Installing the Apache Web Server


Apache is an HTTP server, otherwise called web server software. Other HTTP server software exists. Another big one is nginx. An HTTP server essentially makes files on a computer available to others who are able to establish a connection to the computer and view the files with a web browser.

It's important to understand the basics of an HTTP server, and therefore I ask you to read Apache's Getting Started page before proceeding with the rest of this section. Each of the main sections on that page describe the important elements that make up and serve a website, including

  • clients, servers, and URLs
  • hostnames and DNS
  • configuration files and directives
  • web site content
  • log files and troubleshooting


Before we install Apache, we need to update our systems first.

sudo apt update
sudo apt -y upgrade

Once the machine is updated, we can install Apache2 using apt. First we'll use apt search to identify the specific package name. I already know that a lot of results will be returned, so let's pipe the apt search command through head to look at the initial results:

sudo apt search apache2 | head

The package that we're interested in happens to be named apache2 on Ubuntu. This is not a given. On other distributions, like Fedora, the Apache package is called httpd. To learn more about the apache2 package, let's examine it with the apt show command:

apt show apache2

Once we've confirmed that apache2 is the package that we want, we install it with the apt install command. Press Y to agree to continue after running the command below:

sudo apt install apache2

Basic checks

One of the things that makes Apache2, and some other web servers, powerful is the library of modules that extend Apache's functionality. We'll come back to modules soon. For now, we're going to make sure the server is up and running, configure some basic things, and then create a basic web site.

To start, let's use systemctl to acquire some info about apache2 and make sure it is enabled and running:

systemctl list-unit-files apache2.service
systemctl status apache2

The output shows that apache2 is enabled, which means that it will start running automatically if the computer gets rebooted.

The output of the second command also shows that apache2 is enabled and that it is also active (running).

Creating a web page

Since apache2 is up and running, let's look at the default web page.

There are two ways we can look at the default web page. We can use a command line web browser. There are a number available, but I like w3m.

We can also use our regular web browsers and view the site by entering the IP address of the server in our browser URL bar.

To check with w3m, we have to install it first:

sudo apt install w3m

Once it's installed, we can visit our default site using the loopback IP address (aka, localhost). From the command line on our server, we can run either of these two commands:

w3m localhost

We can also get the subnet/private IP address using the ip a command, and then use that with w3m. For example, if ip a showed that my NIC has an IP address of, then I could use w3m with that IP address:


If the apache2 installed and started correctly, then you should see the following text at the top of the screen:

Apache2 Ubuntu Default Page
It works!

To exit w3m, press q and then y to confirm exit.

To view the default web page using a regular web browser, like Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Edge, or etc., you need to get our server's public IP address. To do that, log into the Google Cloud Console, in the left hand navigation panel, hover your cursor over the Compute Engine link, and then click on VM instances. You should see your External IP address in the table on that page. You can copy that external IP address or simply click on it to open it in a new browser tab. Then you should see the graphical version of the Apache2 Ubuntu Default Page.

Please take a moment to read through the text on the default page. It provides important information about where Ubuntu stores configuration files and what those files do, and document roots, which is where website files go.

Create a Web Page

Let's create our first web page. The default page described above provides the location of the document root at /var/www/html. When we navigate to that location, we'll see that there is already an index.html file located in that directory. This is the Apache2 Ubuntu Default Page that we described above. Let's rename that index.html file, and create a new one:

cd /var/www/html/
sudo mv index.html index.html.original
sudo nano index.html

If you know HTML, then feel free to write some basic HTML code to get started. Otherwise, you can re-type the content below in nano, and then save and exit out.

<title>My first web page using Apache2</title>


<p>Welcome to my web site. I created this site using the Apache2 HTTP server.</p>


If you have our site open in your web browser, reload the page, and you should see the new text.

You can still view the original default page by specifying its name in the URL. For example, if your external IP address is, then you'd specify it like so:

User Directories

You may have visited sites in the past that have a tilde in the URL and look like this:

These are called user directories, and the provide additional path to the document root that's located in users' home directories in a directory called public_html. This is the default document root for user directories, but the default can be changed to different locations. Please read the documentation on what's called the Apache Module mod_userdir before proceeding.

By default, users with accounts on the server need to have a public_html directory in their home directories, and Apache2 needs to be configured to serve sites from those directories. For example, for the user linus, they should have the following file path available:


Enable mod_userdir

The configuration file for mod_userdir is located in /etc/apache2/mods-available/ and is named userdir.conf. Files in this directory are modules that are available to Apache2 but that are not enabled (i.e., they're turned off) by default. We can view that the userdir.conf file with the less command:

less /etc/apache2/mods-available/userdir.conf

The default configuration does not need to be modified. Therefore, all we need to do is enable this module. To do that, we use the a2enmod Apache2 command (see man a2enmod for details.)

sudo a2enmod userdir

After enabling, we need to reload the HTTP service, and we can also check its status:

sudo systemctl restart apache2
systemctl status apache2

Create a User Directory Website

Let's say I am logged in as the user linus on the system and will use that to test if the user directory is working. First, let's go home. For me, as the user linus, that would /home/linus/, and I just have to type in the cd command and press Enter:


Now I need to create a public_html directory in my home directory (make sure you're in your home directory!), and change into that directory:

mkdir public_html
cd public_html

By default, Apache2 looks for a file named index.html in the document root. I'll create that and add some basic HTML to it:

nano index.html

And in that file:

<title>My home site</title>

<p>This is my home site.</p>


Now simply add /~linus/ to your external IP address in your browser's URL bar. Like so (of course, replace the external IP address with your external IP address and the username with the username that you're using):

Note that this process is pretty easy but that it will be different on other distributions. For example, the Fedora distribution has different Apache2 defaults. Also, on some distributions, we might need to change the directory permissions before this will work. By default, Ubuntu sets directory permissions to on our home directories to:


That means that any user can view the contents of our home directories. And Ubuntu sets directories created with mkdir in the home directory with these permissions by default:


These default settings make those directories world readable, but other distributions do not default to those permissions. If the last r-x was set to ---, then we would need to use the chmod command to make these directories executable and readable before files in our public_html directory could be accessed in a browser.


In this section, we learned about the Apache2 HTTP server. We learned how to install it on Ubuntu, how to use systemd (systemctl) commands to check its default status, how to create a basic web page in /var/www/html, how to view that web page using the w3m command line browser and with our regular graphical browser, how to enable the user directory module, and repeat the steps above to create a website in our home directories.

In the next section, we will learn how to make our sites applications by installing PHP and enabling the relevant PHP modules.