the basics of the .htaccess config file

The Basics of the .htaccess File

.htaccess is a hidden configuration file that lets you configure various features of the Apache web server, on a per-directory basis. This includes redirecting URLs, caching, enabling HTTPS, hotlink protection, and setting up custom error pages.

The configuration directives defined in a .htaccess file apply to the directory, and all its subdirectories. This allows you to customise the Apache server’s behaviour for different directories. These files have the same syntax as the main Apache configuration files.

As per the official Apache documentation, you should only use .htaccess files if you don’t have access to the main configuration file (e.g. when using a shared host). This is because most, if not all, of the configuration directives, work better when defined in the main configuration file.


Contents


Where to find the .htaccess file

To find your .htaccess file on cPanel, follow these steps:

Log in to your cPanel account.

Click the File Manager icon under Files

cPanel File Manager

Click the Settings icon on the top right, and then select the Show Hidden Files (dotfiles) and click Save.

cPanel file manager Show Hidden File (dotfiles)

Scroll down to your public_html folder and double-click it to check inside for the .htaccess file.

cPanel public_html

cPanel .htaccess file

If you don’t find it there, you’ll have to create one.


How to create a .htaccess file and add code to it

If you couldn’t locate the .htaccess file through the steps shown above, it’s likely that you don’t have it.

To create a new file

  1. Log in to your cPanel account.
  2. Click the File Manager icon under Files.
  3. Click the Settings icon on the top right, and then check the Show hidden files checkbox.
  4. Open your public_html folder.
  5. Once inside your public_html folder, click the +File icon in the top-left corner.
  6. Type .htaccess as the name of the file, and click Create New File
cPanel create new .htaccess file in public_html folder

To add code

To edit the file and/or add code to it, right-click it and select Edit.

cPanel Edit .htaccess file

You will be prompted to enable/disable Encoding Check and select a character encoding for the file. Unless you know what you’re doing, ignore the prompt and click Edit.

cPanel Edit file prompt

A file editor should open. Copy the code you want to add and paste it inside the text space.

cPanel file editor

Once you’re done adding code, click Save Changes and Close.


What can I do with the .htaccess file?

There is a multitude of cool features that you can implement via a .htaccess file. Let’s look at a few:

Display custom error pages

Visitors hate errors. They hate them less when the error page tells them exactly what’s wrong, in a user-friendly way. Using a .htaccess file, you can define a custom error page for every HTTP error code that your server produces. For example, the following line of code will display a page called 400.html, present inside the errors directory.

ErrorDocument 400 /errors/400.html

Protect your directories with a password

To enhance your website’s security, it’s recommended to protect sensitive directories with a password. To achieve this, you’ll need to generate a file known as .htpasswd. Here are the steps:

  1. Navigate to the directory which you want to password-protect.
  2. Use the pwd command to get the full path of the directory.
  3. Use the following command to generate a .htpasswd file, using the htpasswd utility.
htpasswd -c /var/www/website-url.com/public_html/.htpasswd username

Alternatively, you can also use an online htpasswd generator to generate the file.

  1. When prompted, enter a password for the user username.
  2. Finally, put the following code inside your .htaccess file:
AuthType Basic
AuthName “Password protection”
AuthUserFile /var/www/website-url.com/public_html/.htpasswd
Require valid-user

Blacklist and whitelist IPs and domains

.htaccess files also allow you to set up different blacklisting and whitelisting rules.

For example:

To deny incoming traffic from all except whitelisted:

Order deny, allow
Deny from all
Allow from 192.101.145.23 localhost

To deny traffic from an IP:

Deny from 192.168.121.23

To block access to only PHP files:

<Files ~ "\.php$">
Order allow,deny
Deny from all
</Files>

To block a domain:

SetEnvIfNoCase Referer "blockeddomain.com" blocked_domain
Order Allow,Deny
Allow from ALL
Deny from env=blocked_domain

The above lines of code will display a 403 Forbidden error to any user who accesses your website from the blocked_domain.

Block bots

Some bots are malicious users or tools that bombard your website with large amounts of unwanted traffic.

You can usually identify bots by the user-agent attribute of the HTTP request header.

To block bots from sending traffic to your website, you can define a RewriteRule directive in your .htaccess file.

For example, the following line will block the ChinaClaw bot.

RewriteEngine On RewriteCond %{HTTP_USER_AGENT} ChinaClaw [NC] RewriteRule .* - [F,L]

To block multiple bots or site rippers, use the following syntax:

RewriteEngine On 
RewriteCond %{HTTP_USER_AGENT} ^BlackWidow [OR] 
RewriteCond %{HTTP_USER_AGENT} ^Bot\ mailto:craftbot@yahoo.com [OR] 
RewriteCond %{HTTP_USER_AGENT} ^ChinaClaw [OR] 
RewriteCond %{HTTP_USER_AGENT} ^Custo [OR] 
RewriteCond %{HTTP_USER_AGENT} ^DISCo [OR] 
RewriteCond %{HTTP_USER_AGENT} ^Website\ Quester [OR] 
RewriteCond %{HTTP_USER_AGENT} ^Widow [OR] 
RewriteCond %{HTTP_USER_AGENT} ^WWWOFFLE [OR] 
RewriteCond %{HTTP_USER_AGENT} ^Xaldon\ WebSpider [OR] 
RewriteCond %{HTTP_USER_AGENT} ^Zeus 
RewriteRule ^.* - [F,L]

Implement URL rewrites

Using the mod_rewrite directive, you can rewrite URLs on the fly. You can map a URL to a path on the file system, or to another URL. Let’s look at a few examples:

The following lines of code will redirect http://website.com/file.html to http://website.com/directory1/file.html:

Options +FollowSymLinks
RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} website.com$ [NC]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} !directory1
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://website.com/directory1/$1 [R=301,L]

To add www to a URL, use the following code:

Options +FollowSymLinks
RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^website.com [NC]
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://www.website.com/$1 [R=301,L]

This code will transform http://website.com to http://www.website.com.

You can also convert HTTP requests to HTTPS using the following code:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{SERVER_PORT} 80
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ https://www.website.com/$1 [R,L]

Implement URL redirects

The Redirect directive allows you to redirect a directory to another directory, a directory to an HTML file, a URL to another URL, and so much more.

To redirect from one URL to another:

Redirect 301 /var/usr/project.html http://www.website.org/newpage.html

To redirect from index.html to custom-index.html:

Redirect /index.html /custom-index.html

To load a .gif file from another website:

Redirect /asset/main.gif https://www.website.com/asset/main.gif

Set a default directory index

The default index page of a directory is always index.html. To define a different directory index, you can use the following command:

DirectoryIndex myindex.html

You can even define multiple files, in which case the web server looks for each file until it gets a match.

DirectoryIndex index.html index.php myindex.html

Deny directory listing

To deny directory listing, you can add the following line to your .htaccess file:

Options –Indexes

Add MIME types

Add a MIME type to your server by using the following .htaccess code:

AddType text/html .html .htm

…where text/html is the MIME type, and .html and .htm are the supported extensions.

Hotlinking happens when other websites link directly to assets on your server, like images or videos, etc. This can be detrimental to your website’s performance, as others are consuming your bandwidth, as well as storage space. Fortunately, .htaccess provides an easy way to prevent hotlinking.

Add the following code to completely disable hotlinking. Remember to replace website.com with your own domain.

RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^$
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http://(www\.)website.com/.*$ [NC]
RewriteRule \.(gif|jpg|jpeg|bmp|zip|rar|mp3|flv|swf|xml|php|png|css|pdf)$ - [F]

Set up browser caching

The mod_expires directive instructs browsers to cache certain files, i.e. hold on to them for subsequent visits.

For example, the following code sets the default expiry time as access plus 1 seconds, and then sets access plus 2592000 seconds as the expiry for the specified multimedia file types.

# BEGIN Expire headers  
<IfModule mod_expires.c>  
  # Turn on the module.
  ExpiresActive on
  # Set the default expiry times.
  ExpiresDefault "access plus 1 seconds"
  ExpiresByType image/jpg "access plus 2592000 seconds"
  ExpiresByType image/png "access plus 2592000 seconds"
  ExpiresByType image/gif "access plus 2592000 seconds"
  ExpiresByType image/ico "access plus 2592000 seconds"
</IfModule>  
# END Expire headers

Add security headers to your website

You can use security headers to increase your website’s security, and let browsers know which client-side features are allowed.

Here’s how to add security headers to your .htaccess file:

<IfModule mod_headers.c>
Header set Content-Security-Policy "upgrade-insecure-requests"
Header set Strict-Transport-Security "max-age=31536000; includeSubDomains"
Header set X-Xss-Protection "1; mode=block"
Header set X-Frame-Options "SAMEORIGIN"
Header set X-Content-Type-Options "nosniff"
Header set Referrer-Policy "strict-origin-when-cross-origin"
Header set Permissions-Policy "geolocation=self"
</IfModule>

Tweak PHP settings

You can even adjust PHP settings through the .htaccess file.

Here’s the format:

php_value conf_name conf_value

Some examples:

php_value  upload_max_filesize  5M
php_value post_max_size 20M
php_value max_execution_time 60

Conclusion

example htaccess file configuration in cPanel file editor
Example .htaccess file configuration in cPanel file editor

The .htaccess file simplifies the process of managing and configuring a website. In this article, we talked about some of the most beneficial features you can implement with it.

To explore more, go through the official Apache documentation.


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