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webapp-config is Gentoo's installer for web-based applications. It is used for automatic setup of web applications in virtual hosting environments (associated packages typically include a vhosts USE flag). Originally written as a bash script, webapp-config is now Python-based and available in the Gentoo ebuild repository.


webapp-config is aimed at providing the package management functionality that web server administrators need when running multiple domains names off of the same IP address (virtual hosting).

Two-stage install

Package managers such as RPM and Portage are designed to install one copy of a package, and to install it onto a fixed location. This conflicts with the needs of a virtual hosting environment, where administrators need to be able to install one package in multiple places so that it can be part of more than one website. With that being said, package managers are essential for maintaining an operating system over time - how is it possible to have the best of both worlds?

The answer is a two-stage install. The traditional package manager installs a master copy into /usr/share/webapps/ This master copy is not fit to run - but it is ready to be used by the webapp-config utility to install a single package multiple times in multiple places.

Multiple installations of the same package

webapp-config allows the administrator to install multiple copies of the same package on the same system at the same time. The administrator decides which directories to install each copy into.

In the web application world, these multiple installations are called "virtual copies".

Different versions of the same package can be installed on the same system at the same time. This allows web administrators to gradually roll out a new version of a package across sites; they are not forced to upgrade every site at once.

webapp-config minimizes the number of duplicated files to the absolute minimum. This conserves disk space usage. The majority of files are hard linked to the master copy; only configuration files, and any files that the package needs to write to are copied into the virtual copy.

File ownership and permissions

Administrators who are used to installing web-based applications by hand will know that it can be a pain to get every file owned by the correct user, and with the correct permissions. Some files need to be owned by the user that the web server runs as. Others need to be owned by specific shell accounts, so that those users can login and edit the configuration files. If the Linux distribution offers a choice of web servers - each running under a different user - even the installers can struggle to get it right.

With webapp-config, the administrator tells the installer which web server to use and which shell account needs to be able to edit the configuration files. webapp-config then installs the files with the correct ownership and permissions.

Protected configuration files

webapp-config automatically ensures that configuration files are never overwritten during an upgrade - even if the files have not been edited since the original installation. Additionally, webapp-config will never overwrite any file that it did not install, or that has been changed since it was installed by webapp-config. webapp-config uses MD5 checksums to determine whether a file has been changed. In the case of symbolic links, webapp-config will not replace a symlink that points to a different file.

When an upgrade does attempt to overwrite a protected file, webapp-config creates a ._cfg file with the new file inside. dispatch-conf can be used to complete the changed configuration file install, just as any other configuration file updates.

File copying options

A virtual copy is built mostly by creating hard links to files under /usr/share/webapps. If a hard link cannot be created, the file is copied from /usr/share/webapps instead.

Hard links can only be created to files on the same file system. If /usr/share/webapps and /var/www on kept on different file systems, webapp-config cannot use hard links, and will be forced to copy the files instead.

There are three ways to get around the hard link problem.

Maintaining hard-links via a symlink

The easiest way is to maintain hard-links to make /usr/share/webapps a symlink to a directory under /var/www. For most administrators, this will ensure that everything is on the same file system as long as one file system is used for the /var/www directory.

For example, presuming the /usr/share/webapps directory exists, and there is already a web application installed therein:

root #mv /usr/share/webapps /var/www # Moves the default webapp directory
root #ln --symbolic /var/www/webapps /usr/share/webapps # Creates the symbolic link

However, if for some reason hosted websites under /var/www or another directory must be kept on separate file systems, then webapp-config will not be able to hard-link files.

Symlinking across filesystems

As an alternative the --soft command-line option can be used. This tells webapp-config to create symbolic links instead of hard links. Symbolic links work across file systems.

The problem with using symbolic links is that some packages do not work when the virtual copy is made from symbolic links. Many users, and system administrators alike, have also complained that they find directories full of symbolic links confusing. For these reasons, symbolic links are not used by default in webapp-config any more.

Duplicating files by copying

The --copy command-line option can also be chosen. This particular switch tells webapp-config to directly copy the files from /usr/share/webapps/ instead of hard links. Copying directly works across file systems with the drawback of consuming more space. This may be desired instead of relying on symbolic links in order to separate the virtualhost files, which admins can then modify, and files in /usr/share/webapps/.

Virtual file voodoo

By default, the master copy contains the metadata that decides which files get linked into a virtual copy and which files do not. Files are either owned by the web server (server-owned), are configuration files (config-owned), or are linked in (virtual). Directories can be server-owned or config-owned, but most of the time they need to be just plain directories (default-owned) created inside the installation directory (set with the -d option). webapp-config provides a number of switches which allows for overriding the master copy's metadata - in the case the overriding is ever needed.

The --default-dirs and --virtual-files switches allow the administrator to decide what webapp-config will do if (respectively) a directory or a file is marked as being default or virtual. webapp-config can be instructed to make the directory or file any of the other choices - server-owned or config-owned - instead.


webapp-config is intended to fully support ${ROOT}. For administrators unsure what that means see the emerge man page (man emerge).


See packages.gentoo.rog for an https://packages.gentoo.org/useflags/vhosts.

Using the vhosts USE flag webapp-config is capable of managing the following applications:

Application Package Homepage Description
Bugzilla www-apps/bugzilla https://www.bugzilla.org Bugzilla is the Bug-Tracking System from the Mozilla project.
cgit www-apps/cgit https://git.zx2c4.com/cgit/about A fast web-interface for git repositories.
cvsweb www-apps/cvsweb https://www.freebsd.org/projects/cvsweb.html WWW interface to a CVS tree
dokuwiki www-apps/dokuwiki https://www.splitbrain.org/projects/dokuwiki DokuWiki is a simple to use Wiki aimed at a small company's documentation needs.
Drupal www-apps/drupal https://drupal.org/ PHP-based open-source platform and content management system.
MediaWiki www-apps/mediawiki https://www.mediawiki.org The MediaWiki wiki web application (as used on wikipedia.org).
mirmon www-apps/mirmon http://people.cs.uu.nl/henkp/mirmon/ Simple webapp to monitor the status of mirrors.
Moodle www-apps/moodle https://moodle.org The Moodle Course Management System.
mythweb www-apps/mythweb https://www.mythtv.org PHP scripts intended to manage MythTV from a web browser.
Nextcloud www-apps/nextcloud https://nextcloud.com/ Web-based personal cloud that runs on your own server.
phpBB www-apps/phpBB https://www.phpbb.com/ phpBB is an open-source bulletin board package.
phpsysinfo www-apps/phpsysinfo https://github.com/phpsysinfo/phpsysinfo/ phpSysInfo is a nice package that will display your system stats via PHP.
postfixadmin www-apps/postfixadmin http://postfixadmin.sourceforge.net Web Based Management tool for Postfix style virtual domains and users.
rutorrent www-apps/rutorrent https://github.com/Novik/ruTorrent ruTorrent is a front-end for the popular Bittorrent client rTorrent.
tt-rss www-apps/tt-rss https://tt-rss.org/ Tiny Tiny RSS - A web-based news feed (RSS/Atom) aggregator using AJAX.
wiliki www-apps/wiliki http://practical-scheme.net/wiliki/ WiLiKi is a lightweight Wiki engine written in and running on Gauche Scheme.
WordPress www-apps/wordpress https://wordpress.org/ Wordpress php and mysql based content management system (CMS).


USE flags

USE flags for app-admin/webapp-config Gentoo's installer for web-based applications

portage Propagate python_targets dependencies to sys-apps/portage


Install webapp-config:

root #emerge --ask app-admin/webapp-config


Web server setup

webapp-config needs to know which web server to host the installed applications with. Popular choices include:

If a web server has not been set up previous to this step in the webapp-config process, do so before continuing to proceed through this article. Visit the links referenced above to install and configure the web server. Once the web server has been set up return to this article

Edit the following line in the /etc/vhosts/webapp-config file to set a web server. This example would be the correct modification to make if lighttpd (www-servers/lighttpd) was the web server of choice:

FILE /etc/vhosts/webapp-configSetting webapp-config's web server preference


Listing and installing webapps

First, determine which versions are available but unused:

root #webapp-config --list-unused-installs

To list the webapps that are installed, with their version and full install location:

root #webapp-config --list-installs -V

webapp-config does not list the host or dir arguments used to install the webapp, if any.

To install a webapp, use the -I switch and provide two arguments, the application name (which will be short, such as nextcloud), and the version:

root #webapp-config -I <app> <version>

To install a webapp under a specific vhost or subdirectory, use the -h <host> and/or -d <dir> arguments to override the defaults from /etc/vhosts/webapp-config:

root #webapp-config -I <app> <version> -h <host> -d <dir>

The webapp will be accessible at http://<host>/<dir>/.

To show information about an installed webapp:

root #webapp-config --show-installed [-h <host>] [-d <dir>]

This will print the webapp name, and installed version, of the webapp at the given location.

Upgrading an installed webapp

First, determine which versions are available but unused:

root #webapp-config --list-unused-installs

This will list applications in a format like <app>-<new-version>

Then determine what you are using:

root #webapp-config --list-installs -V

You might see listings like /var/www/example.com/htdocs/dir, figure out how this maps to the -h and -d arguments, if at all. Run the upgrade with:

root #webapp-config -U <app> <new-version> [-h <host>] [-d <dir>]

Removing an installation

To remove an installed webapp:

root #webapp-config -C nextcloud <version>

If you've removed a webapp by hand and need to update the database for webapp-config, first check using pretend:

root #webapp-config --prune-database=pretend

If this looks correct, follow up with:

root #webapp-config --prune-database=clean

--prune-database=clean will only remove the registry entries, it will never remove files it doesn't recognize.