Secure WebServers with OpenBSD 6.0 – Setting Up Httpd, MariaDB and PHP


In this tutorial, we setting up a web server on OpenBSD 6.0 using the native httpd web server, MariabDB and PHP. There can be quite a few issues popping up unlike other systems, mostly due to the fact that the web server is “chroot jailed” during execution. In other words, the web server is sandboxed and cannot access other parts of the operating system, which requires more work than other similar setups on other distributions. However, this greatly decreases the damages if your server gets whacked. In this post, we setup a minimal web server that will allow you to host simple web content. I’ll assume you have an OpenBSD 6.0 VM created with root access to it. From there, we will stand up our web server with HTTPS, install MariaDB and PHP. Please note that this tutorial is not meant for professional/commercial settings, but for personal and educational uses. A video version of this tutorial is also available.

Standing up a Minimal Web Server with Httpd

The strategy we will employ is to create a very minimal web server, test if it works as intended, and then enable additional features as we go along. So first, we’ll start by enabling the httpd daemon. To do so, first copy the httpd.conf file from /etc/examples/httpd.conf to /etc/ by typing  cp /etc/examples/httpd.conf /etc . Open the copied file as root using vi or another text editing tool if you have any install. In the file, you will delete all the examples provided and only keep the “minimal web server” and “types” sections:

Make sure you save your changes and now start your web server with the following command:  /etc/rc.d/httpd -f start . Make sure you include the  -f , other you may get an error message. We will fix this later. If everything goes well, you should get an “httpd(ok)” message. Otherwise, there is likely an error in your configuration file. You can confirm by using  httpd -n .

Let’s confirm everything works so far. Retrieve your IP address using  ifconfig em0 and using another host on your network, browse to http://<your_ip>. If everything works as expected, you will see something similar to the figure below:

OpenBSD WebServer - 403 Forbidden
Receiving a 403 Forbidden error from the OpenBSD web server.

We received a 403 error because we do not have any web pages created yet and by default, httpd prevents directory listing – which is a good thing. So let’s create a quick index.html web page. Use the following command  vi /var/www/htdocs/index.html and type the following:

Save the file and point your browser to http://<your_ip>/index.html. You should see your web page. If not, make sure you created the file in /var/www/htdocs and you haven’t made a typo in your URL. Also note that if you go to http://<your_ip>/, you will also end up on your web page. By default httpd looks for “index.html” and serves this web page when none is specified.

Fantastic. We got ourselves a web server. But not a very secure or useful one unless you want to host Geocities-like webpages. Next, we will enable HTTPS on our web server and redirect all traffic to it. We’ll need to do this in 2 steps:

  1. Create a certificate for your web server; and
  2. Setup httpd to use your certificate and HTTPS

First, we’ll need to generate a SSL private key. This is straightforward by using openssl:

The server.key file is your private key and must be secured! It’s very important that nobody else other than you have access to it. Next, we will use this key to generate a self-signed certificate. This is also done by using openssl:

The command above basically requests OpenSSL to generate a certificate (server.crt) using our private key (server.key) that will be valid for 365 days. Afterwards, you will be asked a couple of questions to craft the certificate. Since this is self-signed, feel free to enter anything. Once done, the first step is completed. Next, we will modify our configuration file again and update out minimal web server to tell it to use HTTPS:

Every time your modify the httpd.conf file, you will need to restart your web server for the changes to take effect. Use  /etc/rc.d/httpd -f restart do so and test your website again, this time using https://<your_ip>. You should be greeted with a warning message fro your browser, warning you that it cannot validate the certificate. That’s because it is self-signed. Click on “Advanced” and add it to the exceptions. Afterwards, you will be serve our web page via an encrypted link.

Web Server Certificate Exception
Receiving a warning from the browser on self-signed certificate.

So at this point, we have a functioning web server over HTTPS. However, unencrypted communications are still enabled. We would like to have ALL users over HTTPS. This can be done by replacing this line in httpd.conf:


Anyone using http://<your_site> will be automatically redirected to https://<your_site>.

Setting Up MariaDB

Installing the database is quite simple in contrast with many other activities we need to do. First, we’ll need to download some packages, so make sure you have the PKG_PATH environment defined with a mirror containing the packages you need. If not, select a mirror on and define your variable:

And as root, install the mariadb-server package:

Once completed, install the database using the included script by typing  mysql_install_db and when completed, start the mysqld daemon:  /etc/rc.d/mysqld -f start . The last step is to configure it by running the  mysql_secure_installation . The script will ask you a couple of questions:

  1. First, it will ask you to set a password for root. Choose a good password. Long simple passwords can be more efficient than short complex one that you won’t remember;
  2. It will then ask if it should remove anonymous users. Select “Y” to remove them;
  3. When asked if it should disallow remote root access, answer by the positive to prevent root access from remote hosts;
  4. Choose to remove all test databases; and
  5. Press “Y” to reload all privileges in the database application.

You are now done with installing the database. Before moving on to the next section, confirm that everything is working by login into MariaDB:

If everything went fine, you will be given access to the database engine. Type  quit; to exit the application.

Setting Up PHP

The last step of this tutorial involve downloading and install PHP. Very few webpages nowadays rely solely on static HTML, and I suspect most will want to install web applications later on, so let’s setup PHP. First, download some of the required packages. Note that additional packages may be needed depending on the web applications you wish to install later on, but for now, let’s setup the core PHP packages:

There are several versions of PHP available on the OpenBSD repository. What is important is that you select the same version for all packages you install. For example, at the time of writing version 5.6.23 and 7.0.8 were available, but php-mysql 7.0.8 was not, thus we select 5.6.23 for all PHP packages to prevent issues later one. Dismiss any packages ending with “-ap2” as these are for the Apache web server. For the purpose of this tutorial, we will select version 5.6.23 every time we are asked.

Before starting up PHP, we have a couple of things to do. First, we need to tell httpd to send PHP pages to the PHP processor. We also need to specify the PHP processor that we have a database it needs to be aware of. So let’s start by modifying our httpd.conf file again by adding a section about .php files. Also, we’ll add a “directory” section to tell the web server to look for “index.php” files first instead of “index.html“:

Next, let’s modify the PHP configuration file to enable MySQL. We do so by adding extensions to the /etc/php5.6.ini file. Open this file as root and add the following lines under the “Dynamic Extensions” section:

Since we modified configuration files, we’ll need to restart the httpd and php-fpm daemons. Do so with  /etc/rc.d/httpd -f restart and  /etc/rc.d/php56-fpm start . Hopefully, you will get “httpd(ok)” and “php56_fpm(ok)”. Otherwise, you may have introduce a typo in your configuration files or some packages may have not downloaded/installed properly.

Wrapping Up

One last thing we will do before calling it quit for today, is to make sure the httpd, php56-fpm and mysqld services are started on bootup of OpenBSD. To do so create a new rc.conf.local file in /etc/ using  vi /etc/rc.conf.local and type the following in it:

At startup, OpenBSD will use this file to initiate the services and the PKG_PATH environment variable. You will not have to use the  -f anymore when restarting the httpd daemon.


So in this post, we have enabled a HTTPS web server, along with a MariaDB and PHP, allowing use to serve dynamic content on a OpenBSD 6.0 machine. At this point, you should be able to host basic dynamic content. However, if you try to install more complex web applications, you will need an extra few steps in many cases. Sometimes, you will need additional packages and extra work to connect to the database via your web application. In the next tutorial, we will install WordPress to show some of the difficulties you may encounter with the chroot jail and file permissions of the web root.

See Also