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. At its most basic, an HTTP server essentially makes files available to others who are able to establish a connection to the computer and view the files with a web browser. Ergo, a web browser is, at its most basic, a file viewer.

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 package name 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 thing 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 when the computer gets rebooted.

The output of the second command also shows that apache2 is active, which means that it has started working.

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 your 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.

Note that most browsers nowadays may try to force HTTPS mode, and they also often hide the protocal from the URL. If your web page is not loading, make sure your URL is http://IP-ADDRESS and not https://IP-ADDRESS.

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 the document root, which is where website files are stored.

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 on the command line, we'll see that there is already an index.html file located in that directory. This is the Apache2 Ubuntu Default Page that we visited above in our browsers. 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

Note: we use sudo in this directory because we are working on files and directories outside our home directories. Thus, be careful here about the commands you run. Any mistake may result in deleting necessary files or directories.

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 your 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. Remember that web browsers are, at their most basic, simply file viewers. So it makes sense that you simply have to specify the name of the file you want to view. For example, if your external IP address is, then you'd specify it like so:


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 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 our regular graphical browser,

In the next section, we will install PHP, which will provide the language needed to connect to MySQL, and thus enable more data driven web sites.