Set up a website with Nginx and Certbot

These are general notes on how to setup a Nginx web server plus Certbot for SSL certificates, initially learned from Luke’s video and after some use and research I added more stuff to the mix. And, actually at the time of writing this entry, I’m configuring the web server again on a new VPS instance, so this is going to be fresh.

As a side note, i use arch btw so everything here es aimed at an Arch Linux distro, and I’m doing everything on a VPS. Also note that most if not all commands here are executed with root privileges.

Table of contents


You will need two things:


Nginx is a web (HTTP) server and reverse proxy server.

You have two options: nginx and nginx-mainline. I prefer nginx-mainline because it’s the “up to date” package even though nginx is labeled to be the “stable” version. Install the package and enable/start the service:

pacman -S nginx-mainline
systemctl enable nginx.service
systemctl start nginx.service

And that’s it, at this point you can already look at the default initial page of Nginx if you enter the IP of your server in a web browser. You should see something like this:

Nginx welcome page
Nginx welcome page

As stated in the welcome page, configuration is needed, head to the directory of Nginx:

cd /etc/nginx

Here you have several files, the important one is nginx.conf, which as its name implies, contains general configuration of the web server. If you peek into the file, you will see that it contains around 120 lines, most of which are commented out and contains the welcome page server block. While you can configure a website in this file, it’s common practice to do it on a separate file (so you can scale really easily if needed for mor websites or sub-domains).

Inside the nginx.conf file, delete the server blocks and add the lines include sites-enabled/*; (to look into individual server configuration files) and types_hash_max_size 4096; (to get rid of an ugly warning that will keep appearing) somewhere inside the http block. The final nginx.conf file would look something like (ignoring the comments just for clarity, but you can keep them as side notes):

worker_processes 1;

events {
    worker_connections 1024;

http {
    include sites-enabled/*;
    include mime.types;
    default_type application/octet-stream;

    sendfile on;

    keepalive_timeout 65;

    types_hash_max_size 4096;

Next, inside the directory /etc/nginx/ create the sites-available and sites-enabled directories, and go into the sites-available one:

mkdir sites-available
mkdir sites-enabled
cd sites-available

Here, create a new .conf file for your website and add the following lines (this is just the sample content more or less):

server {
    listen 80;
    listen [::]:80;

    root /path/to/root/directory;
    index index.html anotherindex.otherextension;

    location /{
        try_files $uri $uri/ =404;

That could serve as a template if you intend to add more domains.

Note some things:

Then, make a symbolic link from this configuration file to the sites-enabled directory:

ln -s /etc/nginx/sites-available/your_config_file.conf /etc/nginx/sites-enabled

This is so the nginx.conf file can look up the newly created server configuration. With this method of having each server configuration file separate you can easily “deactivate” any website by just deleting the symbolic link in sites-enabled and you’re good, or just add new configuration files and keep everything nice and tidy.

All you have to do now is restart (or enable and start if you haven’t already) the Nginx service (and optionally test the configuration):

nginx -t
systemctl restart nginx

If everything goes correctly, you can now go to your website by typing on a web browser. But you will see a “404 Not Found” page like the following (maybe with different Nginx version):

Nginx 404 Not Found page
Nginx 404 Not Found page

That’s no problem, because it means that the web server it’s actually working. Just add an index.html file with something simple to see it in action (in the /var/www/some_folder that you decided upon). If you keep seeing the 404 page make sure your root line is correct and that the directory/index file exists.

I like to remove the .html and trailing / on the URLs of my website, for that you need to add the following rewrite lines and modify the try_files line (for more: Sean C. Davis: Remove HTML Extension And Trailing Slash In Nginx Config):

server {
    rewrite ^(/.*)\.html(\?.*)?$ $1$2 permanent;
    rewrite ^/(.*)/$ /$1 permanent;
    try_files $uri/index.html $uri.html $uri/ $uri =404;


Certbot is what provides the SSL certificates via Let’s Encrypt.

The only “bad” (bloated) thing about Certbot, is that it uses python, but for me it doesn’t matter too much. You may want to look up another alternative if you prefer. Install the packages certbot and certbot-nginx:

pacman -S certbot certbot-nginx

After that, all you have to do now is run certbot and follow the instructions given by the tool:

certbot --nginx

It will ask you for some information, for you to accept some agreements and the names to activate HTTPS for. Also, you will want to “say yes” to the redirection from HTTP to HTTPS. And that’s it, you can now go to your website and see that you have HTTPS active.

Now, the certificate given by certbot expires every 3 months or something like that, so you want to renew this certificate every once in a while. I did this before using cron or manually creating a systemd timer and service, but now it’s just a matter of enabling the certbot-renew.timer:

systemctl start certbot-renew.timer

The deploy-hook is not needed anymore, only for plugins. For more, visit the Arch Linux Wiki.

By David Luévano

Created: Fri, Mar 19, 2021 @ 02:58 UTC

Modified: Wed, Jun 21, 2023 @ 00:18 UTC