When setting up a web server, there are often sections of the site that you wish to restrict access to. Web applications often provide their own authentication and authorization methods, but the web server itself can be used to restrict access if these are inadequate or unavailable.
In this guide, we’ll demonstrate how to password protect assets on an Apache web server running on Ubuntu 14.04.
License and legal information
This work is created by Justin Ellingwood and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. I have copied it for the sole purpose of archiving and data centralizing. Minor changes have been made to the original article that you can find on Digital Ocean.
To get started, you will need access to an Ubuntu 14.04 server environment.
You will need a non-root user with
sudo privileges in order to perform
administrative tasks. To learn how to create such a user, follow our Ubuntu
14.04 initial server setup
Install the Apache Utilities Package
In order to create the file that will store the passwords needed to access our
restricted content, we will use a utility called
htpasswd. This is found in
apache2-utils package within the Ubuntu repositories.
Update the local package cache and install the package by typing this command. We will take this opportunity to also grab the Apache2 server in case it is not yet installed on the server:
sudo apt-get update sudo apt-get install apache2 apache2-utils
Create the Password File
We now have access to the
htpasswd command. We can use this to create a
password file that Apache can use to authenticate users. We will create a
hidden file for this purpose called
.htpasswd within our
The first time we use this utility, we need to add the
-c option to create
the specified file. We specify a username (
sammy in this example) at the end
of the command to create a new entry within the file:
sudo htpasswd -c /etc/apache2/.htpasswd sammy
You will be asked to supply and confirm a password for the user.
Leave out the
-c argument for any additional users you wish to add:
sudo htpasswd /etc/apache2/.htpasswd another_user
If we view the contents of the file, we can see the username and the encrypted password for each record:
cat /etc/apache2/.htpasswd #Output sammy:$apr1$lzxsIfXG$tmCvCfb49vpPFwKGVsuYz. another_user:$apr1$p1E9MeAf$kiAhneUwr.MhAE2kKGYHK.
Configure Apache Password Authentication
Now that we have a file with our users and passwords in a format that Apache can read, we need to configure Apache to check this file before serving our protected content. We can do this in two different ways.
The first option is to edit the Apache configuration and add our password protection to the virtual host file. This will generally give better performance because it avoids the expense of reading distributed configuration files. If you have this option, this method is recommended.
If you do not have the ability to modify the virtual host file (or if you are
.htaccess files for other purposes), you can restrict access
.htaccessfile. Apache uses
.htaccess files in order to allow
certain configuration items to be set within a file in a content directory.
The disadvantage is that Apache has to re-read these files on every request
that involves the directory, which can impact performance.
Choose the option that best suits your needs below.
Configuring Access Control within the Virtual Host Definition
Begin by opening up the virtual host file that you wish to add a restriction
to. For our example, we’ll be using the
000-default.conf file that holds the
default virtual host installed through Ubuntu’s apache package:
sudo nano /etc/apache2/sites-enabled/000-default.conf
Inside, with the comments stripped, the file should look similar to this:
Authentication is done on a per-directory basis. To set up authentication, you
will need to target the directory you wish to restrict with a
<Directory> block. In our example, we’ll restrict the entire document root, but you
can modify this listing to only target a specific directory within the web
Within this directory block, specify that we wish to set up
authentication. For the
AuthName, choose a real name that will be displayed
to the user when prompting for credentials. Use the
to point Apache to the password file we created. Finally, we will require a
valid-user to access this resource, which means anyone who can verify their
identity with a password will be allowed in:
Save and close the file when you are finished. Restart Apache to implement your password policy:
sudo service apache2 restart
The directory you specified should now be password protected.
Configuring Access Control with .htaccess Files
If you wish to set up password protection using
.htaccess files instead, you
should begin by editing the main Apache configuration file to allow
sudo nano /etc/apache2/apache2.conf
<Directory> block for the
/var/www directory that holds the
document root. Turn on
.htaccess processing by changing the
directive within that block from “None” to “All”:
Save and close the file when you are finished.
Next, we need to add an
.htaccess file to the directory we wish to restrict.
In our demonstration, we’ll restrict the entire document root (the entire
website) which is based at
/var/www/html, but you can place this file in any
directory you wish to restrict access to:
sudo nano /var/www/html/.htaccess
Within this file, specify that we wish to set up
Basic authentication. For
AuthName, choose a realm name that will be displayed to the user when
prompting for credentials. Use the
AuthUserFile directive to point Apache to
the password file we created. Finally, we will require a
access this resource, which means anyone who can verify their identity with a
password will be allowed in:
Save and close the file. Restart the web server to password protect all
content in or below the directory with the
sudo service apache2 restart
Confirm the Password Authentication
To confirm that your content is protected, try to access your restricted content in a web browser. You should be presented with a username and password prompt that looks like this:
If you enter the correct credentials, you will be allowed to access the content. If you enter the wrong credentials or hit “Cancel”, you will see the “Unauthorized” error page:
You should now have everything you need to set up basic authentication for your site. Keep in mind that password protection should be combined with SSL encryption so that your credentials are not sent to the server in plain text. To learn how to create a self-signed SSL certificate to use with Apache, follow this guide. To learn how to install a commercial certificate, follow this guide.