Relocating the Apache web server document root directory in Fedora 12

So as not to deface anything that is available online on the web, I have a tendency to set up an offline Apache server on a home PC to do any tinkering away from the eyes of the unsuspecting public. Though Ubuntu is my mainstay for home computing, I do have a PC with Fedora installed and I have been trying to get an Apache instance starting automatically on there without success for a few months. While I can start it by running the following command as root, I’d rather not have more manual steps than is necessary.

httpd -k start

The command used by the system when it starts is different and, even when manually run as root, it failed with messages saying that it couldn’t find the directory while the web server files are stored. Here it is:

service httpd start

The default document root location on any Linux distribution that I have seen is /var/www and all is very well with this but it isn’t a safe place to leave things if ever a re-installation is needed. Having needed to wipe /var after having it on a separate disk or partition for the sake of one installation, it doesn’t look so persistent to me. In contrast, you can safeguard /home by having it on another disk or in a dedicated partition and it can be retained even when you change the distro that you’re using. Thus, I have got into the habit of having the root of the web server document root folder in my home area and that is where I have been seeing the problem.

Because of the access message, I tried using chmod and chgrp but to no avail. The remedy has to do with reassigning the security contexts used by SELinux. In Fedora, Apache will not work with the context ´╗┐user_home_t that is usually associated with home directories but needs httpd_sys_content_t instead. To find out what contexts are associated with particular folders, issue the following command:

ls -Z

The final solution was to create a user account whose home directory hosts the root of the web server file system, called www in my case. Then, I executed the following command as root to get things going:

chcon -R -h -t httpd_sys_content_t /home/www

It seems that even the root of the home directory has to have an appropriate security context (/home has home_root_t so that might do the needful too). Without that, nothing will work even if all is well at the next level down. The switches for chcon command translate as follows:

-R : recursive; applies changes to all files and folders within a directory.

-h : changes apply only to symbolic links and not to where they refer in the file system.

-t : alters context type.

It took a while for all of this stuff about SELinux security contexts to percolate through to the point where I was able to solve the problem. A spot of further inspiration was needed too and even guided my search for the information that I needed. It’s well worth trying Linux Home Networking if you need more information. There are references to an earlier release of Fedora but the content still applies to later versions of Fedora right up to the current release if my experience is typical.