and changing the port from 80 to 443.

The official documentation of the SSL module contains an example with some optimizations. We can extend an existing UCI server section similarly, e.g., for the above config server 'example_com' we invoke:

# Instead of 'del_list' the listen* entries, we could use '443 ssl' beforehand.
uci del_list nginx.example_com.listen='80' &&
uci del_list nginx.example_com.listen='[::]:80' &&
uci add_list nginx.example_com.listen='443 ssl' &&
uci add_list nginx.example_com.listen='[::]:443 ssl' &&
uci set nginx.example_com.ssl_certificate='/etc/nginx/conf.d/' &&
uci set nginx.example_com.ssl_certificate_key='/etc/nginx/conf.d/' &&
uci set nginx.example_com.ssl_session_cache='shared:SSL:32k' &&
uci set nginx.example_com.ssl_session_timeout='64m' &&
uci commit nginx

For making the server in /etc/nginx/conf.d/ available via SSL, we can make similar changes there.

The following command creates a self-signed SSL certificate and changes the corresponding configuration:

nginx-util add_ssl
  1. If a conf.d/ file exists, it adds ssl_* directives and changes the listen directives there. Else it does that similarly to the example above for a selected UCI server.
  2. It checks if there is a certificate with key for '' that is valid for at least 13 months or tries to create a self-signed one.
  3. When cron is activated, it installs a cron job for renewing the self-signed certificate every year if needed, too. We can activate cron by:
    service cron enable && service cron start

This can be undone by invoking:

nginx-util del_ssl

For using an SSL certificate and key that are managed otherwise, there is:

nginx-util add_ssl "$MANAGER" "/absolute/path/to/crt" "/absolute/path/to/key"

It only adds ssl_* directives and changes the listen directives in the appropriate configuration, but does not create or change the certificate or its key. This can be reverted by:

nginx-util del_ssl "$MANAGER"

For example uacme or can be used for creating an SSL certificate signed by Let’s Encrypt and changing the config accordingly. We can install them by:

opkg update && opkg install uacme #or: acme #and for LuCI: luci-app-acme

🡓OpenWrt’s Defaults include a UCI server for the LAN: config server '_lan' . It has ssl_* directives prepared for a self-signed4) SSL certificate, which is created on the first start of Nginx. The server listens on all addresses, is the default_server for HTTPS and allows connections from LAN only (by including the file restrict_locally with allow/deny directives, cf. the official documentation on limiting access).

For making another domain name accessible to all addresses, the corresponding SSL server part should listen on port 443 and contain the FQDN as server_name, cf. the official documentation on request_processing.

Furthermore, there is also a UCI server named _redirect2ssl, which listens on all addresses, acts as default_server for HTTP and redirects requests for inexistent URLs to HTTPS.

Since Nginx is compiled with these presets, we can pretend that the main configuration will always contain the following directives (though we can overwrite them):

pid "/var/run/";
lock_file "/var/lock/nginx.lock";
error_log "stderr";
proxy_temp_path "/var/lib/nginx/proxy";
client_body_temp_path "/var/lib/nginx/body";
fastcgi_temp_path "/var/lib/nginx/fastcgi";

When starting or reloading the Nginx service, the /etc/init.d/nginx script sets also the following directives (so we cannot change them in the used configuration file):

daemon off; # procd expects services to run in the foreground

Then, the init sript creates the main configuration uci.conf dynamically from the template:

# Consider using UCI or creating files in /etc/nginx/conf.d/ for configuration.
# Parsing UCI configuration is skipped if uci set
# For details see:
worker_processes auto;
user root;
events {}
http {
	access_log off;
	log_format openwrt
		'$request_method $scheme://$host$request_uri => $status'
		' (${body_bytes_sent}B in ${request_time}s) <- $http_referer';
	include mime.types;
	default_type application/octet-stream;
	sendfile on;
	client_max_body_size 128M;
	large_client_header_buffers 2 1k;
	gzip on;
	gzip_vary on;
	gzip_proxied any;
	root /www;
	include conf.d/*.conf;

So, the access log is turned off by default and we can look at the error log by logread, as init.d script forwards stderr and stdout to the 🡒runtime log. We can set the error_log and access_log to files, where the log messages are forwarded to instead (after the configuration is read). And for redirecting the access log of a server or location to the logd, too, we insert the following directive in the corresponding block:

	access_log /proc/self/fd/1 openwrt;

If we setup a server through UCI, we can use the options error_log and/or access_log also with the special path 'logd'.

For creating the configuration from the template shown above, Nginx’s init script replaces the comment #UCI_HTTP_CONFIG by all UCI servers. For each server section in the the UCI configuration, it basically copies all options into a Nginx server { … } part, in detail:

  • Options starting with uci_ are skipped. Currently there is only the option uci_manage_ssl=… in usage.
  • All other lists or options of the form key='value' are written one-to-one as key value; directives to the configuration file. Just the path logd has a special meaning for the logging directives (described in the previous paragraph).

The init.d script of Nginx uses the nginx-util for creating the configuration file in RAM.

We could use a custom configuration created at /etc/nginx/nginx.conf instead of the dynamic configuration, too.5) This is not encouraged since you cannot setup servers using UCI anymore. Rather, we can put custom configuration parts to .conf files in the /etc/nginx/conf.d/ directory. The main configuration pulls in all conf.d/*.conf files into the http {…} block behind the created UCI servers.

The initial UCI config is enabled and contains two server section:

config main global
	option uci_enable 'true'
config server '_lan'
	list listen '443 ssl default_server'
	list listen '[::]:443 ssl default_server'
	option server_name '_lan'
	list include 'restrict_locally'
	list include 'conf.d/*.locations'
	option uci_manage_ssl 'self-signed'
	option ssl_certificate '/etc/nginx/conf.d/_lan.crt'
	option ssl_certificate_key '/etc/nginx/conf.d/_lan.key'
	option ssl_session_cache 'shared:SSL:32k'
	option ssl_session_timeout '64m'
	option access_log 'off; # logd openwrt'
config server '_redirect2ssl'
	list listen '80'
	list listen '[::]:80'
	option server_name '_redirect2ssl'
	option return '302 https://$host$request_uri'

While the LAN server is the default_server for HTTPS, the server redirecting requests for an inexistent server_name from HTTP to HTTPS acts as default_server if there is no other .

The LAN server pulls in all .locations files from the directory /etc/nginx/conf.d/. We can install the location parts of different sites there (see 🡑Basic Configuration) and re-include them into other servers. This is needed especially for making them available to the WAN (🡑New Server Parts). The LAN server listens for all addresses on port 443 and restricts the access to local addresses by including:

	allow ::1;
	allow fc00::/7;
	allow fec0::/10;
	allow fe80::/10;
	deny all;

When starting or reloading the Nginx service, the init.d looks which UCI servers have set option uci_manage_ssl 'self-signed' , e.g. the LAN server. For all those servers it checks if there is a certificate that is still valid for 13 months or (re-)creates a self-signed one. If there is any such server, it installs also a cron job that checks the corresponding certificates once a year. The option uci_manage_ssl is set to 'self-signed' respectively removed from a UCI server named example_com by the following (see 🡑SSL Server Parts, too):

nginx-util add_ssl example_com # respectively: nginx-util del_ssl example_com

For an overview see the official Admin Guide of Nginx on Reverse Proxy. For logging look at the example in the Basic Configuration, too. Remember to restart Nginx after changing its configuration by:

service nginx reload

Install PHP using FastCGI:

 opkg update && opkg install php7-fastcgi

In the Nginx configuration we can include the file fastcgi_params, which is installed by default. We create a .location file like the following, see other packages using fastcgi_pass and Nginx's Wiki has a PHP FastCGI Example, too:

location ~ [^/]\.php$ {
    #error_log /dev/null;
    fastcgi_connect_timeout 300s;
    fastcgi_read_timeout 300s;
    fastcgi_send_timeout 300s;
    fastcgi_buffer_size 32k;
    fastcgi_buffers 4 32k;
    fastcgi_busy_buffers_size 32k;
    fastcgi_temp_file_write_size 32k;
    client_header_timeout 10s;
    client_body_timeout 10s;
    send_timeout 60s; # default, increase if experiencing a lot of timeouts.
    output_buffers 1 32k;
    fastcgi_index index.php;
    include fastcgi_params;
    fastcgi_param HTTP_PROXY ""; # Mitigate vulnerability.
    if (-f ) {
            # Only throw it at PHP-FPM if file exists (prevents PHP exploits).
            fastcgi_pass;  # or: unix:/var/run/php-fpm.sock;
cgi.force_redirect = 1
cgi.redirect_status_env = "yes";

Install uWSGI and needed plugins:

opkg update && opkg install uwsgi # and the plugin(s) used. 

In the Nginx configuration we can include the file uwsgi_params, which is installed by default. We create a .locations file like the following, see also other packages using uwsgi_pass and the uWSGI documentation for Nginx, too:

location /mysite {
    # error_log /dev/null;
    include  /etc/nginx/uwsgi_params;
    uwsgi_pass unix:///var/run/mysite.socket;
    # for CGI (like in LuCI):
    # uwsgi_param SERVER_ADDR $server_addr;
    # uwsgi_modifier1 9;

For uWSGI, we create a configuration handling the application like the following, see other packages using uWSGI, too:

strict = true

; adjust the needed plugins, path, name, user and socket for the application:
plugin = 
manage-script-name = true
chdir = /path/to/app
mount = /mysite=app
; or use cgi = /mysite=/path/or/executable
pidfile = /var/etc/mysite/
enable-threads = true
; threads = 3
thunder-lock = true
; post-buffering = 8192
; harakiri = 60
; lazy-apps = true
master = true
; idle = 600
; processes = 3
; cheaper-algo = spare
; cheaper = 1
; cheaper-initial = 1
; cheaper-step = 1

; plugin = syslog
; disable-logging only affects req-logger:
disable-logging = true
log-format=%(method) %(uri) => return %(status) (%(rsize) bytes in %(msecs) ms)
; req-logger = syslog:mysite_req

; logger = mysite syslog:mysite_main

; the regular expression leaves for successful de/activation only one line each:
; log-route = mysite ^(?!... Starting uWSGI |compiled with version: |os: Linux|nodename: |machine: |clock source: |pcre jit |detected number of CPU cores: |current working directory: |writing pidfile to |detected binary path: |chdir.. to |your processes number limit is |your memory page size is |detected max file descriptor number: |lock engine: |thunder lock: |uwsgi socket |setgid.. to |setuid.. to |Python version: |Python main interpreter initialized at |python threads support |your server socket listen backlog is limited to |your mercy for graceful operations on workers is |mapped |... Operational MODE: |... uWSGI is running in multiple interpreter mode ...|spawned uWSGI worker |mounting |WSGI app |announcing my loyalty to the Emperor...|workers have been inactive for more than |SIGINT/SIGQUIT received...killing workers...|worker |goodbye to uWSGI.)
; end-if =
if-not-env = UWSGI_EMPEROR_FD
; log-route = mysite .*
vacuum = true
socket = /var/run/mysite.socket
; cheap = true
end-if =
chmod-socket = 660
chown-socket = user:nogroup
uid = user
gid = nogroup

We can disable a single configuration file in /etc/nginx/conf.d/ by giving it another extension, e.g., by adding .disabled.
We reserve the location / for making LuCI available under the root URL, e.g. All other sites shouldn’t use the root location / without suffix.
Let’s Encrypt (and other CAs) cannot sign certificates of a local server.
For using a custom configuration at /etc/nginx/nginx.conf, we execute
uci set'false' 
Then the rest of the UCI config is ignored and init.d will not create the main configuration dynamically from the template anymore. Invoking nginx-util [add_ssl|del_ssl] $FQDN will still try to change a server in conf.d/$FQDN.conf (this is less reliable than for a UCI config as it uses regular expressions, not a complete parser for the Nginx configuration).
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  • Last modified: 2021/01/11 23:01
  • by peter-stadler