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by Talented
Has anyone sorted out a way to allow additional user accounts that have SFTP access only to specific sites/folders within a server?

I can add the additional accounts. I can add passwords and set up SFTP access. What I can't figure out is how to assign permissions to the site directory in a way that (1) allows a user to have a specific folder set up as their SFTP root while (2) also allowing WordPress access to write to the uploads folder.

In short, I got as far as locking everything down properly from the SFTP side, but that seemed to prevent WordPress from accepting file uploads since the folders were owned by a different user.

To anyone who's sorted this out - if you don't have time to share details about how to set this up properly, I'd at least settle for knowing that it's technically possible. I'm unsure if the fact that the various server processes run as www-data user totally precludes us from managing files via SFTP in this manner or if I've just yet to stumble across the proper file ownership configuration to make it all work.

BTW QROkes I've seen several places where this topic has been brought up and I understand you don't support it any official capacity, so please understand I'm not asking for that at all. I'm not interested in this from the strict security standpoint others have mentioned (i.e. a hack taking down all the sites on the server), I'm more interested in this from a practical/usability standpoint (I want to be able to give certain team members access to a site without fear that they'll accidentally goof up something across other sites)

Thanks all!

2 Answers

+1 vote
by Rookie


if you want your uploads folder to be accessible both by user and www-data, you should 

  1. chown it (recursive) to www-data:usergroup (the user should be a member of that group - typically a group with the same name as the user is automatically created when you create a user on debian based systems)
  2. chmod your uploads folder recursively like this: chmod -R g+Xw uploads (allow group to list directories and write - the X is execute directories only)
As recommendation I would suggest to disable php in the uploads folder in your nginx/apache if not already done.
Hope this helps, 
regards, Greg
by Talented
Wow, thanks for the fast response! Will wrap my head around this and give it a shot :D
by Rookie

There is one caveat though. Every time you will create a new site, all ownerships wil get reset to the www-data.
To prevent this, you should find and change the following line in /opt/webinoly/lib/sites from
sudo chown -R www-data:www-data /var/www


sudo chown -R www-data:www-data /var/www/$domain

I kindly asked QRokes to do it, as it would not harm webinoly in any way and it would give the server owners the possibility to change their ownership as they see fit, but he quite arrogantly turned me down.

by Expert


Do you really think I should do whatever you tell me?

Please, think before write and be more respectful. Imagine if I do whatever all the people tell me all the time, change this, change that, add this and that… It's not just a matter of time (I do this in my free-time), it's that I have to decide what is better for the project and for the majority of the users, period.

by Talented

It could've just been whatever permutation of permissions, home directories, etc I had at the time, but wasn't able to get this running with the www-data:usergroup setup. Instead I did it the opposite way - chown the site directory to username:www-data, then chmod wp-content/uploads to allow the webserver to write to the folder.

Is there a downside or caveat to doing it that way instead?

The only other thing I was slightly disappointed with is that I can't figure out a way to allow a user to SFTP into /var/www but then only see the folders they have permissions on

If I set ownership of /var/www/site.com to username:www-data and then also try to set that as the user's chrootdirectory (so they land in that folder when connecting), I'm not able to SFTP in.

But if I set it up so their chroot is /var/www then the user is able to see (though not modify) all files/directories of other sites - which I'd also like to avoid.

To get around this, I have to set ownership on /var/www/site.com to root:root, then set ownership of /var/www/site.com/htdocs and /var/www/site.com/htdocs/wp-config.php to the username:www-data.

Am I missing an opportunity to streamline this so that the user can just have ownership on /var/www/site.com and only see the files in that folder when SFTPing in?


by Rookie

The only other thing I was slightly disappointed with is that I can't figure out a way to allow a user to SFTP into /var/www but then only see the folders they have permissions on

This is not possible, because you don't contol what the user see  but what he can or can't do on a directory. If you allow him to read /var/www, he will read everything in it.

What I would do is create a folder named "sites" in users home directory and then softlink all the users sites uploads folders individually to that directory. You would get this

$ ls -al /home/username/sites
lrwxrwxr-x [...] username www-data [...] site1.com -> /var/www/site1.com/htdocs/wp-content/uploads/
lrwxrwxr-x [...] username www-data [...] site2.com -> /var/www/site2.com/htdocs/wp-content/uploads/
lrwxrwxr-x [...] username www-data [...] site3.com -> /var/www/site3.com/htdocs/wp-content/uploads/

that should work and you should keep all the other files owned by you (or root). 

However, keep in mind that this is only applicable to the uploads folder or any folder not executed by php. 

Chowning the whole /var/www by www-data is a security concern. Any php script in a php executed directory accessible  from the web can write to any of the files owned by www-data. This kind of scripts can be accidentaly (from within various "pro" plugins/themes) or deliberately (by a malicious user you granted sftp access) uploaded to a public path executable by php and used to control or at least infest all the sites on your server.

Webinoly is not intended to be used as webhosting platform. If you need that, try to use virtualmin instead. It comes with apache out of the box but it has an nginx module available, that you can replace apache with. The GPL version is free and it works good.

by Talented
Love the aliases idea, thx!

My goal isn't to use it for client access but to limit folders my developers see when they login with a particular set of credentials. I just like the tidiness of user1 logging in and seeing access to domain1.com, while user2 logs in and only sees domain2.com, etc. Basically wanted to have a login for each site to ensure that no one accidentally ends up in the wrong site folder editing WP config for the wrong site after FTPing into a different one.

However, we do host client sites with webinoly and now I'm a little concerned about the practice of www-data user having access to all the sites instead of separate users/fpm pools.

Before traversing down this rabbit hole I hadn't considered that scripts running on one site would have permissions to modify anything contained in other sites and bring down everything on an entire server.

This is a problem for my use case because we DO allow clients admin access to their site, site so a bad/insecure plugin installation could be catastrophic :(

Looks like I'll just have to move these sites to their own VPS or back to SpinupWP. Thx again for all the advice and caveats :D
by Expert
Maybe there is something I'm not seeing, but I don't really understand to all of those users complaining about having separate PHP and SFTP users for each site.

The best isolation you can have (if isolation is a concern) is having a different VPS or Dedicated Servers for each site. You can find a VPS for prices lower than $3 or $4usd per month, if your site not worth it, I don't understand why people spend so many time trying to find a solution, actually cPanel and shared hosting do an excellent job on this field.

Webinoly is focused on performance and having multiple users is not in our roadmap, in fact, I think it's out of the scope of this project. Also, the Free and Open Source version of Nginx does not include this feature, people that are telling they have this feature is because they are compiling their own Nginx, hacking some functionalities and adding extra-modules that end up over-optimizing your server with unexpected results. I don't trust in these solutions!

Best regards and be careful about the "stack" you choose.
by Talented
edited by
Hey QROkes - I'm certainly not complaining... I LOVE webinoly and greatly appreciate the effort that's gone into it. I simply didn't realize until now that there wasn't some level of protection/isolation between the sites on a server.

My use case for the SFTP users is, admittedly, an edge case - thus me simply endeavoring to learn as much as I can and figure it out instead of being upset that webinoly doesn't include it.

That said, I don't think it's unreasonable to desire isolation between the sites themselves on the file ownership/PHP side such that a compromise from bad code in one site doesn't impact other sites running on the same server. I know you're a big proponent of choosing plugins, etc carefully to avoid the root cause of this, but most users are not capable of scouring a plugin the way you are to find vulnerabilities or bad practices. It seems prudent to me to provide whatever protection we can against such compromises.

Overall, I think there's just a general expectation (whether it's right or wrong is up for debate) that for a tool that is designed to generate multiple sites, the sites it creates should be secure.

Otherwise... what's the point of generating multiple sites? If the only way to create a secure site is to launch it on a separate VPS, why doesn't webinoly just create/manage a single site only and make it clear that it's a one-site-per-server kind of tool?

Those are rhetorical questions - I'm just trying to provide insight into the mind of an actual webinoly user who thinks "Awesome, I can manage multiple sites on a single server" only to find out that it's not a best-practice to do so.

Even for my own internal sites (with me as a single admin/developer/sftp user), I'd be hesitant to put more than one site on a server knowing that a compromise in one equals a compromise in all.

I admittedly haven't scoured the documentation, but have made pretty extensive use of it in my 6+ months with webinoly and have never seen anything there to indicate that it's a bad idea to power up multiple sites in a single server. So perhaps a lack of education/warnings around this topic in the documentation may also be to blame for requests to utilize webinoly in a way that it's not intended.

I totally get it - multiple sftp users/fpm pools is not something webinoly has or that you plan for it to ever have, and even if I don't fully understand it I respect your decision to not include it. I'm just trying to explain where I think some of the disconnect is between the tool you've built and the way people are using it.

As you said - costs are minimal for a VPS and we'll be using webinoly in a single-site-per-vps manner from here on out. It's not a deal breaker at all, just something that I (and many others, I'm sure) needed to be educated on to fully understand it.
by Expert

Just to clarify, I never said that Webinoly is for a single site. What I said is that if isolation is a concern for you, the best method is having a VPS for each site.

The thing is very easy:

  • You can host as many low traffic websites in a server as you want, obviously, all depends on the traffic, RAM, and CPU available. Backups and recovery scripts are always recommended, just in case of something went wrong.
  • If you have a big, high traffic or priority site, you should always use a single VPS for it, it's common sense.
  • You need Nginx Plus (Not Free) if you want an optimal solution for multiple users. Be careful of the people offering Nginx (free and open-source version) servers with support for multiple users, I'm sure they are compiling their own Nginx, adding modules and hacking things to get it working. As I said before, I don't trust in this kind of solutions.
  • If you own all the websites, it not make sense having multiple users. If you want to have a shared hosting environment with multiple users, go with cPanel or similar, that's my recommendation.
  • All of those websites in a VPS are usually managed by the same owner. What do you want to hide from one site to another that are both yours? In shared hosting makes easier the resource management for each user, in a VPS is the same, all the resources are all for you.
And believe me, if someone wants to hack your site/server, having dedicated users will not stop to these guys, maybe it will be one minute more to do it.
by Rookie
I will just write here my usecase where Webinoly is perfectly safe and has enough isolation. I provide people with managed Wordpress sites. My promise is: I take care of the code, you take care of the content.

I manage all the plugins and cores with wp-cli and I take advantage of the possibility of writing scripts, to help me with that. I as a unix user am the owner of all of the code, so www-data can't write to any of the folders except for the ones where php is disabled (Uploads and certain languages folders).

This makes my stack pretty safe but it also disables the possibility to install/update themes/plugins/core from the wp-admin section, which is ok with me, since my clients only want to control the content, while I use wp-cli for that.

For this matter Easyengine before, and now Webinoly is the perfect tool (with the exception of one patch I have to make). The official Easyengine 3 fork called WordOps has several downsides compared to Webinoly: the development is less dynamic, it still has some caveats easyengine was struggling with and, crucial for me, it is written in python. It would only make sense to me, that a script intended to manage php sites would be written either in php or in bash. I don't particularly love bash, but it has an upside of being easy to understand.

The one upside of WordOps is a bigger company and team behind it, making its development more stable in the long term. Webinoly has bus factor = 1, meaning if QROkes gets hit by a bus, we are all screwed. However, since the code is pretty well organised and neat (kudos to QROkes for that!), forking and maintaining it wouldn't be as much of a problem.

This is why Webinoly is usefull, secure and makes sense to me. It all depends on the usecase, how you work and what you want.
by Talented
Thanks fellas, I appreciate the dialog and insights :D
by Talented
BTW, WordOps doesn't support site isolation either, but I see that it's on their roadmap: https://github.com/WordOps/WordOps/issues/41
by Expert

I don't know how WordOps will do the isolation thing, but all the solutions I have seen are using a third-party module for Nginx Purge Cache (needed when multiple users).

I just want to say "BE CAREFUL", this package is a feature natively included in NGINX Plus (not-free) and there are a couple of Open Source modules you can find in GitHub that are completely outdated, both of them are not actively maintained.

All the solutions I have seen are using one of these modules, compiling their own NGINX package. My thoughts:

  • It's completely insane if you include outdated third-party modules to your server for security reasons.
  • It's completely unethical if you are "hacking" Nginx just because you don't want to pay for the "Plus" version.

Just as a reference:

The most used modules are FRiCKLE and the Torden Fork.

Here is a better explanation: https://webinoly.com/en/faq/#2a3mfR

by Talented
I have no idea how they will implement it either. They too admit that " it will probably be the biggest change on WO structure and configuration". In fact, I see that they moved it from the "In progress" list back to "To-do", so I wouldn't be surprised if they bumped into the same problems that you mention.
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by Rookie
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