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The virtual host code was completely rewritten in Apache 1.3. This document attempts to explain exactly what Apache does when deciding what virtual host to serve a hit from. With the help of the new NameVirtualHost directive virtual host configuration should be a lot easier and safer than with versions prior to 1.3.
If you just want to make it work without understanding how, here are some examples.
There is a main_server which consists of all the
definitions appearing outside of
<VirtualHost> sections. There are virtual
servers, called vhosts, which are defined by <VirtualHost>
The directives Port, ServerName, ServerPath, and ServerAlias can appear anywhere within the definition of a server. However, each appearance overrides the previous appearance (within that server).
The default value of the
Port field for
main_server is 80. The main_server has no default
ServerName is deduced from the servers IP
The main_server Port directive has two functions due to
legacy compatibility with NCSA configuration files. One
function is to determine the default network port Apache will
bind to. This default is overridden by the existence of any
directives. The second function is to specify the port number
which is used in absolute URIs during redirects.
Unlike the main_server, vhost ports do not affect what ports Apache listens for connections on.
Each address appearing in the
directive can have an optional port. If the port is unspecified
it defaults to the value of the main_server's most recent
Port statement. The special port *
indicates a wildcard that matches any port. Collectively the
entire set of addresses (including multiple A
record results from DNS lookups) are called the vhost's
Unless a NameVirtualHost
directive is used for a specific IP address the first vhost
with that address is treated as an IP-based vhost. In 1.3.13
and later that includes the IP address
If name-based vhosts should be used a
NameVirtualHost directive must appear
with the IP address set to be used for the name-based vhosts.
In other words, you must specify the IP address that holds the
hostname aliases (CNAMEs) for your name-based vhosts via a
NameVirtualHost directive in your configuration
NameVirtualHost directives can be used
each with a set of
VirtualHost directives but only
NameVirtualHost directive should be used for
each specific IP:port pair.
The ordering of
VirtualHost directives is not important which
makes the following two examples identical (only the order of
VirtualHost directives for one
address set is important, see below):
| NameVirtualHost 22.214.171.124 | <VirtualHost 126.96.36.199> <VirtualHost 188.8.131.52> | # server A # server A | </VirtualHost> ... | <VirtualHost 184.108.40.206> </VirtualHost> | # server C <VirtualHost 220.127.116.11> | ... # server B | </VirtualHost> ... | <VirtualHost 18.104.22.168> </VirtualHost> | # server B | ... NameVirtualHost 22.214.171.124 | </VirtualHost> <VirtualHost 126.96.36.199> | <VirtualHost 188.8.131.52> # server C | # server D ... | ... </VirtualHost> | </VirtualHost> <VirtualHost 184.108.40.206> | # server D | NameVirtualHost 220.127.116.11 ... | NameVirtualHost 18.104.22.168 </VirtualHost> | |
(To aid the readability of your configuration you should prefer the left variant.)
After parsing the
VirtualHost directive, the
vhost server is given a default
Port equal to the
port assigned to the first name in its
The complete list of names in the
directive are treated just like a
are not overridden by any
if all names resolve to the same address set. Note that
Port statements for this vhost will not
affect the ports assigned in the address set.
During initialization a list for each IP address is
generated and inserted into an hash table. If the IP address is
used in a
NameVirtualHost directive the list
contains all name-based vhosts for the given IP address. If
there are no vhosts defined for that address the
NameVirtualHost directive is ignored and an error
is logged. For an IP-based vhost the list in the hash table is
Due to a fast hashing function the overhead of hashing an IP address during a request is minimal and almost not existent. Additionally the table is optimized for IP addresses which vary in the last octet.
For every vhost various default values are set. In particular:
SendBufferSizedirective then the respective value is inherited from the main_server. (That is, inherited from whatever the final setting of that value is in the main_server.)
If the main_server has no
ServerName at this
point, then the hostname of the machine that httpd is running
on is used instead. We will call the main_server address
set those IP addresses returned by a DNS lookup on the
ServerName of the main_server.
For any undefined
ServerName fields, a
name-based vhost defaults to the address given first in the
VirtualHost statement defining the vhost.
Any vhost that includes the magic _default_
wildcard is given the same
ServerName as the
The server determines which vhost to use for a request as follows:
When the connection is first made by a client, the IP address to which the client connected is looked up in the internal IP hash table.
If the lookup fails (the IP address wasn't found) the request is served from the _default_ vhost if there is such a vhost for the port to which the client sent the request. If there is no matching _default_ vhost the request is served from the main_server.
In Apache 1.3.13 and later, if the IP address is not found
in the hash table then the match against the port number may
also result in an entry corresponding to a
NameVirtualHost *, which is subsequently handled
like other name-based vhosts.
If the lookup succeeded (a corresponding list for the IP address was found) the next step is to decide if we have to deal with an IP-based or a name-base vhost.
If the entry we found has an empty name list then we have found an IP-based vhost, no further actions are performed and the request is served from that vhost.
If the entry corresponds to a name-based vhost the name list
contains one or more vhost structures. This list contains the
vhosts in the same order as the
directives appear in the config file.
The first vhost on this list (the first vhost in the config
file with the specified IP address) has the highest priority
and catches any request to an unknown server name or a request
Host: header field.
If the client provided a
Host: header field the
list is searched for a matching vhost and the first hit on a
ServerAlias is taken
and the request is served from that vhost. A
header field can contain a port number, but Apache always
matches against the real port to which the client sent the
If the client submitted a HTTP/1.0 request without
Host: header field we don't know to what server
the client tried to connect and any existing
ServerPath is matched against the URI from the
request. The first matching path on the list is used and the
request is served from that vhost.
If no matching vhost could be found the request is served from the first vhost with a matching port number that is on the list for the IP to which the client connected (as already mentioned before).
If the URI from the request is an absolute URI, and its hostname and port match the main server or one of the configured virtual hosts and match the address and port to which the client sent the request, then the scheme/hostname/port prefix is stripped off and the remaining relative URI is served by the corresponding main server or virtual host. If it does not match, then the URI remains untouched and the request is taken to be a proxy request.
ServerPathchecks are never performed for an IP-based vhost.
NameVirtualHostdirective within the config file is not important. Only the ordering of name-based vhosts for a specific address set is significant. The one name-based vhosts that comes first in the configuration file has the highest priority for its corresponding address set.
Host:header field is never used during the matching process. Apache always uses the real port to which the client sent the request.
ServerPathdirective exists which is a prefix of another
ServerPathdirective that appears later in the configuration file, then the former will always be matched and the latter will never be matched. (That is assuming that no
Host:header field was available to disambiguate the two.)
_default_vhost catches a request only if there is no other vhost with a matching IP address and a matching port number for the request. The request is only caught if the port number to which the client sent the request matches the port number of your
_default_vhost which is your standard
Portby default. A wildcard port can be specified (i.e.,
_default_:*) to catch requests to any available port. In Apache 1.3.13 and later this also applies to
_default_vhost). In other words the main_server only catches a request for an unspecified address/port combination (unless there is a
_default_vhost which matches that port).
_default_vhost or the main_server is never matched for a request with an unknown or missing
Host:header field if the client connected to an address (and port) which is used for name-based vhosts, e.g., in a
VirtualHostdirectives because it will force your server to rely on DNS to boot. Furthermore it poses a security threat if you do not control the DNS for all the domains listed. There's more information available on this and the next two topics.
ServerNameshould always be set for each vhost. Otherwise A DNS lookup is required for each vhost.
In addition to the tips on the DNS Issues page, here are some further tips:
VirtualHostdefinitions. (This is to aid the readability of the configuration -- the post-config merging process makes it non-obvious that definitions mixed in around virtual hosts might affect all virtual hosts.)
VirtualHostdefinitions in your configuration to ensure better readability.
ServerPathswhich are prefixes of other
ServerPaths. If you cannot avoid this then you have to ensure that the longer (more specific) prefix vhost appears earlier in the configuration file than the shorter (less specific) prefix (i.e., "ServerPath /abc" should appear after "ServerPath /abc/def").