Until recently, I've used pretty much the same LAMP environment I installed when I started with GNU/Linux. It had many drawbacks, the most important being cryptic configuration (hello, mod_rewrite) and the need to edit files as root when adding new applications using VirtualHosts. Also, running Python applications is quite a pain with Apache and mod_wsgi - most of the time, I just went with whatever development server my framework offered.

Then I stumbled upon uWSGI. I was blown away with how versatile this web application server is - it supports a plethora of programming languages, has a powerful routing system and loads of other features. I experimented with it for some time and this is the result - a flexible web development environment using uWSGI and Nginx.

Pluggable applications with uWSGI

First, we'll start uWSGI in Emperor mode. It will monitor a path and make sure that all uWSGI configuration files found there are running. It also reloads the applications when their configuration changes. We'll be putting our applications in ~/WWW, with the following structure:

├── app1
│   ├── app1.ini
│   ├── file1
│   └── file2
└── app2
    ├── app2.ini
    ├── file1
    └── file2

As we see, there is a folder for each application that contains its sources and also a uWSGI configuration file. The name of this file is used as the vassal name by the Emperor. We'll start the Emperor now:

uwsgi --emperor "~/WWW/*/*.ini" \
      --emperor-on-demand-directory /tmp/uwsgi/ \
      --logto %h/WWW/uwsgi.log \
      --vassals-set socket-chmod=666 \
      --vassals-set idle=900 \
      --vassals-set die-on-idle=1

The --emperor-on-demand-directory flag tells the Emperor to make a UNIX domain socket for each application (named <vassal_name>.socket) in given directory and activate the application when someone connects to that socket. When we combine this with --idle and --die-on-idle on the vassals, we get a webserver that automatically stops unused applications and their daemons.

We also need nginx to have read and write access to the sockets - that's why we set their permissions to 666. If we wanted to be a bit more strict, we could make a group for our user and nginx and chown the sockets to this group.

Now, let's add an application! This one will be in PHP, but use whatever you feel like. First, the "application" itself:

# ~/WWW/testapp/index.php
echo "Hello from uWSGI";

Now, we'll write the configuration file that tells uWSGI how to run it.

# ~/WWW/testapp/testapp.ini
chdir = %d

# PHP settings
plugin = 0:php
php-docroot = %d
check-static = %d
php-app = %d/index.php

Noticed the 0: in the plugin option? This little detail is actually really important - it tells uWSGI to route HTTP requests to the PHP plugin. For more details, see the documentation for modifier1.

The Emperor should now notice the configuration file and run our application. It is however bound to a UNIX domain socket - to access it, we need a webserver to forward actual HTTP requests to it.

Nginx - the fixed part

Nginx will serve as a gateway to our applications. It should pass requests to subdomains on localhost to corresponding UNIX domain sockets that belong to the uWSGI vassals - requests on myapp.localhost will be passed to /tmp/uwsgi/myapp.socket.

# nginx.conf
http {
        server {
                listen 80;
                server_name ~^(?<app>[^.]+)\.localhost;

                location / {
                        include uwsgi_params;
                        uwsgi_pass unix:/tmp/uwsgi/$app.socket;

This is not a complete configuration file - I only included the relevant parts. That being said, you should now be able to open testapp.localhost in a web browser and see the output!

Bonus - running uWSGI with systemd

If you're running a recent GNU/Linux distribution, it's likely that you use systemd. One of its better features is that it lets users run their own services without any special privileges. We'll use that to make sure our uWSGI Emperor is always running. First, we create a systemd unit file:

# ~/.config/systemd/user/uwsgi-emperor.service
Description=uWSGI Emperor

ExecStartPre=/usr/bin/mkdir -p /tmp/uwsgi/
ExecStartPre=/usr/bin/chmod 777 /tmp/uwsgi/
ExecStart=/usr/bin/uwsgi \
          --emperor "%h/WWW/*/*.ini" \
          --emperor-on-demand-directory /tmp/uwsgi/ \
          --logto %h/WWW/uwsgi.log \
          --vassals-set socket-chmod=666 \
          --vassals-set idle=900 \
          --vassals-set die-on-idle=1


Now we'll make sure that the uWSGI Emperor starts when we log in:

$ systemctl --user daemon-reload
$ systemctl --user enable uwsgi-emperor
$ systemctl --user start uwsgi-emperor


We have set up a development environment where we can program in Python, Ruby, PHP and tons of other languages (I also used it to run Pelican when I wrote this post). All our code runs under a regular user (if that wasn't enough, uWSGI can sandbox it using lxc). The applications are accessible with pretty URLs on the standard HTTP port, which makes it easy to test them on various devices.