thttpd - tiny/turbo/throttling HTTP server
thttpd [-C configfile] [-p port] [-d dir] [-dd data_dir] [-r|-nor]
[-s|-nos] [-v|-nov] [-g|-nog] [-u user] [-c cgipat] [-t throttles] [-h
host] [-l logfile] [-i pidfile] [-T charset] [-P P3P] [-M maxage] [-V]
thttpd is a simple, small, fast, and secure HTTP server. It doesn’t
have a lot of special features, but it suffices for most uses of the
web, it’s about as fast as the best full-featured servers (Apache,
NCSA, Netscape), and it has one extremely useful feature (URL-traffic-
based throttling) that no other server currently has.
-C Specifies a config-file to read. All options can be set either
by command-line flags or in the config file. See below for
-p Specifies an alternate port number to listen on. The default is
80. The config-file option name for this flag is "port", and
the config.h option is DEFAULT_PORT.
-d Specifies a directory to chdir() to at startup. This is merely
a convenience - you could just as easily do a cd in the shell
script that invokes the program. The config-file option name
for this flag is "dir", and the config.h options are WEBDIR,
-r Do a chroot() at initialization time, restricting file access to
the program’s current directory. If -r is the compiled-in
default, then -nor disables it. See below for details. The
config-file option names for this flag are "chroot" and
"nochroot", and the config.h option is ALWAYS_CHROOT.
-dd Specifies a directory to chdir() to after chrooting. If you’re
not chrooting, you might as well do a single chdir() with the -d
flag. If you are chrooting, this lets you put the web files in
a subdirectory of the chroot tree, instead of in the top level
mixed in with the chroot files. The config-file option name for
this flag is "data_dir".
-nos Don’t do explicit symbolic link checking. Normally, thttpd
explicitly expands any symbolic links in filenames, to check
that the resulting path stays within the original document tree.
If you want to turn off this check and save some CPU time, you
can use the -nos flag, however this is not recommended. Note,
though, that if you are using the chroot option, the symlink
checking is unnecessary and is turned off, so the safe way to
save those CPU cycles is to use chroot. The config-file option
names for this flag are "symlinks" and "nosymlinks".
-v Do el-cheapo virtual hosting. If -v is the compiled-in default,
then -nov disables it. See below for details. The config-file
option names for this flag are "vhost" and "novhost", and the
config.h option is ALWAYS_VHOST.
-g Use a global passwd file. This means that every file in the
entire document tree is protected by the single .htpasswd file
at the top of the tree. Otherwise the semantics of the
.htpasswd file are the same. If this option is set but there is
no .htpasswd file in the top-level directory, then thttpd
proceeds as if the option was not set - first looking for a
local .htpasswd file, and if that doesn’t exist either then
serving the file without any password. If -g is the compiled-in
default, then -nog disables it. The config-file option names
for this flag are "globalpasswd" and "noglobalpasswd", and the
config.h option is ALWAYS_GLOBAL_PASSWD.
-u Specifies what user to switch to after initialization when
started as root. The default is "nobody". The config-file
option name for this flag is "user", and the config.h option is
-c Specifies a wildcard pattern for CGI programs, for instance
"**.cgi" or "/cgi-bin/*". See below for details. The config-
file option name for this flag is "cgipat", and the config.h
option is CGI_PATTERN.
-t Specifies a file of throttle settings. See below for details.
The config-file option name for this flag is "throttles".
-h Specifies a hostname to bind to, for multihoming. The default
is to bind to all hostnames supported on the local machine. See
below for details. The config-file option name for this flag is
"host", and the config.h option is SERVER_NAME.
-l Specifies a file for logging. If no -l argument is specified,
thttpd logs via syslog(). If "-l /dev/null" is specified,
thttpd doesn’t log at all. The config-file option name for this
flag is "logfile".
-i Specifies a file to write the process-id to. If no file is
specified, no process-id is written. You can use this file to
send signals to thttpd. See below for details. The config-file
option name for this flag is "pidfile".
-T Specifies the character set to use with text MIME types. The
default is iso-8859-1. The config-file option name for this
flag is "charset", and the config.h option is DEFAULT_CHARSET.
-P Specifies a P3P server privacy header to be returned with all
responses. See http://www.w3.org/P3P/ for details. Thttpd
doesn’t do anything at all with the string except put it in the
P3P: response header. The config-file option name for this flag
-M Specifies the number of seconds to be used in a "Cache-Control:
max-age" header to be returned with all responses. An
equivalent "Expires" header is also generated. The default is
no Cache-Control or Expires headers, which is just fine for most
sites. The config-file option name for this flag is "max_age".
-V Shows the current version info.
-D This was originally just a debugging flag, however it’s worth
mentioning because one of the things it does is prevent thttpd
from making itself a background daemon. Instead it runs in the
foreground like a regular program. This is necessary when you
want to run thttpd wrapped in a little shell script that
restarts it if it exits.
All the command-line options can also be set in a config file. One
advantage of using a config file is that the file can be changed, and
thttpd will pick up the changes with a restart.
The syntax of the config file is simple, a series of "option" or
"option=value" separated by whitespace. The option names are listed
above with their corresponding command-line flags.
chroot() is a system call that restricts the program’s view of the
filesystem to the current directory and directories below it. It
becomes impossible for remote users to access any file outside of the
initial directory. The restriction is inherited by child processes, so
CGI programs get it too. This is a very strong security measure, and
is recommended. The only downside is that only root can call chroot(),
so this means the program must be started as root. However, the last
thing it does during initialization is to give up root access by
becoming another user, so this is safe.
The program can also be compile-time configured to always do a
chroot(), without needing the -r flag.
Note that with some other web servers, such as NCSA httpd, setting up a
directory tree for use with chroot() is complicated, involving creating
a bunch of special directories and copying in various files. With
thttpd it’s a lot easier, all you have to do is make sure any shells,
utilities, and config files used by your CGI programs and scripts are
available. If you have CGI disabled, or if you make a policy that all
CGI programs must be written in a compiled language such as C and
statically linked, then you probably don’t have to do any setup at all.
However, one thing you should do is tell syslogd about the chroot tree,
so that thttpd can still generate syslog messages. Check your system’s
syslodg man page for how to do this. In FreeBSD you would put
something like this in /etc/rc.conf:
Substitute in your own chroot tree’s pathname, of course. Don’t worry
about creating the log socket, syslogd wants to do that itself. (You
may need to create the dev directory.) In Linux the flag is -a instead
of -l, and there may be other differences.
Relevant config.h option: ALWAYS_CHROOT.
thttpd supports the CGI 1.1 spec.
In order for a CGI program to be run, its name must match the pattern
specified either at compile time or on the command line with the -c
flag. This is a simple shell-style filename pattern. You can use * to
match any string not including a slash, or ** to match any string
including slashes, or ? to match any single character. You can also
use multiple such patterns separated by |. The patterns get checked
against the filename part of the incoming URL. Don’t forget to quote
any wildcard characters so that the shell doesn’t mess with them.
Restricting CGI programs to a single directory lets the site
administrator review them for security holes, and is strongly
recommended. If there are individual users that you trust, you can
enable their directories too.
If no CGI pattern is specified, neither here nor at compile time, then
CGI programs cannot be run at all. If you want to disable CGI as a
security measure, that’s how you do it, just comment out the patterns
in the config file and don’t run with the -c flag.
Note: the current working directory when a CGI program gets run is the
directory that the CGI program lives in. This isn’t in the CGI 1.1
spec, but it’s what most other HTTP servers do.
Relevant config.h options: CGI_PATTERN, CGI_TIMELIMIT, CGI_NICE,
CGI_PATH, CGI_LD_LIBRARY_PATH, CGIBINDIR.
Basic Authentication is available as an option at compile time. If
enabled, it uses a password file in the directory to be protected,
called .htpasswd by default. This file is formatted as the familiar
colon-separated username/encrypted-password pair, records delimited by
newlines. The protection does not carry over to subdirectories. The
utility program thtpasswd(1) is included to help create and modify
Relevant config.h option: AUTH_FILE
The throttle file lets you set maximum byte rates on URLs or URL
groups. You can optionally set a minimum rate too. The format of the
throttle file is very simple. A # starts a comment, and the rest of
the line is ignored. Blank lines are ignored. The rest of the lines
should consist of a pattern, whitespace, and a number. The pattern is
a simple shell-style filename pattern, using ?/**/*, or multiple such
patterns separated by |.
The numbers in the file are byte rates, specified in units of bytes per
second. For comparison, a v.90 modem gives about 5000 B/s depending on
compression, a double-B-channel ISDN line about 12800 B/s, and a T1
line is about 150000 B/s. If you want to set a minimum rate as well,
# throttle file for www.acme.com
** 2000-100000 # limit total web usage to 2/3 of our T1,
# but never go below 2000 B/s
**.jpg|**.gif 50000 # limit images to 1/3 of our T1
**.mpg 20000 # and movies to even less
jef/** 20000 # jef’s pages are too popular
Throttling is implemented by checking each incoming URL filename
against all of the patterns in the throttle file. The server
accumulates statistics on how much bandwidth each pattern has accounted
for recently (via a rolling average). If a URL matches a pattern that
has been exceeding its specified limit, then the data returned is
actually slowed down, with pauses between each block. If that’s not
possible (e.g. for CGI programs) or if the bandwidth has gotten way
larger than the limit, then the server returns a special code saying
’try again later’.
The minimum rates are implemented similarly. If too many people are
trying to fetch something at the same time, throttling may slow down
each connection so much that it’s not really useable. Furthermore, all
those slow connections clog up the server, using up file handles and
connection slots. Setting a minimum rate says that past a certain
point you should not even bother - the server returns the ’try again
later" code and the connection isn’t even started.
There is no provision for setting a maximum connections/second
throttle, because throttling a request uses as much cpu as handling it,
so there would be no point. There is also no provision for throttling
the number of simultaneous connections on a per-URL basis. However you
can control the overall number of connections for the whole server very
simply, by setting the operating system’s per-process file descriptor
limit before starting thttpd. Be sure to set the hard limit, not the
Multihoming means using one machine to serve multiple hostnames. For
instance, if you’re an internet provider and you want to let all of
your customers have customized web addresses, you might have
www.joe.acme.com, www.jane.acme.com, and your own www.acme.com, all
running on the same physical hardware. This feature is also known as
"virtual hosts". There are three steps to setting this up.
One, make DNS entries for all of the hostnames. The current way to do
this, allowed by HTTP/1.1, is to use CNAME aliases, like so:
www.acme.com IN A 188.8.131.52
www.joe.acme.com IN CNAME www.acme.com
www.jane.acme.com IN CNAME www.acme.com
However, this is incompatible with older HTTP/1.0 browsers. If you
want to stay compatible, there’s a different way - use A records
instead, each with a different IP address, like so:
www.acme.com IN A 184.108.40.206
www.joe.acme.com IN A 220.127.116.11
www.jane.acme.com IN A 18.104.22.168
This is bad because it uses extra IP addresses, a somewhat scarce
resource. But if you want people with older browsers to be able to
visit your sites, you still have to do it this way.
Step two. If you’re using the modern CNAME method of multihoming, then
you can skip this step. Otherwise, using the older multiple-IP-address
method you must set up IP aliases or multiple interfaces for the extra
addresses. You can use ifconfig(8)’s alias command to tell the machine
to answer to all of the different IP addresses. Example:
ifconfig le0 www.acme.com
ifconfig le0 www.joe.acme.com alias
ifconfig le0 www.jane.acme.com alias
If your OS’s version of ifconfig doesn’t have an alias command, you’re
probably out of luck (but see
Third and last, you must set up thttpd to handle the multiple hosts.
The easiest way is with the -v flag, or the ALWAYS_VHOST config.h
option. This works with either CNAME multihosting or multiple-IP
multihosting. What it does is send each incoming request to a
subdirectory based on the hostname it’s intended for. All you have to
do in order to set things up is to create those subdirectories in the
directory where thttpd will run. With the example above, you’d do like
mkdir www.acme.com www.joe.acme.com www.jane.acme.com
If you’re using old-style multiple-IP multihosting, you should also
create symbolic links from the numeric addresses to the names, like so:
ln -s www.acme.com 22.214.171.124
ln -s www.joe.acme.com 126.96.36.199
ln -s www.jane.acme.com 188.8.131.52
This lets the older HTTP/1.0 browsers find the right subdirectory.
There’s an optional alternate step three if you’re using multiple-IP
multihosting: run a separate thttpd process for each hostname, using
the -h flag to specify which one is which. This gives you more
flexibility, since you can run each of these processes in separate
directories, with different throttle files, etc. Example:
thttpd -r -d /usr/www -h www.acme.com
thttpd -r -d /usr/www/joe -u joe -h www.joe.acme.com
thttpd -r -d /usr/www/jane -u jane -h www.jane.acme.com
But remember, this multiple-process method does not work with CNAME
multihosting - for that, you must use a single thttpd process with the
thttpd lets you define your own custom error pages for the various HTTP
errors. There’s a separate file for each error number, all stored in
one special directory. The directory name is "errors", at the top of
the web directory tree. The error files should be named "errNNN.html",
where NNN is the error number. So for example, to make a custom error
page for the authentication failure error, which is number 401, you
would put your HTML into the file "errors/er.html". If no custom
error file is found for a given error number, then the usual built-in
error page is generated.
If you’re using the virtual hosts option, you can also have different
custom error pages for each different virtual host. In this case you
put another "errors" directory in the top of that virtual host’s web
tree. thttpd will look first in the virtual host errors directory, and
then in the server-wide errors directory, and if neither of those has
an appropriate error file then it will generate the built-in error.
Sometimes another site on the net will embed your image files in their
HTML files, which basically means they’re stealing your bandwidth. You
can prevent them from doing this by using non-local referer filtering.
With this option, certain files can only be fetched via a local
referer. The files have to be referenced by a local web page. If a
web page on some other site references the files, that fetch will be
blocked. There are three config-file variables for this feature:
urlpat A wildcard pattern for the URLs that should require a local
referer. This is typically just image files, sound files, and
so on. For example:
For most sites, that one setting is all you need to enable
By default, requests with no referer at all, or a null referer,
or a referer with no apparent hostname, are allowed. With this
variable set, such requests are disallowed.
A wildcard pattern that specifies the local host or hosts. This
is used to determine if the host in the referer is local or not.
If not specified it defaults to the actual local hostname.
thttpd can be configured to expand base paths of the form /~user/ into
proper references to the user’s web directory.
If thttpd is compiled with the option TILDE_MAP_1 (this is the out-of-
the-box default when you build from source), ~user is mapped to
prefix/user where the prefix might be something like /users.
If thttpd is compiled with the option TILDE_MAP_2, ~user is mapped to a
subdirectory in the user’s home directory; the subdirectory’s name is
also configurable, but the default is public_html. This arrangement is
incompatible with the chroot option, and generally considered a
See also the next section about symbolic links for additional
thttpd is very picky about symbolic links. Before delivering any file,
it first checks each element in the path to see if it’s a symbolic
link, and expands them all out to get the final actual filename. Along
the way it checks for things like links with ".." that go above the
server’s directory, and absolute symlinks (ones that start with a /).
These are prohibited as security holes, so the server returns an error
page for them. This means you can’t set up your web directory with a
bunch of symlinks pointing to individual users’ home web directories.
Instead you do it the other way around - the user web directories are
real subdirs of the main web directory, and in each user’s home dir
there’s a symlink pointing to their actual web dir.
The CGI pattern is also affected - it gets matched against the fully-
expanded filename. So, if you have a single CGI directory but then put
a symbolic link in it pointing somewhere else, that won’t work. The
CGI program will be treated as a regular file and returned to the
client, instead of getting run. This could be confusing.
thttpd is also picky about file permissions. It wants data files
(HTML, images) to be world readable. Readable by the group that the
thttpd process runs as is not enough - thttpd checks explicitly for the
world-readable bit. This is so that no one ever gets surprised by a
file that’s not set world-readable and yet somehow is readable by the
HTTP server and therefore the *whole* world.
The same logic applies to directories. As with the standard Unix "ls"
program, thttpd will only let you look at the contents of a directory
if its read bit is on; but as with data files, this must be the world-
read bit, not just the group-read bit.
thttpd also wants the execute bit to be *off* for data files. A file
that is marked executable but doesn’t match the CGI pattern might be a
script or program that got accidentally left in the wrong directory.
Allowing people to fetch the contents of the file might be a security
breach, so this is prohibited. Of course if an executable file *does*
match the CGI pattern, then it just gets run as a CGI.
In summary, data files should be mode 644 (rw-r--r--), directories
should be 755 (rwxr-xr-x) if you want to allow indexing and 711
(rwx--x--x) to disallow it, and CGI programs should be mode 755 (rwxr-
xr-x) or 711 (rwx--x--x).
thttpd does all of its logging via syslog(3). The facility it uses is
configurable. Aside from error messages, there are only a few log
entry types of interest, all fairly similar to CERN Common Log Format:
Aug 6 15:40:34 acme thttpd: 184.108.40.206 - - "GET /file" 200 357
Aug 6 15:40:43 acme thttpd: 220.127.116.11 - - "HEAD /file" 200 0
Aug 6 15:41:16 acme thttpd: referer http://www.acme.com/ -> /dir
Aug 6 15:41:16 acme thttpd: user-agent Mozilla/1.1N
The package includes a script for translating these log entries info
CERN-compatible files. Note that thttpd does not translate numeric IP
addresses into domain names. This is both to save time and as a minor
security measure (the numeric address is harder to spoof).
Relevant config.h option: LOG_FACILITY.
If you’d rather log directly to a file, you can use the -l command-line
flag. But note that error messages still go to syslog.
thttpd handles a couple of signals, which you can send via the standard
Unix kill(1) command:
These signals tell thttpd to shut down immediately. Any
requests in progress get aborted.
USR1 This signal tells thttpd to shut down as soon as it’s done
servicing all current requests. In addition, the network socket
it uses to accept new connections gets closed immediately, which
means a fresh thttpd can be started up immediately.
USR2 This signal tells thttpd to generate the statistics syslog
messages immediately, instead of waiting for the regular hourly
HUP This signal tells thttpd to close and re-open its (non-syslog)
log file, for instance if you rotated the logs and want it to
start using the new one. This is a little tricky to set up
correctly, for instance if you are using chroot() then the log
file must be within the chroot tree, but it’s definitely doable.
Many thanks to contributors, reviewers, testers: John LoVerso, Jordan
Hayes, Chris Torek, Jim Thompson, Barton Schaffer, Geoff Adams, Dan
Kegel, John Hascall, Bennett Todd, KIKUCHI Takahiro, Catalin Ionescu.
Special thanks to Craig Leres for substantial debugging and
development, and for not complaining about my coding style very much.
Copyright © 1995,1998,1999,2000 by Jef Poskanzer <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
All rights reserved.
29 February 2000 thttpd(8)