Setting up a Django production environment: compiling and configuring nginx

Here is another series of posts: now I’m going to write about setting up a Django production environment using nginx and Green Unicorn in a virtual environment. The subject in this first post is nginx, which is my favorite web server.

This post explains how to install nginx from sources, compiling it (on Linux). You might want to use apt, zif, yum or ports, but I prefer building from sources. So, to build from sources, make sure you have all development dependencies (C headers, including the PCRE library headers, nginx rewrite module uses it). If you want to build nginx with SSL support, keep in mind that you will need the libssl headers too.

Build nginx from source is a straightforward process: all you need to do is download it from the official site and build with some simple options. In our setup, we’re going to install nginx under /opt/nginx, and use it with the nginx system user. So, let’s download and extract the latest stable version (1.0.9) from nginx website:

% curl -O
% tar -xzf nginx-1.0.9.tar.gz

Once you have extracted it, just configure, compile and install:

% ./configure --prefix=/opt/nginx --user=nginx --group=nginx
% make
% [sudo] make install

As you can see, we provided the /opt/nginx to configure, make sure the /opt directory exists. Also, make sure that there is a user and a group called nginx, if they don’t exist, add them:

% [sudo] adduser --system --no-create-home --disabled-login --disabled-password --group nginx

After that, you can start nginx using the command line below:

% [sudo] /opt/nginx/sbin/nginx

Linode provides an init script that uses start-stop-daemon, you might want to use it.

nginx configuration

nginx comes with a default nginx.conf file, let’s change it to reflect the following configuration requirements:

So here is the nginx.conf for the requirements above:

user  nginx;
worker_processes  2;

pid logs/;

events {
    worker_connections  1024;

http {
    include       mime.types;
    default_type  application/octet-stream;

    log_format  main  '$remote_addr - $remote_user [$time_local] "$request" '
                     '$status $body_bytes_sent "$http_referer" '
                     '"$http_user_agent" "$http_x_forwarded_for"';

    access_log  logs/access.log  main;

    sendfile           on;
    keepalive_timeout  65;

    include /opt/projects/showcase/nginx.conf;

Now we just need to write the configuration for our Django project. I’m using an old sample project written while I was working at Giran: the name is lojas giranianas, a nonsense portuguese joke with a famous brazilian store. It’s an unfinished showcase of products, it’s like an e-commerce project, but it can’t sell, so it’s just a product catalog. The code is available at Github. The nginx.conf file for the repository is here:

server {
    listen 80;
    server_name localhost;

    charset utf-8;

    location / {
        proxy_set_header    X-Real-IP   $remote_addr;
        proxy_set_header    Host        $http_host;
        proxy_set_header    X-Forwarded-For $proxy_add_x_forwarded_for;

        proxy_pass http://localhost:8000;

    location /static {
        root /opt/projects/showcase/;
        expires 1d;

The server listens on port 80, responds for the localhost hostname (read more about the Host header). The location /static directive says that nginx will serve the static files of the project. It also includes an expires directive for caching control. The location / directive makes a proxy_pass, forwarding all requisitions to an upstream server listening on port 8000, this server is the subject of the next post of the series: the Green Unicorn (gunicorn) server.

Not only the HTTP request itself is forwarded to the gunicorn server, but also some headers, that helps to properly deal with the request:

So that is it, in the next post we are going to install and run gunicorn. In other posts, we’ll see how to make automated deploys using Fabric, and some tricks on caching (using the proxy_cache directive and integrating Django, nginx and memcached).

See you in next posts.