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Version 2.5b6


Virtual Hosts

Setting-up A Virtual Host

Virtual hosts means running multiple virtual web sites on one system. This is commonly used by web site providers, but can be useful in all kinds of organisations. There are two ways to configure your IP system to permit virtual hosting:

  1. You can assign multiple IP addresses to a system, a technique that is called 'multihoming'. An IP address refers to a connection point (e.g. a network card) to a system, rather than the system itself, so it's quite normal to have multiple IP addresses. Many network cards can support multiple addresses (4 or 8), and most systems can take multiple network cards. There are probably routers and gateways that make it possible to have thousands of IP addresses on one system.
  2. You can assign the same IP address to lots of host names, using DNS or something similar. Thus, 'www1.some.domain' and 'www2.some.domain' can refer to the same address. This is often called a 'virtual host' because the host does not exist as a separate computer, just as a name.

Xitami can work with both these mechanisms for HTTP and FTP connections. It handles multiple IP addresses automatically: if you ask it to run on port 80, it will accept connections on any IP address, on port 80. You do not need to configure this (although you can restrict it to run on one specific address). This means that you do not need to specify on which IP address Xitami should accept connections - if a system has ten IP addresses, Xitami will accept connections on all ten.

A multihomed virtual host is identified by its IP address. A DNS-based virtual host is identified by its name:

    xxx.xxx.xxx.xxx=filename.cfg   #  A multihomed host
    www.some.domain=filename.cfg   #  A DNS-based virtual host

DNS-based virtual hosting requires a DNS server or something similar. The mechanisms for setting-up both multiple IP addresses and multiple domain names are system-specific; you should have access to technical documentation for your TCP/IP configuration or good technical support. DNS-based virtual hosting uses a HTTP/1.1 feature called the 'Host:' header, and an FTP feature whereby the user name is specified as 'user@hostname'. Most modern browsers support this; if you are building an intranet it is quite easy to be sure that all browsers will work correctly with DNS-based virtual hosting. On the Internet you can catch browsers that do not send a valid Host: header, and show some specific pages.

The SSL protocol used in Xitami/Pro cannot work with DNS-based virtual hosts, so to use SSL virtual hosts you must have a unique IP address for each host.

When you set-up a virtual host, you will generally want to use a specific directory for the web pages, CGI scripts, password file, and log files. (You can also share these in any way you need to.) You can also configure options such as the HTTP error messages, timeouts, security, and so on.

To define these, you specify a configuration file per virtual host. The virtual host configuration inherits all definitions from defaults.cfg (and xitami.cfg). You need only define those options that are specific to the virtual host. If the HTTP request refers to a host name or IP address that has not been configured as a virtual host, the request is handled by the base host. To configure the base host, create a file called 'basehost.cfg'. You can change this name in the defaults.cfg file server:base-host option.

This is a typical configuration for a site with several virtual hosts:


Some of the options in the [Server] apply to the entire server globally, and are not taken from the virtual host configuration file: background, customise, debug, limit, portbase, and refresh.

When you define a multihomed virtual host, you must specify a server:hostname value. This should be a host name that translates back into the correct IP address. The server:hostname option is used whenever Xitami has to return a 'redirected' URL; for image maps, incomplete URL, and directory listings. If you do not define server:hostname, or define it wrongly, these functions may not work.

When you define a DNS-based virtual host, Xitami takes the name as a default value for the server:hostname option. This usually works correctly, but you can override it if necessary by adding the server:hostname option explicitly. To avoid confusion, make sure your DNS server is correctly configured. You normally use 'ping' to test that this works.

The virtual host configuration files, must exist when the server starts-up. You can modify the virtual host configurations on-the-fly, as for the normal configuration files, but if you want to add or remove a virtual host you must stop and restart the server (for instance using the WBA control panel.)

Debugging Virtual Hosts

Since virtual hosting means playing with a lot of config files, this can quickly become confusing if you don't take some basic care and precautions. We advise you to:

If you have 'not found' errors that you can't explain, set the server:debug option to 1 and recreate the error. Then, the log files 'debug.log' contains detailled information about the URL translation. You can look at this file, or in serious cases, send it to us and we'll try to help.

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