How to Install Nginx on FreeBSD 11.2

Published on November 15, 2018

Manager, Developer Education

How to Install Nginx on FreeBSD 11.2
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Nginx is one of the most popular web servers in the world, known for its frequent use as a load balancer and reverse proxy. It’s more resource-friendly than Apache, and many of the largest and most highly trafficked sites on the internet depend on Nginx to serve their content.

In this guide, we will demonstrate how to install Nginx on a FreeBSD 11.2 server.

Note: As of July 1, 2022, DigitalOcean no longer supports the creation of new FreeBSD Droplets through the Control Panel or API. However, you can still spin up FreeBSD Droplets using a custom image. Learn how to import a custom image to DigitalOcean by following our product documentation.


Before beginning this guide, you will need access to a server running FreeBSD. This guide was written specifically with a server running FreeBSD 11.2 in mind, although it should also work on older, supported versions of the operating system.

If you’re new to working with FreeBSD, you may find it helpful to customize this server by following these instructions.

Additionally, if you plan to set up a domain name for this server, you will need the following:

  • A registered domain name that you own and control. If you do not already have a registered domain name, you may register one with one of the many domain name registrars out there (e.g. Namecheap, GoDaddy, etc.).
  • A DNS A Record that points your domain to the public IP address of your server. You can follow this hostname tutorial for details on how to add them.

Step 1 — Installing Nginx

To begin, we will install Nginx using pkg, FreeBSD’s built-in binary package management tool. The following command will update your local copy of the available packages and then install the nginx package:

  1. sudo pkg install nginx

If this is your first time running pkg, it will prompt you to confirm that you allow it to bootstrap itself. To do this, press y and then ENTER. Then, when prompted, confirm that you approve the installation of the nginx package by pressing y and then ENTER once again.

If you are using either the csh or tcsh shell, make sure to run the rehash command. This makes the shell aware of the new applications you installed:

  1. rehash

Note: If you aren’t sure which shell you’re currently using, you can check with the following command:

  1. echo $SHELL

The output will show the file path of the shell program currently in use:


Nginx is now installed on your server, but it is not yet running. In the next step, we’ll enable Nginx to start running every time the server boots up and start it for this session, as well as walk through the process of securing the server by setting up a firewall with IPFW.

Step 2 — Enabling the Nginx Service and Setting Up a Firewall with IPFW

In order for FreeBSD to start Nginx as a conventional service, you have to tell FreeBSD that you want to enable it. This will allow you to manage it like any other service, rather than as a standalone application, and will also configure FreeBSD to start it up automatically at boot.

To do this, you first need to know the correct rc parameter to set for the nginx service. rc is a FreeBSD utility that controls the system’s automatic boot processes. Scripts for every service available on the system are located in the /usr/local/etc/rc.d directory. These define the parameters that are used to enable each service using the rcvar variable. We can see what each service’s rcvar is set to by typing:

  1. grep rcvar /usr/local/etc/rc.d/*

After has been installed, this command will output a listing similar to this:

/usr/local/etc/rc.d/cloudconfig:rcvar="cloudinit_enable" /usr/local/etc/rc.d/cloudfinal:rcvar="cloudinit_enable" /usr/local/etc/rc.d/cloudinit:rcvar="cloudinit_enable" /usr/local/etc/rc.d/cloudinitlocal:rcvar="cloudinit_enable" /usr/local/etc/rc.d/nginx:rcvar=nginx_enable /usr/local/etc/rc.d/rsyncd:rcvar=rsyncd_enable

The parameter that you need to set for the nginx service is highlighted here in this output. The name of the script itself — the last component of the path before the colon — is also helpful to know, as that’s the name that FreeBSD uses to refer to the service.

To enable the nginx service you must add its rcvar to the rc.conf file, which holds the global system configuration information referenced by the startup scripts. Use your preferred editor to open the /etc/rc.conf file with sudo privileges. Here, we’ll use ee:

  1. sudo ee /etc/rc.conf

At the top of the file, there will be a few rcvar parameters already in place. Add the nginx_enable rcvar parameter below these and set it to "YES":

. . .

. . .

While still in the rc.conf file, we will add a few more directives to enable and configure an IPFW firewall. IPFW is a stateful firewall written for FreeBSD. It provides a powerful syntax that allows you to customize security rules for most use cases.

Directly below the nginx_enable parameter you just added, add the following highlighted lines:

. . .
firewall_myservices="22/tcp 80/tcp"

Here’s what each of these directives and their settings do:

  • firewall_enable="YES" — Setting this directive to "YES" enables the firewall to start up whenever the server boots.
  • firewall_type="workstation" — FreeBSD provides several default types of firewalls, each of which have slightly different configurations. By declaring the workstation type, the firewall will only protect this server using stateful rules.
  • firewall_myservices="22/tcp 80/tcp" — The firewall_myservices directive is where you can list the TCP ports you want to allow through the firewall. In this example, we’re specifying ports 22 and 80 to allow SSH and HTTP access to the server, respectively.
  • firewall_allowservices="any" — This allows a machine from any IP address to communicate over the ports specified in the firewall_myservices directive.

After adding these lines, save the file and close the editor by pressing CTRL + C, typing exit, and then pressing ENTER.

Then, start the ipfw firewall service. Because this is the first time you’re starting the firewall on this server, there’s a chance that doing so will cause your server to stall, making it inaccessible over SSH. The following nohup command — which stands for “no hangups” — will start the firewall while preventing stalling and also redirect the standard output and error to a temporary log file:

  1. sudo nohup service ipfw start >/tmp/ipfw.log 2>&1

If you’re using either the csh or tcsh shells, though, this redirect will cause Ambiguous output redirect. to appear in your output. If you’re using either of these shells, run the following instead to start ipfw:

  1. sudo nohup service ipfw start >&/tmp/ipfw.log

Note: In the future, you can manage the ipfw firewall as you would any other service. For example, to stop, start, and then restart the service, you would run the following commands:

  1. sudo service ipfw stop
  2. sudo service ipfw start
  3. sudo service ipfw restart

Next, start the nginx service

  1. sudo service nginx start

Then, to test that Nginx is able to serve content correctly, enter your server’s public IP address into the URL bar of your preferred web browser:


Note: If you aren’t sure of your server’s public IP address, you can run the following command which will print your server’s IP address, as seen from another location on the internet:

  1. curl -4 icanhazip.com

If everything is working correctly, you will see the default Nginx landing page:

Nginx default page

This shows that Nginx is installed and running correctly and that it’s being allowed through the firewall as expected. There are still a few configuration changes that need to be made, though, in order for it to work with non-default settings or serve content using a domain name.

Step 3 — Setting Up a Server Block

When using the Nginx web server, server blocks (similar to virtual hosts in Apache) can be used to encapsulate configuration details and host more than one domain from a single server. We will set up a domain called example.com, but you should replace this with your own domain name. To learn more about setting up a domain name with DigitalOcean, see our Introduction to DigitalOcean DNS.

Nginx on FreeBSD 11.2 has one server block enabled by default that is configured to serve documents out of a directory at /usr/local/www/nginx. While this works well for a single site, it can become unwieldy if you are hosting multiple sites. Instead of modifying /usr/local/www/nginx, let’s create a directory structure within /usr/local/www for our example.com site.

Create the directory for example.com as follows, using the -p flag to create any necessary parent directories:

  1. sudo mkdir -p /usr/local/www/example.com/html

Next, assign ownership of the directory to the www user, the default Nginx runtime user profile:

  1. sudo chown -R www:www /usr/local/www/example.com

The permissions of your web root should be correct if you haven’t modified your umask value, but you can make sure by typing:

  1. sudo chmod -R 755 /usr/local/www/example.com

Next, create a sample index.html page using ee:

  1. sudo ee /usr/local/www/example.com/html/index.html

Inside, add the following sample HTML:

        <title>Welcome to Example.com!</title>
        <h1>Success!  The example.com server block is working!</h1>

Save and close the file when you are finished.

In order for Nginx to serve this content, it’s necessary to create a server block with the correct directives. Open the main Nginx configuration file. By default, this is held in the /usr/local/etc/nginx/ directory:

  1. sudo ee /usr/local/etc/nginx/nginx.conf

Note: Generally, you want to avoid editing the default nginx.conf file. However, within this same directory, there’s a file called nginx.conf-dist, which is identical to the default nginx.conf file. If you ever find that you need to revert with these configuration changes, you can just copy over this file with the following command:

  1. sudo cp /usr/local/etc/nginx/nginx.conf-dist /usr/local/etc/nginx/nginx.conf

When you first open the file, you’ll see the following at the very top:

#user  nobody;
worker_processes  1;

. . .

Uncomment the user directive by removing the pound sign (#) and then change the user from nobody to www. Then update the worker_processes directive which allows you to select how many worker processes Nginx will use. The optimal value to enter here isn’t always obvious or easy to find. Setting it to auto tells Nginx sets it to one worker per CPU core, which will be sufficient in most cases:

user  www;
worker_processes  auto;
. . .

Then scroll down to the server block. With all comments removed, it will look like this:

. . .
    server {
        listen       80;
        server_name  localhost;

        location / {
            root   /usr/local/www/nginx;
            index  index.html index.htm;

        error_page   500 502 503 504  /50x.html;

        location = /50x.html {
            root   /usr/local/www/nginx-dist;

Delete this entire server block, including all the commented-out lines, and replace it with the following content:

. . .
    server {
        access_log /var/log/nginx/example.com.access.log;
        error_log /var/log/nginx/example.com.error.log;
        listen       80;
        server_name  example.com www.example.com;

        location / {
            root   /usr/local/www/example.com/html;
            index  index.html index.htm;
. . .

Here’s what the directives in this server block do:

  • access_log: This directive defines the location of the server’s access logs.
  • error_log: This defines the file where Nginx will write its error logs.
  • listen: The listen directive declares what port Nginx should listen in on. In this case, we set it to port 80 so it can listen for HTTP traffic.
  • server_name: Here, point Nginx to your domain name and any aliases you have for it. If you don’t have a domain name, point Nginx to your server’s public IP address.
  • root: This defines the website document root, which you created earlier in this step.
  • index: This directive defines the files that will be used as an index, and in which order they should be checked.

All together, with comments removed, the file will look like this:

user  www;
worker_processes  1;

events {
    worker_connections  1024;

http {
    include       mime.types;
    default_type  application/octet-stream;
    sendfile        on;
    keepalive_timeout  65;

    server {
        access_log /var/log/nginx/example.com.access.log;
        error_log /var/log/nginx/example.com.error.log;
        listen       80;
        server_name  example.com www.example.com;

        location / {
            root   /usr/local/www/example.com;
            index  index.html index.htm;



Save and close the file when you are finished. Then, test your configuration file for syntax errors by typing:

  1. sudo nginx -t

If your configuration file has no detectable syntax errors, you’ll see the following output:

nginx: the configuration file /usr/local/etc/nginx/nginx.conf syntax is ok nginx: configuration file /usr/local/etc/nginx/nginx.conf test is successful

If the above command returns with errors, re-open the Nginx configuration file to the location where the error was found and try to fix the problem.

When your configuration checks out correctly, go ahead and reload the nginx service to enable your changes:

  1. sudo service nginx reload

Nginx should now be serving the content you set up in the index.html file. Test this by navigating to http://example.com, where you should see something like this:

Nginx first server block

As a final step, we will go over some commands that will allow you to manage the Nginx service.

Step 4 — Managing the Nginx Process

Now that you have your web server up and running, let’s review some basic management commands.

To stop your web server, type:

  1. sudo service nginx stop

To start the web server when it is stopped, type:

  1. sudo service nginx start

To stop and then start the service again, type:

  1. sudo service nginx restart

If you are simply making configuration changes, you can reload Nginx without dropping any connections. To do this, type:

  1. sudo service nginx reload

Lastly, recall how in Step 2 we enabled the nginx service by adding the nginx_enable="YES" directive to the rc.conf file. If you’d like to disable the nginx service to keep it from starting up when the server boots, you would need to reopen that file and remove that line.


You now have a fully functional Nginx web server installed on your machine. From here, you could encrypt your server’s web traffic by enabling HTTPS. To learn how to do this, consult How To Secure Nginx with Let’s Encrypt on FreeBSD. You could also install and configure MySQL and PHP which, along with Nginx, would give you a complete FEMP stack.

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About the authors
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Manager, Developer Education

Technical Writer @ DigitalOcean

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location / { root /usr/local/www/example.com;

not right, should be example.com/html;

I followed the steps above but got an error message. 403 Forbidden. I disabled IPFW but got the same results. I am using FreeBSD 11.2

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