[HOWTO] Run apache server with www directory in a different server

This is an experiment in which I wanted to see if it is possible to run apache on one server and have www directory in a different server (physical or virtual). I don’t know the possible benefits of such a system or a scenario where this could be helpful, neither am I aware of different ways to achieve the same. But I tried it and am posting the results anyways. 😀

The Problem

I am assuming a hypothetical problem where a user wants to run apache server in one machine and have the www directory in a different system. Let’s call the machine with apache2 installed as Web Server (WS) and for the system with www directory, lets use the name File Server (FS).

The Plan

The plan is to mount the www directory of FS to a directory of WS with sshfs and configure apache in WS to use that sshfs directory.

Working Environment

I am using my Debian Testing system as FS and Ubuntu 10.10 Maverick Meerkat inside VirtualBox virtual machine (using Bridged connection) as WS which has apache installed. I have openssh server installed in FS and openssh client and sshfs installed in WS.

Plan Execution

Apache Configuration
First, lets login to WS and configure apache to use a directory in normal user’s home directory (/home/ws_username/www) by editing /etc/apache2/sites/available/default. The DocumentRoot is set to /home/ws_username/www and a Directory is set to /home/ws_username/www/ (no virtual hosts, however, using virtual hosts should not be much different either).
Stop apache server for now:

sudo service apache2 stop

Testing SSH connection from WS to FS
Now, connect from WS to FS using:

ssh fs_username@fs_ip_or_domain_name

and verify connection is OK. Add to known hosts (if connecting for the first time). Then type


to disconnect.
Setting up SSH connection without password
If not already created, create a ssh key pair using the command in WS:


That should ask you where to store the rsa public key (it is stored by default in /home/ws_username/.ssh/id_rsa/ as /home/ws_username/.ssh/id_rsa/id_rsa.pub). Use a blank password. If you use a password, you may have to use ssh-agent for authentication later (not covered in this article). Now, transfer the pub key to FS using scp.

scp ~/.ssh/id_rsa/id_rsa.pub fs_username@fs_ip_or_domain_name:

Then, ssh to FS:

ssh fs_username@fs_ip_or_domain_name

Now, add the rsa keys copied from WS earlier to authorized_keys file in FS:

cat id_rsa.pub >>~/.ssh/authroized_keys
rm id_rsa.pub

Exit to disconnect and drop to WS shell.
Testing SSH connection from WS to FS without password
If you followed the instructions correctly, you will be able to connect to FS from WS without password when you use SSH.

ssh fs_username@fs_ip_or_domain_name

Exit to disconnect:


Manually mount the www directory in FS to WS using sshfs
Now, test if sshfs is able to mount the directory from FS to WS. Let us assume the www directory is in /home/fs_username/webprojects and is properly readable/writable (as required) by fs_username.
First, allow the user to mount by adding the ws_username to fuse group by running the following command:

sudo gpasswd -a ws_username fuse

Mount the directory to /home/ws_username/www using sshfs:

sshfs -o idmap=ws_username fs_username@fs_ip_or_domain_name:/home/fs_username/webprojects  /home/ws_user/www

Confirm successful mounting by listing the contents:

ls /home/ws_username/www

Unmount when done testing:

fusermount -u /home/ws_username/www

Setup /etc/fstab to be able to mount and unmount using mount and unmount instead
Open up /etc/fstab and add the following line:

sshfs#fs_username@fs_ip_or_domain_name:/home/fs_username/webprojects /home/ws_username/www fuse fsname=sshfs#fs_username@fs_ip_or_domain_name:/home/fs_username/webprojects,users,allow_other,uid=1000,gid=104,comment=sshfs,exec,reconnect,transform_symlinks,BatchMode=yes,noauto 0 0

Don’t use uid and gid values as they appear above. Instead, get those values by running the following command in terminal:


Make sure to use the uid and gid (of fuse group) from the output of the above command. Save the file.
Then open up /etc/fuse.conf and add or uncomment the line:


Try mounting and unmounting using mount and unmount

mount /home/ws_username/www
ls /home/ws_username/www
umount /home/ws_username/www

Setup auto-mount on connection (ifup) and auto-unmount on disconnect (ifdown)
Create a file /etc/network/if-up.d/mountsshfs with the following contents:


## http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=430312
## The script will attempt to mount any fstab entry with an option
## "...,comment=$SELECTED_STRING,..."
## Use this to select specific sshfs mounts rather than all of them.

# Not for loopback
[ "$IFACE" != "lo" ] || exit 0

## define a number of useful functions

## returns true if input contains nothing but the digits 0-9, false otherwise
## so realy, more like isa_positive_integer 
isa_number () {
    ! echo $1 | egrep -q '[^0-9]'
    return $?

## returns true if the given uid or username is that of the current user
am_i () {
	[ "$1" = "`id -u`" ] || [ "$1" = "`id -un`" ]

## takes a username or uid and finds it in /etc/passwd
## echoes the name and returns true on success
## echoes nothing and returns false on failure 
user_from_uid () {
    if isa_number "$1"
		# look for the corresponding name in /etc/passwd
    	local IFS=":"
    	while read name x uid the_rest
        	if [ "$1" = "$uid" ]
				echo "$name"
				return 0

Create another file /etc/network/if-down.d/umountsshfs with the following contents:


# Not for loopback!
[ "$IFACE" != "lo" ] || exit 0

# comment this for testing
exec 1>/dev/null # squelch output for non-interactive

# umount all sshfs mounts
mounted=`grep 'fuse.sshfs\|sshfs#' /etc/mtab | awk '{ print $2 }'`
[ -n "$mounted" ] && { for mount in $mounted; do umount -l $mount; done; }

Make both files executable and owned by root:

sudo chmod 755 /etc/network/if-up.d/mountsshfs /etc/network/if-down.d/umountsshfs
sudo chown root:root /etc/network/if-up.d/mountsshfs /etc/network/if-down.d/umountsshfs

Test the working of scripts
Enter the commands (assuming the ethernet interface as eth0):

sudo ifdown eth0   #disconnect
sudo ifup eth0   #connect

Test if the directory is mounted:

ls /home/ws_user/www #should list files


sudo ifdown eth0

Test if the directory is unmounted:

ls /home/ws_user/www #should not list files

Connect back:

sudo ifup eth0   #connect

You can also reboot the system to test if the directory properly mounts at startup.

Start Apache and Test

sudo service apache2 restart

Test using a web browser.