Cloud Computing

Quickstart LAMP Setup Guide - Digital Ocean

It's no secret that most shared hosting platforms are just terrible. This includes HostGator, BlueHost, and any other you can think of. The only true way to have a solid web host is to build it yourself. It's not too complicated either, and I like two cloud hosting companies, Linode and Digital Ocean.

Our company used Linode (running a LEMP setup) for all our client sites in the early days, and we couldn't be happier about how it helped Zadro Web grow. I also created a complete LEMP WordPress setup tutorial if that's your preferred configuration. Today, we use a combination of on-prem and cloud architecture.

So, why have a quick start tutorial for Digital Ocean and LAMP if we use LEMP?

If you're not familiar with LEMP, it uses Nginx (pronounced Engine-x) instead of Apache for the webserver. You're going to have fewer setup issues running WordPress or other CMS platforms on Apache. Also, with Linode, you can bind many IPs to a single installation, whereas with Digital Ocean, you're only allowed 1 IP per "droplet" -- a droplet is their naming convention for a single VPS (virtual private server).

If you need the flexibility to host multiple IPs, go with Linode and take the time to learn Nginx.

Digital Ocean is the clear choice for a single VPS installation, and that's the reason for this LAMP tutorial.

Digital Ocean LAMP Guide

Ok, here we go...

  1. Head over to Digital Ocean and sign up (yes, that's a referral link). Create a new $5/month "droplet" and choose Debian 7 - you will be emailed the "root" password and IP of your new server (droplet). Why Debian? Because it's clean and simple. If you need Cpanel, then this guide is not for you. We're creating a server that will require command line administration from a terminal window moving forward. Plus, you can take a snapshot of your server and make as many "clone" droplets as you like later, 1 for each of your sites.
  2. After you receive your root password and IP, open up a terminal window, type ssh root@123.123.123.123 and replace it with your provided IP address. Next, let's first start by getting some basic security in place for your new server.
  3. Change the root password right away by typing passwd once logged in. Choose your favorite password creation tool and make sure it's highly secure with upper, lower, punctuation, and 16 characters should be good.
  4. Next, we're going to add a new user that you will use to access your server over SSH for all future sessions - we will be disabling SSH access for root in a bit. Type adduser hellokitty to create a new user with the username hellokitty. Choose whatever username you want, and it should something hard to associate with your website. Choose a secure password.
  5. Now, create a new group that will be used for SSH by typing groupadd sshusers so that you can add any additional usernames directly to this group for SSH access down the road. The groupname "sshusers" can be whatever you want just like the username, but update #6 and #7 below also.
  6. Let's add hellokitty to this new group by typing gpasswd -a hellokitty sshusers
  7. We're going to edit the sshd_config file that is used to access the server over SSH by typing nano /etc/ssh/sshd_config
    • Look for PermitRootLogin yes and change to PermitRootLogin no - this will disable root login from using SSH.
    • Look for PasswordAuthentication no and change to PasswordAuthentication yes - if you're comfortable setting up SSH keys, you can come back and change this back to "no" later once you have your keys setup properly.
    • At the end of the file, add AllowGroups sshusers - this is the group you created above.
    • Type service ssh restart so that all our new settings for SSH take effect. To access your server in the future, you will need to type ssh hellokitty@123.123.123.123 (replacing the IP with the one Digital Ocean provides or your hostname and replacing hellokitty with your chosen username). Then you can type su at the command prompt to become root to make server modifications.
  8. You're going to get a lot of script kiddies knocking on your SSH door, so I like to update the following files so that I don't worry about these attacks. This step assumes you have a static IP at your office or home location. If you have a standard home provider like DSL or Comcast, move to step #9. You can also read about SSH throttling to minimize attacks even further. Let's edit some files...
    • nano /etc/hosts.deny and add sshd: ALL to the end of the file - this file is read first and prevents all SSH access.
    • nano /etc/hosts.allow and add sshd: 100.100.100.100 to the end, where you will be replacing this IP with your static office IP to allow access. Again, only do this if you have a static IP from your ISP.
  9. Let's get a simple firewall installed. Type apt-get install ufw to install Uncomplicated Firewall - great resource here for more details. Now, some basic rules:
    • Type ufw allow ssh to access the server.
    • Type ufw allow www for web traffic.
    • Type ufw allow https if you plan on install SSL on your site later.
    • Finally, type ufw enable to turn the firewall on.
  10. To install Apache, type apt-get install apache2 at the command prompt.
  11. For MySql, type apt-get install mysql-server and it will then give you the option to choose a "root" password for your database server. Again, keep this password secure, and make it different than your server's root password.
  12. Finally, to install PHP type apt-get install libapache2-mod-php5 php5-mysql php5-dev php5-curl php5-gd php5-imagick php5-mcrypt php5-memcache php5-common php5-pspell php5-snmp php5-sqlite php5-xmlrpc php5-xsl to setup PHP with the most common extensions. I think that's most everything, but let me know if I missed something.
  13. You will probably want mod_rewrite on your LAMP server, so type a2enmod rewrite at the command prompt.
  14. If you plan on using SSL, you can type a2enmod ssl then a2ensite default-ssl at the command prompt. You will need to modify /etc/apache2/sites-available/default-ssl with the proper paths to your private and certificate key files. This step is not necessary if you do not plan on using SSL.
  15. Let's type cd /home/hellokitty and then mkdir www to create a working directory for your new site. Let's type chown hellokitty:hellokitty /home/hellokitty/www for good measure.
  16. Now, type nano /etc/apache2/sites-available/default and change /var/www to /home/hellokitty/www in those couple spots. Do the same for nano /etc/apache2/sites-available/default-ssl if you configured step #14.
  17. We need to add www-data to our user so our web server runs properly using gpasswd -a www-data hellokitty
  18. And last, you want to restart apache by typing service apache2 restart at the command prompt. You can add ServerName yourdomain.com to /etc/apache2/apache2.conf to stop the warning message on restart, replacing yourdomain.com with the domain you used to setup the server prior to step #1.

There you have it, 18 quick steps to get a very basic production ready LAMP server. To upload your site, you can use most any FTP client and choose SFTP as the connection method, then enter the username and password you created in step #4 above.

You will probably want to add a caching method such as APC or OPcache and fine tune your php.ini file and server even further, but this guide will get you started. Update: PHP 5.5 ships with OPcache configured for you. You can fine-tune these settings with help from the web.

As bonus steps, run apt-get install postfix after you log in to your terminal and ufw enable smtp - both of these commands will get your outbound SMTP to work properly for any contact forms on your site. You can later fine-tune your Postfix mail server, but the first step will do almost all you need.

If you don't have a static IP at your home or business, then you will want to opt for using Shorewall combined with Fail2Ban for your firewall configuration. To access your MySql databases, get in the habit of using MySql Workbench over an SSH connection also.

Feel free to ask any questions or provide feedback in the comments below, and thanks for reading. If I missed anything, let me know!

Dario Zadro, Author at Zadro Web

Dario Zadro

20+ years experience as a full-stack web developer. Owner of Zadro Web, where we provide web services such as web design, custom web development, SEO/UX, and fully-managed web hosting and cloud solutions.