nginx: Setup SSL Reverse Proxy (Load Balanced SSL Proxy)

A reverse proxy is a proxy server that is installed in a server network. Typically, reverse proxies are used in front of Web servers such as Apache, IIS, and Lighttpd. How do I setup nginx web server as SSL reverse proxy?

When you’ve multiple backend web servers, encryption / SSL acceleration can be done by a reverse proxy. Nginx can act as SSL acceleration software. It provided the following benefits:

  • Easy of use : Nginx is easy to setup and upgrade.
  • Security : Nginx provide an additional layer of defense as Apache is behind the proxy. It can protect against common web-based attacks too.
  • Load Distribution : nginx use very little memory and can distribute the load to several Apache servers. It can even rewrite urls on fly.
  • Caching : Nginx act as a reverse proxy which offload the Web servers by caching static content, such as images, css, js, static html pages and much more.
  • Compression : Nginx can optimize and compress the content to speed up the load time.
  • Our Sample Setup

        =============                               |---- apache1 (
        | ISP Router|                               |
        =============                               |---- apache2 (
             |                                      |
             |                                      |---- db1 (
             |      |eth0 -> ----------/
             |-lb0==|                          /
             |      |eth1 ->
             |      |eth0 -> ----------
             |-lb1==|                          /    |---- apache1 (
                    |eth1 ->     |
                                                    |---- apache2 (
                                                    |---- db1 (
    • lb0 – Linux box directly connected to the Internet via eth1. This is master SSL load balancer.
    • lb1 – Linux box directly connected to the Internet via eth1. This is backup SSL load balancer. This will become active if master networking failed.
    • A virtual IP address that moves between lb0 and lb1. It is managed by keepalived.
    • nginx – It is installed on lb0 and lb1.
    • SSL Certificate – You need to install ssl certificates on lb0 and lb1.

    For demonstration purpose I’m going to use Self-signed SSL certificate, but you can use real SSL certificate signed by CAs.

    +------+	+-------------+	       +-------------------+
    |Client|  <---> |SSL-Nginx:443|	<----> |Apache-HTTP_mode:80|
    +------+        +-------------+        +-------------------+
    • You’ve the SSL connection between client and Nginx.
    • Then Nginx act as proxy server and makes unencrypted connection to Apache at port 80.
    • Nginx can cache all static file and other files.

    Generating Self-signed Certificate

    First, create required directories:
    # cd /usr/local/nginx/conf
    # mkdir ssl
    # cd ssl

    To create a private key, enter:
    # openssl genrsa -des3 -out 1024
    Sample outputs:

    Fig.01: OpenSSL – Create a Private Key

    To create a CSR (Certificate Signing Request):
    # openssl req -new -key -out
    Sample outputs:

    Fig.02: OpenSSL – Create a CSR (Certificate Signing Request)

    Please enter your domain name that you want to associate with the certificate. For example, for the Command Name I entered as I’m going to use

    How Do I Remove The Passphrase? (Optional)

    You can remove the passphrase so nginx can start on boot without entering the passphrase. Type the following commands
    # cp
    # openssl rsa -in -out

    Finally, you should see three files as follows (note I’ve created all files as vivek user and than moved lb0 and lb1 server /usr/local/ngnix/conf/ssl/ directory):
    # ls -l
    Sample outputs:

    Fig.03: All the files in ssl directory

    # openssl x509 -req -days 365 -in -signkey -out
    Sample outputs:

    Fig.04: Generating The Actual Self-signed SSL Certificate

    How Do I Copy SSL Certificates Files To lb1?

    You need to copy those files to lb1, enter:
    # ssh root@lb1 mkdir /usr/local/ngnix/conf/ssl
    # rsync -av /usr/local/ngnix/conf/ssl/* root@lb1:/usr/local/ngnix/conf/ssl/

    Configure Nginx As SSL Reverse Proxy (lb0 and lb1)

    Edit nginx.conf, enter (you need to edit files on both lb0 and lb1):
    # vi /usr/local/ngnix/conf/nginx.conf
    Edit / append as follows:

    server {
    	### server port and name ###
    	ssl 		on;
    	### SSL log files ###
            access_log      logs/ssl-access.log;
            error_log       logs/ssl-error.log;
    	### SSL cert files ###
            ssl_certificate      ssl/;
            ssl_certificate_key  ssl/;
    	### Add SSL specific settings here ###
    	ssl_protocols        SSLv3 TLSv1 TLSv1.1 TLSv1.2;
    	ssl_ciphers RC4:HIGH:!aNULL:!MD5;
         	ssl_prefer_server_ciphers on;
         	keepalive_timeout    60;
    	ssl_session_cache    shared:SSL:10m;
         	ssl_session_timeout  10m;
    	### We want full access to SSL via backend ###
         	location / {
    	        proxy_pass  http://nixcraft;
    		### force timeouts if one of backend is died ##
            	proxy_next_upstream error timeout invalid_header http_500 http_502 http_503 http_504;
    		### Set headers ####
                    proxy_set_header        Accept-Encoding   "";
    	        proxy_set_header        Host            $host;
    	        proxy_set_header        X-Real-IP       $remote_addr;
    	        proxy_set_header        X-Forwarded-For $proxy_add_x_forwarded_for;
    		### Most PHP, Python, Rails, Java App can use this header ###
    		#proxy_set_header X-Forwarded-Proto https;##
    		#This is better## 
    	        proxy_set_header        X-Forwarded-Proto $scheme;
    		add_header              Front-End-Https   on;
    		### By default we don't want to redirect it ####
    	        proxy_redirect     off;

    Save and close the file. Reload nginx:
    # /usr/local/nginx/sbin/nginx -t
    # /usr/local/nginx/sbin/nginx -s reload

    Verify port is opened:
    # netstat -tulpn | grep :443

    How Do I Test And Debug SSL Certificates From The Shell Prompt?

    Use the openssl command as follows:
    $ openssl s_client -connect
    Or better use the following command:
    $ openssl s_client -connect -CApath /usr/share/ssl-cert/ -servername

    How Do I Cache Common Files?

    Edit nginx.conf and add as follows to cache common files:

    location ~* .(jpg|png|gif|jpeg|css|js|mp3|wav|swf|mov|doc|pdf|xls|ppt|docx|pptx|xlsx)$ {
            proxy_buffering           on;
            proxy_cache_valid 200 120m;
            expires 864000;

    Save and close the file. Reload nginx:
    # nginx -s reload

    Posted by: SXI ADMIN

    The author is the creator of SXI LLC and a seasoned sysadmin, DevOps engineer, and a trainer for the Linux operating system/Unix shell scripting. Get the latest tutorials on SysAdmin, Linux/Unix and open source topics via RSS/XML feed or weekly email newsletter.

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