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Erik Vullings
Erik Vullings

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Publishing a Web site using node, pm2 and nginx

During development of a website, I often have the need to share the intermediate results with my clients using basic authentication. On one of my servers, I perform the following steps to get it up and running.

Publish the site

Assuming you have already created the website, build and deploy it to a folder that can be served by node.js. In my case, I often use parcel to build the client side, using something along the following lines as part of the package.json. As I don't want to hard-code the backend server's location in my client code, it is written in an .env file, e.g.

cat packages/gui/.env
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And in my GUI code, I reference process.env.SERVER, which Parcel will replace with the value found in the .env file.

If you use TypeScript, you also need to add a declaration file for this to work, e.g. env.d.ts

declare const process: { env: { SERVER: string } };
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To actually do the build process, I have something like this in my package.json (and rimraf and parcel-bundler are part of my devDependencies), so I can use npm run build:domain to deploy the site:

  "scripts": {
    "start": "parcel index.html",
    "clean": "rimraf ./public ./.cache ./dist",
    "build": "parcel build index.html --out-dir ../server/public --public-url ./",
    "build:domain": "npm run clean && npm run build"
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The most important script is the build script: it tells parcel to bundle all my stuff, put it in the out-dir folder, and use the public-url to make all file references relative to the final location where it will be running. If you do not include the latter, all file references will be hard-coded e.g. /app.123ved.css instead of app.123ved.css. See also the description here.

Deploying the service

Since my backend is on Node, I normally use a simple pm2 service to run it, e.g.

sudo pm2 start PATH/TO/SERVER.js --name APP_NAME
sudo pm2 ls # to see if it is running
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For more information about pm2, see here.

Other useful commands are sudo pm2 stop APP_NAME_OR_APP_ID and sudo pm2 start APP_NAME_OR_APP_ID.

As the server is used for many sites, the application needs to run on a dedicated port, preferably one behind a firewall, so it is not reachable from the outside. We use Nginx for that.

Configuring Nginx

Assuming you have Nginx up-and-running, add a new entry for your server in /etc/nginx/sites-available and create a symbolic link to the /etc/nginx/sites-enabled folder, e.g.

sudo vi bob
ln -s bob ../sites-enabled
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Where the content of the file is something like the following:

upstream demoserver {
   # port 55555 not reachable from Internet (firewall) 

server {
    location = /bob {
        return 302 /bob/;

    location /bob/ {
        auth_basic "Demonstration area";
        auth_basic_user_file /etc/apache2/.htpasswd;


        # NOTE: The final / is important, as it will strip the prefix 'bob' from all URLs
        proxy_pass http://demoserver/;
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That means that our service is running on port 55555, and will be reachable via HOST_IP/bob. Assuming, of course, that you have setup a password file. Read on...

Creating a Password File


To create username-password pairs, use a password file creation utility, for example, apache2-utils or httpd-tools.

Create a password file and a first user. Run the htpasswd utility with the -c flag (to create a new file), the file pathname as the first argument, and the username as the second argument:

$ sudo htpasswd -c /etc/apache2/.htpasswd user1
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Press Enter and type the password for user1 at the prompts.

Create additional user-password pairs. Omit the -c flag because the file already exists:

$ sudo htpasswd /etc/apache2/.htpasswd user2
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You can confirm that the file contains paired usernames and encrypted passwords:

$ cat /etc/apache2/.htpasswd
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Restarting Nginx

Test your configuration first using

sudo service nginx configtest
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And if that returns OK, restart Nginx using

sudo service nginx restart
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