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Static sites alongside Dokku on Digital Ocean

Written January 4, 2016. Tagged Dokku, Digital Ocean, Nginx.

I host most of my dynamic sites with Dokku on Digital Ocean (referral link), through their one-click install.

Dokku is basically a self-hosted Heroku, letting you run all your Sinatra, Rails, Phoenix or what-have-you apps containerized with little hassle.

I also have some static sites, though, like this blog.

You can get static sites on Dokku, but it feels a bit bloated to me, adding some magic files and then building a container, when you could just deploy by copying the files. A simple static site takes some 15 seconds to deploy via Dokku, vs. 1 second via rsync or scp.

So instead, I hosted them alongside Dokku, using the same Nginx that fronts Dokku.

Find a place on the server

If you set up Dokku with Digital Ocean's one-click installer, you will have a dokku user home directory (/home/dokku) and a root user home directory (/root).

Neither seemed appropriate to store the static sites. Dokku makes assumptions about files stored in the dokku home directory. And Nginx (the www-data user it runs as) can't access stuff under /root. Nevermind any security implications of using the root account for this.

So, I created a new user named static:

adduser static

Enter some password (and store it away) when prompted. Just accept the defaults for the other fields.

Then, I put the static files somewhere under that user's home directory, like /home/static/sites/

Configure Nginx

Dokku adds some stuff to Nginx – we can too, without conflict.

Thanks to a suggestion by Mikkel Malmberg, we can set up a single piece of Nginx configuration that should cover most static sites.

Create an /etc/nginx/conf.d/static_sites.conf file (incidentally, right next to Dokku's dokku.conf):

server {
server_name ~^(?<domain>.+)$;
root /home/static/sites/$domain;

access_log /var/log/nginx/$domain-static-access.log;

# error_log can't contain variables, so we'll have to share:
error_log /var/log/nginx/static-error.log;

If you like, you can verify that there are no errors in the configuration:

sudo nginx -t -c /etc/nginx/nginx.conf

Then restart Nginx so it picks up this addition:

sudo service nginx restart

This configuration uses regular expression server names to automatically map any hostname to /home/static/sites/<hostname>. So in the spirit of Dokku, adding new sites requires a minimum of setup. Just point the DNS to the server, add the static files to a directory named like the hostname, and you're done.

If you need custom Nginx configuration for one site, just add a file to /etc/nginx/sites-enabled with that configuration, and restart Nginx like above. Nginx is smart enough to prefer exact hostname matches when they exist, and fall back otherwise.