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Running a lightweight webserver on the Raspberry Pi (lighttpd)

This guide covers setting up a light webserver on Linux using the lighttpd web server on the Raspberry Pi. Most of these instructions can also be applied to other Debian or Ubuntu based distributions (except the tasks using the raspi-config tool). I've already written a tutorial based on the "full-fat" Apache webserver (running a LAMP Apache based webserver on the Raspbbery Pi).

Lighttpd provides a way of setting up a web server without putting too much load on the limited processing capability. It's ideal for providing web access to the Raspberry Pi as a monitoring tool, or as a lightweight webserver for a personal website.

Debian Linux

This is based on the Debian Raspberry Pi Raspbian.

One of the advantages of Debian Wheezy on the Raspberry Pi is that ssh is enabled by default and that the raspi-config tool provides a convenient way to increase the size of the root partition (useful if you have an SD card bigger than 2GB) and to change the default password for the pi user (essential for everyone). The raspi-config tool should run when you first start the system, otherwise use sudo raspi-config.

Using the command line and editing files

As we are going to be doing this through the command line it is useful to understand a little about the shell. Although this provides step-by-step instructions if you haven’t used the command line previously I suggest you read the basic shell reference guide, and then return to this point.

Throughout the install you will see many commands prefixed with sudo. The sudo command allows the user to issue a command as the superuser (or in certain circumstances as another user). Without using the sudo command many of the commands would fail stating insufficient permissions. This is a security feature that protects the system from other users, but also limits the amount of damage that a user can do by mistake (although if prefixed with the sudo command it will not help against accidents).

Static network IP address

The next step is to give the Raspberry Pi an static IP address. This is a little more complex as it depends upon your own setup and what router you have on how to achieve this.

By default the Raspberry Pi will request a dynamic IP address which is issued by your router as required. This however may change in future which would make it hard to connect to the webserver. Instead we provide it with an address that doesn’t change such as 192.168.1.4.
Note that this address can be used on the local network, but not on the Internet – later we’ll look at providing access through your router / firewall from the Internet.

First find out what DHCP address has been allocated by using the ifconfig command – see the extract below

...

eth0      Link encap:Ethernet  HWaddr b8:27:eb:8a:71:a0

          inet addr:192.168.1.110  Bcast:192.168.1.255  Mask:255.255.255.0

...

This is saying that the ethernet port 0 – has an IP address of 192.168.1.110

You will also need to find out what address your router is, using the route command

$ route

Kernel IP routing table

Destination     Gateway         Genmask         Flags Metric Ref    Use Iface

default         192.168.1.1     0.0.0.0         UG    0      0        0 eth0

192.168.1.0     *               255.255.255.0   U     0      0        0 eth0

This shows that the router IP address (Gateway) is 192.168.1.1 and all traffic is sent via that router.

At this point you will also need to check on what address range is being issued by the router. This depends upon the individual router. In my case I have a Belkin Wireless Router which can be reached by pointing a web browser to the IP address of the router 192.168.1.1

The LAN settings are shown below:

Belkin wireless router lan settings

In this case the local network has valid addresses from 192.168.1.1 to 192.168.1.254. The router is at address 192.168.1.1 and any DHCP requests will be given entries between 192.168.1.100 and 192.168.1.150 (you can change the range of the DHCP addresses if required). I have used 192.168.1.4 for this server.

To change to static IP address

cd /etc/network

sudo nano interfaces

replace the line “iface eth0 inet dhcp” with

iface eth0 inet static

address 192.168.1.4

netmask 255.255.255.0

gateway 192.168.1.1

You should also take a look at the file /etc/resolv.conf

and check it has a nameserver entry (probably pointing at your default gateway)
nameserver 192.168.1.1

Alternatively you could point directly at your ISPs DNS servers rather.

Whilst you can dynamically reload the network interface I suggest a reboot at this stage to make sure that the configuration is correct.

sudo reboot

After logging in check using ifconfig to confirm that we have a static ip address

...

eth0      Link encap:Ethernet  HWaddr b8:27:eb:8a:71:a0

          inet addr:192.168.1.4  Bcast:192.168.1.255  Mask:255.255.255.0

...

Using ssh

SSH (Secure Shell) is a network protocol that allows you to login and control the computer through the command line remotely. As the name suggests it is secure as it encrypts communication across the network (so that others cannot see your password etc). It also has some great features such as tunnelling, which we won’t go into here.

Using the Wheezy image ssh is turned on by default. This can be enabled / disabled through the raspi-config tool if required.

You can now connect to the Raspberry pi remotely (on the same network) via ssh.
If you have another linux computer on the network then from a terminal run

ssh 192.168.1.4
which will login with the same username. If you want to use a different username then prefix that before the ip address with an @ sign.
eg
ssh pi@192.168.1.4

If you want to connect from Windows then there are several options, but I suggest the open source software Putty.

Making the server available on the Internet

Next we are going to configure the router to allow ssh logins and web traffics through its firewall to the Raspberry Pi.

You did remember to change the default password for the pi username didn’t you! If you haven’t already changed the default password then do it now otherwise anyone will be able to login to your Raspberry Pi.

As a home user the ip address used on your local network is a private address range that will not work over the Internet. Instead your ISP will provide a single dynamic IP address which is used by the router. To allow traffic to flow from the Internet to your Raspberry Pi needs the IP address of the Pi to be made to look as though it is from the router. This is a process called Network Address Translation (NAT).

The ports that need to be allowed through are port 80 (http) and if you would like to be able to login to the computer from the Internet then port 22 (ssh).

To do this you will need to consult the instructions on your router. In the case of my Belkin router this is through the Firewall > Virtual servers settings (see below), but Netgear this is Advanced > Security > IP Forwarding.

Belkin wireless router firewall virtual server settings (NAT)

DNS

The final stage is to have a DNS entry point at your router’s IP address. In my case I have cable Internet through Virgin Media. Although it does have a dynamic IP address the address does not normally change. I have a static DNS entry on a Internet DNS server. The entry only needs to be changed about once every year or when Virgin Media perform significance maintenance on the Internet connection.

If you have a dynamic IP address that changes on a more recent basis then you will need to register for a dynamic dns service.

Installing lighttpd

To install the lighttpd web server issue the command.
sudo apt-get install lighttpd

This will install the web server and also pull in any other packages (called dependencies) that are required. The server will be automatically started and set to start by default after a reboot.
[ ok ] Starting web server: lighttpd.

Install mysql database (optional)

Whilst you can have a perfectly good website without a database, database provide a good way of holding data and are a requirement for many content management systems (CMS) and web based applications. If you don't need a databse the you can skip this and go straight to configuring php.

Mysql is the most popular database server, whilst there are other alternatives some of which may require less resources most third party software for Linux is designed to use Mysql.If required it can be installed using

sudo apt-get install mysql-server

During the install there is a prompt request for a password.
The password is for the mysql root user.

Install PHP

Perl is installed as part of the operating system so I will just be adding PHP, which is an interpretted programming language. Whilst this is optional it is recommended that it is installed as it is particularly useful.

The following commands will install PHP version 5.

sudo apt-get install php5-common php5-cgi php5
Note it's important to install in the order listed above. If you try to install php5 without first installing the php5-cgi package then it will install Apache as well, which we don't want for this light-weight lighttpd server.

If you installed mysql then you should also issue the following command to install the php mysql libraries to allow PHP to access the mysql database.
sudo apt-get install php5-mysql

To enable the server to handle php scripts the fastcgi-php module should be enabled by issuing in the command
sudo lighty-enable-mod fastcgi-php
Then reload the server using
sudo service lighttpd force-reload

Set permissions on the web directory /var/www/

It is useful to change the permissions on the www directory to allow your user to update the webpages without needing to be root.

Change the directory owner and group
sudo chown www-data:www-data /var/www
allow the group to write to the directory
sudo chmod 775 /var/www
Add the pi user to the www-data group
sudo usermod -a -G www-data pi

You should logout and back in - to pick up group permissions, or if running X you can just start a new terminal.

Testing the server

Once the setup is complete you can access the web page by pointing your browser to the router IP address or DNS entry.

You should get a page back stating that it works, but that there is no content loaded.

To test that the webserver and PHP are working correctly then delete the file /var/www/index.lighttpd.html and create a file /var/www/index.php with the contents of this page.

Note that the filename of the link ends in .txt to prevent my webserver from running this, you should have the file ending with .php so that the file is run as a PHP script.

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