How To Set Up Apache Virtual Hosts on Ubuntu 20.04

How To Set Up Apache Virtual Hosts on Ubuntu 20.04
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Ubuntu 20.04


The Apache HTTP server is a popular open-source web server that offers flexibility, power, and widespread support for developers. Apache server configuration does not take place in a single monolithic file, but instead happens through a modular design where new files can be added and modified as needed. Within this modular design, you can create an individual site or domain called a virtual host.

Using virtual hosts, one Apache instance can serve multiple websites. Each domain or individual site that is configured using Apache will direct the visitor to a specific directory holding that site’s information. This is done without indicating to the visitor that the same server is also responsible for other sites. This scheme is expandable without any software limit as long as your server can handle the load.

In this guide, you will set up Apache virtual hosts on an Ubuntu 20.04 server. During this process, you’ll learn how to serve different content to different visitors depending on which domains they are requesting by creating two virtual host sites.


Before you begin this tutorial, you will need:

If you are using DigitalOcean, you can learn how to set up domains by following our product documentation, How to Add Domains.

In order to successfully complete this tutorial, you will need two domains with:

  • An A record with your_domain pointing to your server’s public IP address.
  • An A record with www.your_domain pointing to your server’s public IP address.

For other providers, please refer to their relevant product documentation.

Note: If you do not have domains available at this time, you can use test values locally on your computer. Step 6 of this tutorial will show you how to test and configure your test values. This will allow you to validate your configuration even though your content won’t be available to other visitors through the domain name.

Step 1 — Creating the Directory Structure

The first step is to create a directory structure that will hold the site data that you will be serving to visitors.

Your document root, the top-level directory that Apache looks at to find content to serve, will be set to individual directories under the /var/www directory. You will create a directory here for each of the virtual hosts.

Within each of these directories, you will create a public_html directory. The public_html directory contains the content that will be served to your visitors. The parent directories, named here as your_domain_1 and your_domain_2, will hold the scripts and application code to support the web content.

Use these commands, with your own domain names, to create your directories:

  1. sudo mkdir -p /var/www/your_domain_1/public_html
  2. sudo mkdir -p /var/www/your_domain_2/public_html

Be sure to replace your_domain_1 and your_domain_2 with your own respective domains. For example, if one of your domains was example.com you would create this directory structure: /var/www/example.com/public_html.

Step 2 — Granting Permissions

You’ve created the directory structure for your files, but they are owned by the root user. If you want your regular user to be able to modify files in these web directories, you can change the ownership with these commands:

  1. sudo chown -R $USER:$USER /var/www/your_domain_1/public_html
  2. sudo chown -R $USER:$USER /var/www/your_domain_2/public_html

The $USER variable will take the value of the user you are currently logged in as when you press ENTER. By doing this, the regular user now owns the public_html subdirectories where you will be storing your content.

You should also modify your permissions to ensure that read access is permitted to the general web directory and all of the files and folders it contains so that the pages can be served correctly:

  1. sudo chmod -R 755 /var/www

Your web server now has the permissions it needs to serve content, and your user should be able to create content within the necessary folders. The next step is to create content for your virtual host sites.

Step 3 — Creating Default Pages for Each Virtual Host

With your directory structure in place, you can start focusing on each individual virtual host site and the content within that site. Start by creating an index.html page for your first site your_domain_1.

Open and create the index.html file with your preferred text editor. This example uses nano:

  1. nano /var/www/your_domain_1/public_html/index.html

Within this file, create an HTML file that indicates to visitors which site they are connected to:

    <title>Welcome to your_domain_1!</title>
    <h1>Success! The your_domain_1 virtual host is working!</h1>

To save and close the file in nano, start by pressing CTRL+X. Press Y when prompted to save the file, then press ENTER when you are finished to exit.

Next, copy this file to use as the base for your second site by typing:

  1. cp /var/www/your_domain_1/public_html/index.html /var/www/your_domain_2/public_html/index.html

Then open this new file and modify the relevant pieces of information using your text editor like before:

  1. nano /var/www/your_domain_2/public_html/index.html
    <title>Welcome to your_domain_2!</title>
  <body> <h1>Success! The your_domain_2 virtual host is working!</h1>

Save and close this file. You now have one page for each site that you can use to test the virtual host configuration.

Step 4 — Creating New Virtual Host Files

Virtual host files are the files that specify the actual configuration of your virtual hosts and dictates how the Apache web server will respond to various domain requests.

Apache comes with a default virtual host file called 000-default.conf. You can copy this file to create virtual host files for each of your domains.

Copy the default configuration file over to the first domain:

  1. sudo cp /etc/apache2/sites-available/000-default.conf /etc/apache2/sites-available/your_domain_1.conf

Be aware that the default Ubuntu configuration requires that each virtual host file end in .conf.

Open the new file in your preferred text editor with root privileges:

  1. sudo nano /etc/apache2/sites-available/your_domain_1.conf

With comments removed, the file will be similar to this:

<VirtualHost *:80>
    ServerAdmin webmaster@localhost
    DocumentRoot /var/www/html
    ErrorLog ${APACHE_LOG_DIR}/error.log
    CustomLog ${APACHE_LOG_DIR}/access.log combined

Within this file, customize the items for your first domain and add some additional directives. This virtual host section matches any requests that are made on port 80, the default HTTP port.

First, change the ServerAdmin directive to an email that the site administrator can receive emails through:

ServerAdmin admin@your_domain_1

After this, add two additional directives. The first, called ServerName, establishes the base domain for the virtual host definition. The second, called ServerAlias, defines further names that should match as if they were the base name. This is useful for matching additional hosts you defined. For instance, if you set the ServerName directive to example.com you could define a ServerAlias to www.example.com, and both will point to this server’s IP address.

Add these two directives to your configuration file after the ServerAdmin line:

<VirtualHost *:80>
    ServerAdmin admin@your_domain_1
    ServerName your_domain_1
    ServerAlias www.your_domain_1
    DocumentRoot /var/www/html

Next, change your virtual host file location for the document root for this domain. Edit the DocumentRoot directive to point to the directory you created for this host:

DocumentRoot /var/www/your_domain_1/public_html

Here is an example of the virtual host file with all of the adjustments made above:

<VirtualHost *:80>
    ServerAdmin admin@your_domain_1
    ServerName your_domain_1
    ServerAlias www.your_domain_1
    DocumentRoot /var/www/your_domain_1/public_html
    ErrorLog ${APACHE_LOG_DIR}/error.log
    CustomLog ${APACHE_LOG_DIR}/access.log combined

Save and close the file.

Create your second configuration file by copying over the file from your first virtual host site:

  1. sudo cp /etc/apache2/sites-available/your_domain_1.conf /etc/apache2/sites-available/your_domain_2.conf

Open the new file in your preferred editor:

  1. sudo nano /etc/apache2/sites-available/your_domain_2.conf

You now need to modify all of the pieces of information to reference your second domain. When you are finished, it should look like this:

<VirtualHost *:80>
    ServerAdmin admin@your_domain_2
    ServerName your_domain_2
    ServerAlias www.your_domain_2
    DocumentRoot /var/www/your_domain_2/public_html
    ErrorLog ${APACHE_LOG_DIR}/error.log
    CustomLog ${APACHE_LOG_DIR}/access.log combined

Save and close the file when you are finished.

Step 5 — Enabling the New Virtual Host Files

Now that you have created your virtual host files, you must enable them. Apache includes some tools that allow you to do this.

You’ll be using the a2ensite tool to enable each of your sites. If you would like to read more about this script, you can refer to the a2ensite documentation.

Use the following commands to enable your virtual host sites:

  1. sudo a2ensite your_domain_1.conf
  2. sudo a2ensite your_domain_2.conf

There will be output for both sites, similar to the example below, reminding you to reload your Apache server:

Enabling site example.com. To activate the new configuration, you need to run: systemctl reload apache2

Before reloading your server, disable the default site defined in 000-default.conf by using the a2dissite command:

  1. sudo a2dissite 000-default.conf
Site 000-default disabled. To activate the new configuration, you need to run: systemctl reload apache2

Next, test for configuration errors:

  1. sudo apache2ctl configtest

The should receive the following output:

. . . Syntax OK

When you are finished, restart Apache to make these changes take effect.

  1. sudo systemctl restart apache2

Optionally, you can check the status of the server after all these changes with this command:

  1. sudo systemctl status apache2

Your server should now be set up to serve two websites. If you’re using real domain names, you can skip Step 6 and move on to Step 7. If you’re testing your configuration locally, follow Step 6 to learn how to test your setup using your local computer.

Step 6 — (Optional) Setting Up Local Hosts File

If you haven’t been using actual domain names that you own to test this procedure, and have been using example domains instead, you can still test the functionality of your virtual host sites by temporarily modifying the hosts file on your local computer. This will intercept any requests for the domains that you configured and point them to your Virtual Private Server (VPS), just as the DNS system would do if you were using registered domains. This will only work from your local computer and is only for testing purposes.

Make sure you are operating on your local computer for these steps and not your VPS server. You will need to know the computer’s administrative password or otherwise be a member of the administrative group.

If you are on a Mac or Linux computer, edit your local file with administrative privileges by typing:

  1. sudo nano /etc/hosts

If you are on a Windows machine, open the Command Prompt and type:

  1. notepad %windir%\system32\drivers\etc\hosts

The details that you need to add are the public IP address of your server, followed by the domain you want to use to reach that server. Using the domains used in this guide, and replacing your server IP for the your_server_IP text, your file should look like this:

/etc/hosts   localhost   guest-desktop
your_server_IP your_domain_1
your_server_IP your_domain_2

This will direct any requests for your two domains on your computer and send them to your server at the designated IP address.

Save and close the file.

Step 7 — Testing Your Results

Now that you have your virtual hosts configured, you can test your setup by going to the domains that you configured in your web browser:


An example of the virtual host web page with edited content

You can also visit your second host page and view the file you created for your second site:


An example of a different virtual host web page with edited content

If both of these sites work as expected, you’ve successfully configured two virtual hosts on the same server.

Note: If you adjusted your local computer’s hosts file, like in Step 6 of this tutorial, you may want to delete the lines you added now that you verified that your configuration works. This will prevent your hosts file from being filled with entries that are no longer necessary.


You now have a single server handling two separate domain names. You can expand this process by following the steps we outlined above to add additional virtual hosts. There is no software limit on the number of domain names Apache can handle, so feel free to make as many virtual hosts as your server is capable of handling.

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About the authors
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Kong Yang


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If you’re running into an issue with your second website redirecting to your first website, just re-setup Let’s Encrypt with the following:

sudo certbot --apache 

Once you install SSL for each domain then it will no long redirect.

The solution to the issue where two VHosts are individually defined but are served by the same Vhost, maybe related to whether an “ssl certificate” has been setup for apache2. In this situation all Vhosts must have “ssl certificates” to have apache serve each vhost individually. The server defaults to the 443 port and the vhost without “ssl” will be served from the vhost with “ssl.”

Good article, but I have two questions.

  1. On the remote server setup with apache2, should the website directory ownership (/var/www/vhost1/public_html) be modified instead to the apache server (www-data:www-data) and not the current logged in user?

  2. I followed the article and created the entries for vhost1 and vhost2, each associated with individual and seperate directories as outlined in the article. However, without explanation, the URL for vhost2 points to vhost1. Do you have insight what might be causing the issue?

The domains for vhost1 and vhost2 point to the same IP hosting the server running apache2.

So I’ve followed this command by command, for the past 2 weeks with no luck. So visiting your_domain_2 will redirect me to your_domain_1. I’ve made the two seperate folders, I’ve created and enabled the virtual hosts pointing to the correct directories, I’ve dissabled 000-default etc.

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