Tutorial: Using Docker and Nginx to host multiple websites with SSL
In one of our most popular tutorials—Host multiple websites on one VPS with Docker and Nginx—I covered how you can use the
nginx-proxy Docker container to host multiple websites or web apps on a single VPS using different containers.
As I was looking to enable HTTPS on some of my self-hosted services recently, I thought it was about time to take that tutorial a step further and show you how to set it up to request Let’s Encrypt HTTPS certificates.
With the help of
docker-letsencrypt-nginx-proxy-companion (Github), we’ll be able to have SSL automatically enabled on any new website or app we deploy with Docker containers.
- Any of our OS options—Ubuntu, Debian, or CentOS. Just a note: we’ve only tested Ubuntu 16.04 as of now.
- A running Docker installation, plus
docker-compose—see our Getting Started with Docker guide for more information.
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Step 1. Getting set up, and a quick note
I’m a rather big fan of using
docker-compose whenever possible, as it seems to simplify troubleshooting containers that are giving you trouble. Instead of parsing a long terminal command, you can simply edit the
docker-compose.yml file, re-run
docker-compose up -d, and see the results.
As a result, this tutorial will be heavily biased toward using
docker commands, particularly when it comes to setting up the
If you’re interested creating these containers via
docker commands, check out the docker-letsencrypt-nginx-proxy-companion documentation.
nginx-proxy set up via our previous tutorial? You can simply overwrite your existing
docker-compose.yml file with the file you’ll find in Step 2.
If you’re just getting started with
nginx-proxy, start here. You’ll want to start by creating a separate directory to contain your
$ mkdir nginx-proxy && cd nginx-proxy
Once that’s finished, issue the following command to create a unique network for
nginx-proxy and other Docker containers to communicate through.
docker network create nginx-proxy
Step 2. Creating the docker-compose.yml file
nginx-proxy directory, create a new file named
docker-compose.yml and paste in the following text:
version: '3' services: nginx: image: nginx:1.13.1 container_name: nginx-proxy ports: - "80:80" - "443:443" volumes: - conf:/etc/nginx/conf.d - vhost:/etc/nginx/vhost.d - html:/usr/share/nginx/html - certs:/etc/nginx/certs labels: - "com.github.jrcs.letsencrypt_nginx_proxy_companion.nginx_proxy=true" dockergen: image: jwilder/docker-gen:0.7.3 container_name: nginx-proxy-gen depends_on: - nginx command: -notify-sighup nginx-proxy -watch -wait 5s:30s /etc/docker-gen/templates/nginx.tmpl /etc/nginx/conf.d/default.conf volumes: - conf:/etc/nginx/conf.d - vhost:/etc/nginx/vhost.d - html:/usr/share/nginx/html - certs:/etc/nginx/certs - /var/run/docker.sock:/tmp/docker.sock:ro - ./nginx.tmpl:/etc/docker-gen/templates/nginx.tmpl:ro letsencrypt: image: jrcs/letsencrypt-nginx-proxy-companion container_name: nginx-proxy-le depends_on: - nginx - dockergen environment: NGINX_PROXY_CONTAINER: nginx-proxy NGINX_DOCKER_GEN_CONTAINER: nginx-proxy-gen volumes: - conf:/etc/nginx/conf.d - vhost:/etc/nginx/vhost.d - html:/usr/share/nginx/html - certs:/etc/nginx/certs - /var/run/docker.sock:/var/run/docker.sock:ro volumes: conf: vhost: html: certs: # Do not forget to 'docker network create nginx-proxy' before launch, and to add '--network nginx-proxy' to proxied containers. networks: default: external: name: nginx-proxy
Special thanks to Github user buchdag for this all-in-one configuration that works out of the box (most of the time).
After you copy, make sure that the formatting looks the same—the
yml parser isn’t kind, let’s say, to syntax errors.
Now, take a closer look at line 30, which contains
- ./nginx.tmpl:/etc/docker-gen/templates/nginx.tmpl:ro. This line creates a Docker volume between a file on your host filesystem (in this case, in the
nginx-proxy directory) and a file inside one of the Docker containers. For that volume to work, we need to supply the
Inside of the
nginx-proxy directory, use the following
curl command to copy the developer’s sample
nginx.tmpl file to your VPS.
$ curl https://raw.githubusercontent.com/jwilder/nginx-proxy/master/nginx.tmpl > nginx.tmpl
Step 3. Running nginx-proxy for the first time.
If you have an
nginx-proxy container running already from the previous tutorial, you’ll need to stop it before moving forward.
You can now run the
docker-compose command that will kick this all off.
$ docker-compose up -d
The process will start by downloading a few Docker images, and if things finish successfully, the output will end with the following:
Creating nginx-proxy ... Creating nginx-proxy ... done Creating nginx-proxy-gen ... Creating nginx-proxy-gen ... done Creating nginx-proxy-le ... Creating nginx-proxy-le ... done
To confirm this, run
docker ps. You should see three running containers, named
nginx-proxy-le, like this:
CONTAINER ID IMAGE COMMAND CREATED STATUS PORTS NAMES 9ea5fffc24dd jrcs/letsencrypt-nginx-proxy-companion "/bin/bash /app/en..." 4 minutes ago Up 4 minutes nginx-proxy-le e2288dfc3c5c jwilder/docker-gen:0.7.3 "/usr/local/bin/do..." 4 minutes ago Up 3 seconds nginx-proxy-gen eda8f12bd829 nginx:1.13.1 "nginx -g 'daemon ..." 4 minutes ago Up 4 minutes 0.0.0.0:80->80/tcp, 0.0.0.0:443->443/tcp nginx-proxy
If any of those aren’t running, you should check their logs. You can do that with
$ docker logs nginx-proxy $ docker logs nginx-proxy-gen $ docker logs nginx-proxy-le
I’ve found that most issues arise from
nginx-proxy-gen. If you see an error about the
nginx-proxy network, try creating the network again with
docker network create nginx-proxy. If there are issues with the
nginx.tmpl file, double check that it’s the same as the one on Github.
If your three containers are running smoothly, then you’re ready to start deploying other SSL-enabled containers behind the proxy! At this point, we’re shifting away from configuring
nginx-proxy and toward the ways, you should configure your apps to run behind it.
Step 4. Set up your DNS
Let’s Encrypt will only issue certificates to real domains, not IPs. In order to receive valid certificates, you must set up your DNS correctly. Most likely, you will find your DNS settings with the company from which you bought your domain.
Let’s say I want to run Miniflux, a self-hosted RSS reader, on the
feeds.example.com domain. In my DNS settings, I would create a new A record that directs
feeds.example.com to the public IP of the VPS where I set up my
This is not an optional step. Valid, reachable domains are required for SSL to work.
Quick tip: to find your VPSs’ public IP, use the following:
dig +short myip.opendns.com @resolver1.opendns.com.
Step 5. The configuration basics
In order to set up any containerized app to work with this beautiful proxy we’ve now set up, you must configure the following:
- Three environment variables:
- The Docker network (nginx-proxy)
- Exposing port 80/443
Here are the environment variables:
VIRTUAL_HOST LETSENCRYPT_HOST LETSENCRYPT_EMAIL
LETSENCRYPT_HOST variables will be the same for almost all applications, and will correspond to the domain you used in the previous step to set up DNS.
LETSENCRYPT_EMAIL variable is self-explanatory: use the email address of your choosing.
Let’s extend our example from the last step. Here’s the
docker-compose settings I would use for that Miniflux installation, given that my email is
environment: VIRTUAL_HOST: feeds.example.com LETSENCRYPT_HOST: feeds.example.com LETSENCRYPT_EMAIL: [email protected]
This will be
nginx-proxy, unless you changed it. Here’s how it looks in a
networks: default: external: name: nginx-proxy
Any container you create must expose the port on which it listens to traffic. That will be 80, 443, or both. Here’s how it looks in a
expose: - 80
A example configuration
And here’s how all those different variables and configurations look like in a very basic
version: '3' services: example-app: image: example/example-app expose: - 80 environment: VIRTUAL_HOST: app.example.com LETSENCRYPT_HOST: app.example.com LETSENCRYPT_EMAIL: [email protected] networks: default: external: name: nginx-proxy
At this point, you should have everything you need to know to deploy all kinds of Docker containers under this SSL-enabled proxy. Let’s look at a few examples to show you how it works in the real world.
Leading by example: Miniflux
Remember how I wanted to self-host Miniflux at the
feeds.example.com domain? Here’s the
docker-compose.yml that I came up with. Note the
version: '2' services: miniflux: image: miniflux/miniflux:latest expose: - 80 volumes: - miniflux_data:/var/www/html/data environment: VIRTUAL_HOST: feeds.example.com LETSENCRYPT_HOST: feeds.example.com LETSENCRYPT_EMAIL: [email protected] volumes: miniflux_data: driver: local networks: default: external: name: nginx-proxy
Initialize the container with
docker-compose up -d and you’ll have an SSL-enabled feed reader in about 30 seconds!
Leading by example, take 2: WordPress
In my previous tutorial on
nginx-proxy, I showed off how easy it is to launch a WordPress instance running behind the proxy.
It’s just as easy to do it with SSL. I took the exact same
docker-compose.yml file and simply added the
LETSENCRYPT_EMAIL environment variables. You have to change those two fields according to your needs, in addition to
Take note of the
db_node_domain field below. This is where you specify the name of the database that WordPress will connect to. Keep in mind that these names should be unique for each instance of WordPress, and you need to also change the
WORDPRESS_DB_HOST: fields accordingly.
version: "3" services: db_node_domain: image: mysql:5.7 volumes: - db_data:/var/lib/mysql restart: always environment: MYSQL_ROOT_PASSWORD: somewordpress MYSQL_DATABASE: wordpress MYSQL_USER: wordpress MYSQL_PASSWORD: wordpress container_name: wp_test_db wordpress: depends_on: - db_node_domain image: wordpress:latest expose: - 80 restart: always environment: VIRTUAL_HOST: blog.example.com LETSENCRYPT_HOST: blog.example.com LETSENCRYPT_EMAIL: [email protected] WORDPRESS_DB_HOST: db_node_domain:3306 WORDPRESS_DB_USER: wordpress WORDPRESS_DB_PASSWORD: wordpress container_name: wp_test volumes: db_data: networks: default: external: name: nginx-proxy
Run it with
docker-compose up -d and then visit your domain—there’s that beautiful WordPress installation page with SSL encryption.
This has been a pretty extensive tutorial, so I understand if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed. My goal here isn’t to guide you toward any specific end goal, but rather to give you the tools to leverage the fantastic
nginx-proxy project to your unique needs.
If you keep the required settings in mind, you should be able to put almost any containerized app behind this proxy. And that gives you a ton of power to get the most out of your VPS.
Best of all,
docker-letsencrypt-nginx-proxy-companion will automatically renew your certificates for you, so there’s no need to check in or do any manual interventions.
As far as I can tell, this is the best way to serve many, if not dozens of SSL-encrypted websites and apps via a single proxy and a single VPS.
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