How to Compile Nginx From Source on Debian 10

Updated on December 3, 2019
How to Compile Nginx From Source on Debian 10 header image


Nginx is an open-source web server software designed with high concurrency in mind, that can be used as an HTTP/HTTPS server, reverse proxy server, mail proxy server, software load balancer, TLS terminator, caching server and more!

It is a greatly modular piece of software. Even some of the seemingly "built-in" parts of the software, such as GZIP or SSL, are actually created as modules that can be enabled and disabled during the build time.

It has core (native) modules and third-party (external) modules created by the community. Right now, there are over a hundred third-party modules that we can utilize.

Written in C, it's a speedy and lightweight piece of software.

Installing Nginx from source code is relatively easy - download the latest version of Nginx source code, configure, build, and install it.

You’ll need to choose whether to download the mainline or a stable version, but building them is the same.

In this guide, we will compile a mainline version of Nginx on Debian 10 (buster). We will use all available modules in the open-source version of Nginx.

Why compile and install Nginx from source

You probably ask why would one compile Nginx from a source when you can use prepared packages. Here are some reasons why you may want to compile specific software yourself:

  • To control configuration options.
  • To install the software anywhere you like. You can even install several different versions of the same software.
  • To control the version that you install. Distributions don’t always stay up-to-date with the latest versions of all packages, particularly add-ons to software packages.
  • To better understand how the software works.

Stable vs. mainline version

Nginx Open Source is available in two versions:

  • Mainline – Includes the latest features and bug fixes and is always up to date. It is reliable, but it may include some experimental modules, and it may also have some number of new bugs.
  • Stable – Doesn’t include all of the latest features, but has critical bug fixes that are always backported to the mainline version.

Core modules vs. third-party modules

Nginx has two types of modules that you can utilize: core modules and third-party modules.

The core Nginx developers build core modules, and they are part of the software itself.

The community builds third-party modules, and you can use them to extend functionality. There are a lot of helpful third-party modules.

Static modules vs. dynamic modules

Static modules exist in Nginx from the very first version. Dynamic modules were introduced with Nginx 1.9.11+ in February 2016.

With static modules, a set of modules that constitute an Nginx binary is fixed at compile time by the ./configure script. Static modules use --with-foo_bar_module or --add-module=PATH syntax.

To compile a core (standard) module as dynamic we add =dynamic, for example --with-http_image_filter_module=dynamic.

To compile a third-party module as dynamic, we use --add-dynamic-module=/path/to/module syntax, and then we load them by using the load_module directive in the global context of the nginx.conf file.

Requirements for building Nginx from source

In comparison with some other UNIX/Linux software, Nginx is pretty lightweight and doesn’t have many library dependencies. The default build configuration depends on only 3 libraries to be installed: OpenSSL/LibreSSL/BoringSSL, Zlib and PCRE.

NOTE: Nginx can also be compiled against LibreSSL and BoringSSL crypto libraries instead of OpenSSL.

Before you begin

Check the Debian version.

lsb_release -ds
# Debian GNU/Linux 10 (buster)

Create a regular user with sudo access.

adduser johndoe --gecos "John Doe"
usermod -aG sudo johndoe

NOTE: Replace johndoe with your username.

Switch to a new user.

su - johndoe

Set up the timezone.

sudo dpkg-reconfigure tzdata

Update your operating system’s software.

sudo apt update && sudo apt upgrade -y

Install the necessary packages.

sudo apt install -y software-properties-common ufw

Build Nginx from source

Nginx is a program written in C, so you will first need to install a compiler tool. Install build-essential, git and tree.

sudo apt install -y build-essential git tree

Download the latest mainline version of the Nginx source code and unpack the source code archive. Nginx source code is distributed as a compressed archive, as most Unix and Linux software.

wget && tar zxvf nginx-1.17.2.tar.gz

Download the mandatory Nginx dependencies' source code and extract it.

# PCRE version 8.43
wget && tar xzvf pcre-8.43.tar.gz

# zlib version 1.2.11
wget && tar xzvf zlib-1.2.11.tar.gz

# OpenSSL version 1.1.1c
wget && tar xzvf openssl-1.1.1c.tar.gz

Install optional Nginx dependencies.

sudo apt install -y perl libperl-dev libgd3 libgd-dev libgeoip1 libgeoip-dev geoip-bin libxml2 libxml2-dev libxslt1.1 libxslt1-dev

Clean up all .tar.gz files. We don't need them anymore.

rm -rf *.tar.gz

Enter the Nginx source directory.

cd ~/nginx-1.17.2

For good measure list directories and files that compose Nginx source code with tree.

tree -L 2 .

Copy the manual page to /usr/share/man/man8/.

sudo cp ~/nginx-1.17.2/man/nginx.8 /usr/share/man/man8
sudo gzip /usr/share/man/man8/nginx.8
ls /usr/share/man/man8/ | grep nginx.8.gz
# Check that man page for Nginx is working
man nginx

For help, you can see a full list of up-to-date Nginx compile-time options by running the following.

./configure --help
# To see want core modules can be built as dynamic run:
./configure --help | grep -F =dynamic

Configure, compile and install Nginx.

./configure --prefix=/etc/nginx \
            --sbin-path=/usr/sbin/nginx \
            --modules-path=/usr/lib/nginx/modules \
            --conf-path=/etc/nginx/nginx.conf \
            --error-log-path=/var/log/nginx/error.log \
            --pid-path=/var/run/ \
            --lock-path=/var/run/nginx.lock \
            --user=nginx \
            --group=nginx \
            --build=Debian \
            --builddir=nginx-1.17.2 \
            --with-select_module \
            --with-poll_module \
            --with-threads \
            --with-file-aio \
            --with-http_ssl_module \
            --with-http_v2_module \
            --with-http_realip_module \
            --with-http_addition_module \
            --with-http_xslt_module=dynamic \
            --with-http_image_filter_module=dynamic \
            --with-http_geoip_module=dynamic \
            --with-http_sub_module \
            --with-http_dav_module \
            --with-http_flv_module \
            --with-http_mp4_module \
            --with-http_gunzip_module \
            --with-http_gzip_static_module \
            --with-http_auth_request_module \
            --with-http_random_index_module \
            --with-http_secure_link_module \
            --with-http_degradation_module \
            --with-http_slice_module \
            --with-http_stub_status_module \
            --with-http_perl_module=dynamic \
            --with-perl_modules_path=/usr/share/perl/5.26.1 \
            --with-perl=/usr/bin/perl \
            --http-log-path=/var/log/nginx/access.log \
            --http-client-body-temp-path=/var/cache/nginx/client_temp \
            --http-proxy-temp-path=/var/cache/nginx/proxy_temp \
            --http-fastcgi-temp-path=/var/cache/nginx/fastcgi_temp \
            --http-uwsgi-temp-path=/var/cache/nginx/uwsgi_temp \
            --http-scgi-temp-path=/var/cache/nginx/scgi_temp \
            --with-mail=dynamic \
            --with-mail_ssl_module \
            --with-stream=dynamic \
            --with-stream_ssl_module \
            --with-stream_realip_module \
            --with-stream_geoip_module=dynamic \
            --with-stream_ssl_preread_module \
            --with-compat \
            --with-pcre=../pcre-8.43 \
            --with-pcre-jit \
            --with-zlib=../zlib-1.2.11 \
            --with-openssl=../openssl-1.1.1c \
            --with-openssl-opt=no-nextprotoneg \

sudo make install

Following the compilation, navigate to your home (~) directory.

cd ~

Symlink /usr/lib/nginx/modules to /etc/nginx/modules. This is a standard place for Nginx modules.

sudo ln -s /usr/lib/nginx/modules /etc/nginx/modules

Print the Nginx version, compiler version, and configure script parameters.

sudo nginx -V

# nginx version: nginx/1.17.2 (Debian)
# built by gcc 8.3.0 (Debian 8.3.0-6)
# built with OpenSSL 1.1.1c  28 May 2019
# TLS SNI support enabled
# configure arguments: --prefix=/etc/nginx --sbin-path=/usr/sbin/nginx --modules-path=/usr/lib/nginx/modules . . .
# . . .
# . . .

Create an Nginx system group and user.

sudo adduser --system --home /nonexistent --shell /bin/false --no-create-home --disabled-login --disabled-password --gecos "nginx user" --group nginx
# Check that user and group are created
sudo tail -n 1 /etc/passwd /etc/group /etc/shadow

Check Nginx syntax and potential errors.

sudo nginx -t
# Will throw this error -> nginx: [emerg] mkdir() "/var/cache/nginx/client_temp" failed (2: No such file or directory)

# Create NGINX cache directories and set proper permissions
sudo mkdir -p /var/cache/nginx/client_temp /var/cache/nginx/fastcgi_temp /var/cache/nginx/proxy_temp /var/cache/nginx/scgi_temp /var/cache/nginx/uwsgi_temp
sudo chmod 700 /var/cache/nginx/*
sudo chown nginx:root /var/cache/nginx/*

# Re-check syntax and potential errors. 
sudo nginx -t

Create an Nginx systemd unit file.

sudo vim /etc/systemd/system/nginx.service

Populate the /etc/systemd/system/nginx.service file with the following content.

Description=nginx - high performance web server

ExecStartPre=/usr/sbin/nginx -t -c /etc/nginx/nginx.conf
ExecStart=/usr/sbin/nginx -c /etc/nginx/nginx.conf
ExecReload=/bin/kill -s HUP $MAINPID
ExecStop=/bin/kill -s TERM $MAINPID


Enable Nginx to start on boot and start Nginx immediately.

sudo systemctl enable nginx.service
sudo systemctl start nginx.service

Check if Nginx will automatically initiate after a reboot.

sudo systemctl is-enabled nginx.service
# enabled

Check the status.

sudo systemctl status nginx.service

NOTE: You can verify that Nginx is running by going to your site’s domain or IP address in a web browser. You will see the Nginx welcome page. That's an indicator that Nginx is up and running on your VPS.

Create a UFW Nginx application profile.

sudo vim /etc/ufw/applications.d/nginx

Copy/paste the following content into the /etc/ufw/applications.d/nginx file.

[Nginx HTTP]
title=Web Server (Nginx, HTTP)
description=Small, but very powerful and efficient web server

[Nginx HTTPS]
title=Web Server (Nginx, HTTPS)
description=Small, but very powerful and efficient web server

[Nginx Full]
title=Web Server (Nginx, HTTP + HTTPS)
description=Small, but very powerful and efficient web server

Validate that UFW application profiles are created and recognized.

sudo ufw app list

# Available applications:
  # Nginx Full
  # Nginx HTTP
  # Nginx HTTPS
  # OpenSSH

Nginx, by default, generates backup .default files in /etc/nginx. Remove .default files from /etc/nginx directory.

sudo rm /etc/nginx/*.default

Place syntax highlighting of Nginx configuration for Vim editor into ~/.vim.

# For regular non-root user
mkdir ~/.vim/
cp -r ~/nginx-1.17.2/contrib/vim/* ~/.vim/
# For root user
sudo mkdir /root/.vim/
sudo cp -r ~/nginx-1.17.2/contrib/vim/* /root/.vim/

NOTE: By doing the step above, you will get a nice syntax highlighting when editing Nginx configuration files in Vim editor.

Create conf.d, snippets, sites-available and sites-enabled directories in /etc/nginx.

sudo mkdir /etc/nginx/{conf.d,snippets,sites-available,sites-enabled}

Change permissions and group ownership of Nginx log files.

sudo chmod 640 /var/log/nginx/*
sudo chown nginx:adm /var/log/nginx/access.log /var/log/nginx/error.log

Create a log rotation config for Nginx.

sudo vim /etc/logrotate.d/nginx

Populate the file with the following text, then save and exit.

/var/log/nginx/*.log {
    rotate 52
    create 640 nginx adm
            if [ -f /var/run/ ]; then
                    kill -USR1 `cat /var/run/`

Remove all downloaded files from home directory.

cd ~
rm -rf nginx-1.17.2/ openssl-1.1.1c/ pcre-8.43/ zlib-1.2.11/


That's it. Now, you have the latest version of Nginx installed. It is compiled statically against some important libraries like OpenSSL. Often, the system-supplied version of OpenSSL is outdated. By using this method of installing with a newer version of OpenSSL, you can take advantage of modern ciphers like CHACHA20_POLY1305 and protocols like TLS 1.3 that are available in OpenSSL 1.1.1. Moreover, by compiling your own binary, you are able to tailor what functionality your Nginx will provide, which is much more flexible than installing a pre-built binary.