Clean URLs with Apache 2 on Ubuntu

There are two methods for setting up Drupal 5.x/6.x with Apache on Ubuntu. The first (preferred) method edits the virtual host configuration, which is the default setup on Ubuntu (even for a single-site web server). The second edits the main apache2.conf, which is typical for an older setup.

Step 1 – Method A: “Virtual Host” Setup

First, from the Linux command line, enable the rewrite module for apache with this command:

sudo a2enmod rewrite

You can check to see if this worked by running:

sudo apache2ctl -M

and seeing if rewrite_module is on the list.

Next, use an editor (such as nano) to edit the appropriate Apache configuration file for your Drupal site in the /etc/apache2/sites-available/ directory. For a single site, the file is /etc/apache2/sites-available/default; if you have multiple sites, the file names should reflect the names of the sites to which they refer. Thus, to edit the default site configuration, use

sudo nano /etc/apache2/sites-available/default

Look for the Directory section referring to the folder where your Drupal site lives (in /etc/apache2/sites-available/default, this is typically <Directory /var/www>), and change the line:

AllowOverride None to AllowOverride All

(This directive permits an .htaccess file, such as Drupal’s, to be used to override Apache’s default settings, and is necessary to allow the URL rewriting to work. See for more information).

Save this file and then reload Apache as follows:

sudo /etc/init.d/apache2 reload

Subdomain Setup

Instead of creating multiple virtual host files, you can create one virtual host file that uses a wildcard in the ServerAlias. Both a simple multi-site Drupal setup and multiple Drupal versions can run this way, if the different subdomains are defined for each site in settings.php.

Consider the following and modify your configuration file to fit your needs.

  1. http://myproject.dr5.example/
  2. http://myproject.dr6.example/
  3. http://myproject2.dr6.example/

Here is a partial listing of a virtual host configuration file that would support the last two lines in the above example. Note this is not intended to be a COMPLETE configuration file, but rather provide guidance for your development setup.

<VirtualHost *>
DocumentRoot "/www/Dr6"
ServerName example
ServerAlias *.dr6.example
<Directory "/www/Dr6">
AllowOverride All

Edit & save your config file to suit your development needs. Assuming the site is already enabled, then reload Apache.

Step 1 – Method B: apache2.conf

In Apache version 2, httpd.conf has been deprecated and the new file is located at:

Thus, it’s no longer necessary to do the following in httpd.conf to enable the rewrite module (mod_rewrite):

LoadModule rewrite_module modules/
AddModule mod_rewrite.c

Simply run the following from the Linux command line:
sudo a2enmod rewrite

To disable the module you can run:
sudo a2dismod rewrite
(Note that this would cause clean URLs to break.)

Once mod_rewrite is enabled, open apache2.conf in a text editor. Note that it will probably be read-only, so you will need sudo privileges to edit it. Use a command such as:
sudo nano /etc/apache2/apache2.conf

Find where the sections are in your apache2.conf and add another one for your Drupal site similar to this:

<Directory /var/www/your_drupal_site>
AllowOverride All

After you edit apache2.conf as listed above, you need to restart the server by:
sudo /etc/init.d/apache2 reload

Step 1 – Method C: Add Rewrite Rules Directly to Virtual Host or apache2.conf

If you do not wish to allow .htaccess overrides, you can add the rewrite rules directly to a virtual host file or apache2.conf. The following should work:

<Directory /var/www/your_drupal_site>
RewriteEngine On
RewriteBase /
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-f
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-d
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ index.php?q=$1 [L,QSA]

This can provide slightly faster server performance since Apache will not look in every directory for an .htaccess file.

Note that, for proper security, you will need to add in the rules from the Drupal files directory’s .htaccess file as well.

Debugging Rewrite Issues

If you are having problems with getting your rewrite to work you can set Apache to log rewrite errors. To do that add this to the end of /etc/apache2/apache2.conf:

RewriteLog "/var/log/apache2/rewrite.log"
RewriteLogLevel 3

Level 0 does no logging. Level 9 logs everything. Choose the level necessary for resolving your issue.

Security Warning: Make sure to either remove or comment the logging code out when finished, or else put the log file in a directory that can’t be read by normal users (such as /var/log/apache2). If this is not done, it can result in a security breach. Also, note that rewrite logging adds somewhat to server load, and can easily generate large amounts of output not needed on a production server.

Step 2: Enable Clean URLs

Now go to, and run the test for “Clean URLs” (In Drupal 4.6 – 5.x this is buried in the paragraph explaining what “clean urls” are).

Then, select the radio button to set clean URLs to “enabled” and submit the form. You should now be able to access your site using URLs without the query string in them.

Note: In Drupal 7.2, if still you are having issues with Clean URLs, and your site is in maintenance mode, turn off maintenance mode while enabling clean URLs.



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