Setting up Nginx Reverse Proxy server on Debian Linux

What is Reverse Proxy

In short a reverse proxy server acts as intermediary service between client requesting a resource such as HTTP page and one or more servers. Using reverse proxy allows for multiple advantages such as improved performance, load balancing, transparent server maintenance of servers behind the reverse proxy server, improved security and more.

Basic scenario

In this section we will setup a basic reverse proxy using Nginx webserver on Debian Linux. We will be running two separate servers server1 and server2. Server1 is running Debian Linux with Nginx reverse proxy and an IP address Server2 run basic website using Apache2 webserver on IP address We assume that Server2 is up and running to serve a content on port 80:

$ lynx -dump
   Hello this is apache2 sitting on host

As a result our main focus will be dedicated to Server1 and configuration of Nginx reverse proxy to act as a intermediary between client and Server2.

Minimal Reverse proxy configuration

This section will show a minimalistic reverse proxy configuration which can be later improved to suit your environment. Let’s start by nginx installation:

# apt-get install nginx

Next, we disable a default virtual host:

# unlink /etc/nginx/sites-enabled/default

Next, create a new file within /etc/nginx/sites-available directory to hold your reverse proxy configuration eg reverse-proxy with a following content:

server {
        listen 80;
        location / {

The above reverse proxy configuration is absolutely minimalistic and self explanatory. The main feature is the proxy_pass directive which instructs nginx to proxy all requests communing on socket to remote socket sure that your nginx configuration does not contain any errors and restart nginx.

# nginx -t
nginx: the configuration file /etc/nginx/nginx.conf syntax is ok
nginx: configuration file /etc/nginx/nginx.conf test is successful
# service nginx restart

At this stage you should be able to query your new reverse proxy on ip address and reach a content of apache2 running on ip address

$ lynx -dump
   Hello this is apache2 sitting on host

Once the above basic reverse proxy configuration is working nginx contains number of additional directives to improve your configuration.