Rafael Cavalcanti

Linux enthusiast and human being.

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Running a web server while using Pi Hole
Jul 18, 2018
3 minutes read

If you are running Pi Hole and want to deploy a web application on your Raspberry Pi, chances are that you’ll hit your head to the wall. That’s because Pi Hole installs and configure a web server (Lighttpd) for itself, occupying your beloved port 80 and disheartening your web aspirations.

So what can you do?

(If you just want a step by step solution, you can cut the talk and jump to part 2.)

There are many solutions to this, and, of course, which one suits you best depends on your specific situation. On this post, I’ll list some of them, their caveats, and explain what I did on my Pi.

First is the one I dislike more: buying another Raspberry Pi. Alright, that’s a no-brainer if those apps will be internet facing, but for LAN… Just why? Hell, this device can handle a lot more than a PHP application and dnsmasq. There’s no need to put more pressure to the environment and to our pockets.

Another solution is to bind your web server to a port other than 80. This can be fine for some situations, but in my case it doesn’t make it. My Pi serves a bunch of web applications for the LAN. Instead of forcing the users to memorize different ports, or make them go through a menu, I assign friendly domain names. This intended ease of use on my LAN makes port 80 fundamental for me.

So going forward, you could edit the Lighttpd configuration the Pi Hole set on your device. Make it also serve your applications, choosing them according to the name on the request.

This one could sure do it, but it isn’t a very clean approach. Why? You have to learn a bit of what the Pi Hole expects the web server to do and to not mess it up. Also, a possible change upstream will have to be merged into your configuration.

Another problem with this solution: what if you don’t want to use Lighttpd for your projects? Maybe you have a very complex Nginx or Apache setup and don’t see yourself rewriting it because of Pi Hole.

In this case, an alternative is to nuke the Lighttpd installation, install the web server of your choice and then proceed to do all the configuration – for your apps, and for the Pi Hole. If you choose Nginx, there is a guide for it. However, this solution has the same caveat of having to mess with the web configuration of Pi Hole.

Alright, so what did I come with for my Pi?

I decided to take a simpler and cleaner approach. Besides being easy to setup, using it for 20 months resulted in no headaches. This is:

  • set an additional IP for the Raspberry Pi
  • bind Lighttpd to the original IP
  • bind our app web server to the new IP

And we are done. This way you:

  • Can use port 80 however you want, all for you, as if Pi Hole wasn’t installed.
  • Use whatever web server you pick for your apps, configuring it as you always did.
  • Barely have to touch whatever Pi Hole configured Lighttpd to do, so it works exactly as intended.
  • Enjoy very easy maintenance.

The only maintenance job is related to the fact that Pi Hole rewrites the Lighttpd configuration when updating the web interface. So in those moments (3 times a year?) you’ll have to re-add the bind line you just added. Easy, right?

The caveat here is that you have to run two separate web servers. Maybe for your situation this won’t make it. But in my particular setup and typical load, there’s no performance impact in any significant way.

On the next post I detail how to do those steps.

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