Home » Why is the root directory on a web server put by default in “/var/www”?

Why is the root directory on a web server put by default in “/var/www”?


Usage of /var/www is confusing only at first sight.

According to the FHS, web server data should go to /srv. That is the main rule.

However, it also says that deciding about the structure of /srv is the sole responsibility of the local administrator! Therefore packages must not put anything into /srv, and the default document root must not be /srv, because the (apache) package does not know what is in /srv and below it. Maybe a subversion repository with clear text password and other things as well. So there must be a default outside of /srv. That default become /var/www.

/var/www is mostly a placeholder. Packages use /usr/share for static HTML content, or /var/lib for dynamic variable content. Many people mistakenly thought that they should then put HTML into /var/www. That is a problem, because packages occasionally use that too. So recently they invented /var/www/html for packages. Hopefully people will not start to use that because then again they have to invent a new directory… and so on.

Summary: you should use /srv and configure your Apache virtual hosts accordingly.

It’s actually not the “traditional” location at all. Traditionally, anything you installed after the OS went into /usr/local, and indeed that’s the “Classical Apache path layout” (their words) to this day. For a long time, it was /home/httpd.

What you’re seeing is that an Apache that has been configured for a particular OS — whether that’s Red Hat Linux, Mac OS X, GNU, etc – will customize the location. Apache’s source are well designed for this, in fact if you trace the value for the ServerRoot in the source files, you’ll see that it starts out in this file, config.layout:

Some excerpts from that file will show you that there’s a lot of variety in the docroot location.

IIRC, /var/www came into my life with the 2000-2001 releases of Red Hat Linux 7.x (not Red Hat Enterprise Linux). For all the reasons you cite above, I thought it didn’t make great sense – but the reality is that in the modern era so many other tools and technologies are involved the location moves anyway.

#   Classical Apache path layout.
<Layout Apache>
    prefix:        /usr/local/apache2
    datadir:       ${prefix}

#   GNU standards conforming path layout.
#   See FSF's GNU project `make-stds' document for details.
<Layout GNU>
    exec_prefix:   ${prefix}
    datadir:       ${prefix}/share+

#   Mac OS X Server (Rhapsody)
<Layout Mac OS X Server>
    prefix:        /Local/Library/WebServer
    datadir:       ${prefix}

#   Darwin/Mac OS Layout
<Layout Darwin>
    prefix:        /usr
    datadir:       /Library/WebServer

#   Red Hat Linux 7.x layout
<Layout RedHat>
    prefix:        /usr
    datadir:       /var/www

#   SuSE 6.x layout
<Layout SuSE>
    prefix:        /usr
    datadir:       /usr/local/httpd

#   BSD/OS layout
<Layout BSDI>
    prefix:        /var/www
    datadir:       ${prefix}

#   Solaris 8 Layout
<Layout Solaris>
    prefix:        /usr/apache
    datadir:       /var/apache

While I agree with akond’s answer, I think there is a more important aspect to it. Most of the other locations (such as /usr/local) are typically managed by the system (the package manager). /var is usually where files go that are not managed by the package manager (system wide ‘data’).

I also think the definition from the FHS is a bit more accurate (the data does not have to be “constantly changing”):

/var contains variable data files. This includes spool directories and files, administrative and logging data, and transient and temporary files.

However the FHS also species that www data should be going into /srv

/srv contains site-specific data which is served by this system.

This main purpose of specifying this is so that users may find the location of the data files for particular service, and so that services which require a single tree for readonly data, writable data and scripts (such as cgi scripts) can be reasonably placed.

The methodology used to name subdirectories of /srv is unspecified as there is currently no consensus on how this should be done. One method for structuring data under /srv is by protocol, eg. ftp, rsync, www, and cvs.

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