Setup Nginx As A Reverse Proxy (on your Raspberry Pi)

Torben Dury · January 22, 2022

In a previous post, we discussed on using nginx as a load balancer for various protocols, as well as setting up a Raspberry Pi as a VPN.

Those use cases are already very interesting, but what if one of the two cases happen?

  1. You need to forward traffic to more than one application inside your network
  2. On the same host, you host two applications serving clients

This is where nginx again comes in handy for utilizing it as a reverse proxy. Let’s have a look into it, and see how we can set it up easy and secure!

Reverse Proxies in General

When looking at computer networks, a reverse proxy simply is an application that sits in front of one or more backend applications and forwards clients (browsers, other applications, …) to those applications. In that way, reverse proxies tremendously increase scalability, resilience, performance and security! And the best of it? The client applications don’t know it. Resources returned by the reverse proxy appear to the client as if they come from the reverse proxy itself, so the client does not need to know that its traffic was only forwarded.

nginx forwarding traffic from multiple clients nginx forwarding traffic from arbitrary clients to several backend services

But does it run on my Pi?

Yes! I’ve been running it for quite a time now on my Raspberry Pi Zero and never ran into any resource or performance problems. My installation is bare-metal (no containerization for keeping the resource overhead as low as possible) and is receiving quite some load. It forwards traffic in my home network for 10-15 backend applications which are accessed by around 10-30 devices constantly. nginx barely needs any RAM and perfectly utilizes your CPU power. Also, it’s got its extra version for ARM processors which comes in handy for Raspberry Pi installations.


The installation is quite simple, let’s get started. Take this as an example for Debian’ish systems with apt installed.

First, update your local package index and upgrade any packages which are already installed on your machine:

  sudo apt update && sudo apt upgrade -y

Now, we want to get rid of any existing apache2 installations. apache2 is another web server which might come already installed on your machine (e.g. when you start up a server distro) and it interferes with our nginx installation, so let’s remove it:

  sudo apt purge apache2

This will remove the web server itself including its configurations.

And now, finally install nginx!

  sudo apt install -y nginx

Depending on your machine and your network, this might take a while. When you’re done, head over to the next step.

Configuration (the easy way)

Normally, your nginx installation should start up right away and you can access the default page at http://<your-ip>:80. If not, start it up like so:

  sudo systemctl start nginx

Configuration directory

Per default, nginx stores its configuration at /etc/nginx/, so let’s have a look at it:

  cd /etc/nginx/sites-available/

and create your first configuration file called example.conf.

  sudo vim example.conf

Add the following configuration (adjust the host and proxy_pass target to match your needs):

server {
  listen 80;
  server_name my.local.dns;
  location / {
    proxy_pass http://localhost:3000;

listen is going to tell nginx to listen on port 80 which is the standard HTTP port. server_name is going to be the domain of the website which clients will type into their browser when they want to reach a certain backend. For our example, we will forward / which basically means every request that reaches our web server. Then, we will forward clients to the URL behind proxy_pass. This can be any URL, IP or even another nginx location.

Hit save, and now we will check the config, enable it and reload nginx.

  ln -s /etc/nginx/sites-available/example.conf /etc/nginx/sites-enabled/example.conf

  sudo nginx -t

  sudo systemctl reload nginx

And that’s it! First we symlink our fresh configuration to the sites-enabled/ directory, so nginx knows that it needs to respect that configuration as active. Then, we test the config for being syntactically correct with sudo nginx -t and then we reload our nginx service so the new config gets loaded.

We’re done! Our nginx installation is now forwarding traffic from my.local.dns:80 to a backend application running on the same host as nginx which is listening on port 3000.


In this post, you learned:

  • What reverse proxying is
  • How you can utilize it for your home or enterprise environments
  • How requests are distributed
  • How to simply and securely configure it even on a Raspberry Pi

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