How to use Docker and Nginx to host multiple websites on one VPS
Docker is an excellent tool for running multiple services on a single VPS without them interfering with each other—for example, one website built on WordPress and another built on Ghost or 10 Flat-File Content Managers to Help You Ditch WordPresssome other flat-file CMS. But, containerizing software leads to another problem that confuses many: How do I host multiple websites, each in a separate Docker container, from one VPS? Fortunately, with a little bit of foresight and configuring, you can use Docker and Nginx to host multiple websites from a single VPS.
By default, Docker services all listen on port 80, which would create conflicts for incoming traffic. You can change the listening port, of course, but no one wants to type in
coolwebsite.com:34567 to access their favorite site.
What if, instead, you could use
nginx to route traffic arriving at
coolwebsite.com to a unique to a container listening on the
34567port, and route traffic arriving to
anothercoolwebsite.net a second container listening to
That’s exactly what
nginx-proxy does: it listens to port 80 (the standard HTTP port) and forwards incoming requests to the appropriate container. This is often known as a reverse proxy, and takes advantage of Docker’s
In this tutorial, we’ll set up
nginx-proxy and learn how to use Docker and Nginx to route traffic to different containers running just about any application.
- An Ubuntu/Debian/CentOS server with Docker installed—to get started with that, check out our getting started with Docker tutorial.
- A non-root user with
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Step 1. Starting up nginx-proxy to hook Docker and Nginx together
To get started, let’s start up the
nginx-proxy container. This can be accomplished either by a single
docker command, or using
docker-compose. Let’s cover both.
To get started, create a Docker network
Before we get started, either way, we need to first create a Docker network that we will use to bridge all of these containers together.
docker network create nginx-proxy
From now on, we need to ensure that we’re always adding new containers to the
nginx-proxy Docker network.
Installing nginx-proxy with Docker
docker run -d -p 80:80 --name nginx-proxy --net nginx-proxy -v /var/run/docker.sock:/tmp/docker.sock jwilder/nginx-proxy
Installing nginx-proxy with docker-compose
First, create a new
docker-compose.yml file in the directory of your choosing (one titled
nginx-proxy is a good idea), and copy in the following text:
version: "3" services: nginx-proxy: image: jwilder/nginx-proxy container_name: nginx-proxy ports: - "80:80" volumes: - /var/run/docker.sock:/tmp/docker.sock:ro networks: default: external: name: nginx-proxy
And then run the following
docker-compose command to get started.
docker-compose up -d
How nginx-proxy works
As you can see from the code in both options, the container listens on port 80 and exposes the same port inside of the container. That allows all incoming traffic to flow though
You might be wondering what the
/var/run/docker.sock:/tmp/docker.sock line accomplishes. Essentially, this gives any container access to the host’s Docker socket, which contains information about a variety of Docker events, such as creating a new container, or shutting one down.
This means that every time you add a container,
nginx-proxy sees the event through the socket, automatically creates the configuration file needed to route traffic, and restarts
nginx to make the changes available immediately.
nginx-proxy looks for containers with the
VIRTUAL_HOST variable enabled, so that’s critical to our operations moving forward.
Also important to note is the
--net nginx-proxy line in the Docker command, and the
networks: default: external: name: nginx-proxy block in the
docker-compose.yml file. These establish that all containers will communicate over that Docker network.
Step 2. Adding a container to the proxy
Now that we have
nginx-proxy running, we can start adding new containers, which will be automatically picked up and configured for. Because we covered it in the last Docker tutorial, and since it’s an easy implementation to try out, let’s use WordPress as an example.
Starting a WordPress container with a basic configuration is quite easy.
docker run -d --name blog --expose 80 --net nginx-proxy -e VIRTUAL_HOST=blog.DOMAIN.TLD wordpress
Take note of a few elements here.
--expose 80 will allow traffic to flow into the container on port 80.
--net nginx-proxy ensures we’re using the Docker network we created earlier. Finally,
-e VIRTUAL_HOST=blog.DOMAIN.TLD flags
nginx-proxy to create the proxy information and direct traffic arriving to the correct domain.
Start by creating a ‘docker-compose.yml’ file in an empty directory and copying in the following.
version: "3" services: db_node_domain: image: mysql:5.7 volumes: - db_data:/var/lib/mysql restart: always environment: MYSQL_ROOT_PASSWORD: PASSWORD MYSQL_DATABASE: wordpress MYSQL_USER: wordpress MYSQL_PASSWORD: PASSWORD container_name: wordpress_db wordpress: depends_on: - db_node_domain image: wordpress:latest expose: - 80 restart: always environment: VIRTUAL_HOST: blog.DOMAIN.TLD WORDPRESS_DB_HOST: db_node_domain:3306 WORDPRESS_DB_USER: wordpress WORDPRESS_DB_PASSWORD: PASSWORD container_name: wordpress volumes: db_data: networks: default: external: name: nginx-proxy
Again, take note of the
environment: VIRTUAL_HOST options within the file. Also, the
networks option at the bottom is necessary to allow this container to “speak” with
Also, take note of the line that begins with
db_node_domain. If you are going to host multiple WordPress blogs using this method, you need to create unique database names for each. You should replace
db_node_domain with your preferring naming scheme. You also need to update two other fields with this chosen name. First:
Once the configuration file is set up, you can run the
docker-compose up -d command. As long as your DNS is set up to route traffic properly, things should work correctly.
From here, you can start up any number of additional WordPress site—or any type of service, for that matter—and have them be automatically added to the
nginx-proxy network. This Docker and Nginx configuration is pretty infinitely extensible, limited only by the VPS resources available to you.
Of course, be sure to check out the extensive documentation for
nginx-proxy to learn more about how you can configure some more complex proxies between Docker and Nginx, such as those using SSL, with multiple ports, or multiple networks.
We haven’t tested it out yet, but there’s a “companion” to
letsencrypt-nginx-proxy-companion that allows for the creation/renewal of Let’s Encrypt certificates automatically directly alongside the proxy itself.
Just another example of the really cool things that you can do with Docker!
Thanks much to our sharp-eyed reader John! He pointed out how we can improve our docker-compose files by creating unique database names for each instance of WordPress!
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