Early versions of HTTP (like many other protocols, e.g. FTP) required a different IP address for each virtual host on the server. On some platforms this can limit the number of virtual hosts you can run, and because there are concerns about the availability of IP addresses it is strongly discouraged by the registraries (ARIN, RIPE, and APNIC).
HTTP/1.1 protocol, and a common extension to
HTTP/1.0, includes a method for the server to identify
what name it is being addressed as. Apache 1.1 and later support this
approach as well as the old IP-address-per-hostname method.
The benefits of using the name-based virtual hosts is a practically unlimited number of servers, ease of configuration and use, and it requires no additional hardware or software. The main disadvantage is that the client must support this part of the protocol. Almost all browsers do, but there are still tiny numbers of very old browsers in use which do not. This can cause problems, although a possible solution is addressed below.
Using name-based virtual hosts is quite easy, and superficially looks
like the old method. The notable difference between IP-based and
name-based virtual host configuration is the
directive which specifies an IP address that should be used as a
target for name-based virtual hosts.
For example, suppose that both www.domain.tld and
www.otherdomain.tld point at the IP address
184.108.40.206. Then you simply add to one of the Apache
configuration files (most likely
srm.conf) code similar to the following:
NameVirtualHost 220.127.116.11 <VirtualHost 18.104.22.168> ServerName www.domain.tld DocumentRoot /www/domain </VirtualHost> <VirtualHost 22.214.171.124> ServerName www.otherdomain.tld DocumentRoot /www/otherdomain </VirtualHost>
Of course, any additional directives can (and should) be placed
<VirtualHost> section. To make this work,
all that is needed is to make sure that the names
www.domain.tld and www.otherdomain.tld
are pointing to the IP address 126.96.36.199
Note: When you specify an IP address in a
directive then requests to that IP address will only ever be served
by matching <VirtualHost>s. The "main server" will
never be served from the specified IP address.
If you start to use virtual hosts you should stop using the "main server"
as an independent server and rather use it as a place for
configuration directives that are common for all your virtual hosts.
In other words, you should add a <VirtualHost> section for
every server (hostname) you want to maintain on your server.
In Apache 1.3.13 and later you can specify the
NameVirtualHost IP address as the wildcard
which matches any IP address not covered by more specific virtual
host directive(s). This is useful for configuring a server whose IP
address you do not know in advance, e.g. because it has a dynamically
configured IP address or because it is part of a load-balanced cluster
in which every machine shares the same configuration file.
Additionally, many servers may wish to be accessible by more than
one name. For example, the example server might want to be accessible
the IP addresses pointed to the same server. In fact, one might want it
so that all addresses at
domain.tld were picked up by the
server. This is possible with the
directive, placed inside the <VirtualHost> section. For
ServerAlias domain.tld *.domain.tld
Note that you can use
? as wild-card
You also might need
ServerAlias if you are
serving local users who do not always include the domain name.
For example, if local users are
familiar with typing "www" or "www.foobar" then you will need to add
ServerAlias www www.foobar. It isn't possible for the
server to know what domain the client uses for their name resolution
because the client doesn't provide that information in the request.
ServerAlias directive is generally a way to have different
hostnames pointing to the same virtual host.
As mentioned earlier, there are still some clients in use who do not send the required data for the name-based virtual hosts to work properly. These clients will always be sent the pages from the first virtual host listed for that IP address (the primary name-based virtual host).
There is a possible workaround with the
directive, albeit a slightly cumbersome one:
NameVirtualHost 188.8.131.52 <VirtualHost 184.108.40.206> ServerName www.domain.tld ServerPath /domain DocumentRoot /web/domain </VirtualHost>
What does this mean? It means that a request for any URI beginning
with "/domain" will be served from the virtual host
www.domain.tld This means that the pages can be accessed as
http://www.domain.tld/domain/ for all clients, although
clients sending a Host: header can also access it as
In order to make this work, put a link on your primary virtual host's page to http://www.domain.tld/domain/ Then, in the virtual host's pages, be sure to use either purely relative links (e.g., "file.html" or "../icons/image.gif" or links containing the prefacing /domain/ (e.g., "http://www.domain.tld/domain/misc/file.html" or "/domain/misc/file.html").
This requires a bit of discipline, but adherence to these guidelines will, for the most part, ensure that your pages will work with all browsers, new and old.
See also: ServerPath configuration example