NGINX: Require Authentication for Directories but Still Allow Direct File Access

Neil Menon · July 29, 2020

I came across this problem when I was trying to host and share images on my server but didn’t want people to be able to access the actual directory which contained them.

NGINX does this by default if you don’t turn on directory listing in your configuration file (with autoindex on;), but the catch here was that I still wanted to be able to access the directory listing via username/password authentication.

Here are some examples of the result I was looking for:

  • /images/photo.jpg: public access
  • /images/: authenticate
  • /images/old/photo.jpg: public access
  • /images/old/: authenticate

Solution: Explicitly Disable Authentication

After much Googling and trial-and-error, I found that a combination of nested location blocks and auth_basic off; did the trick. Here is my solution to this problem in my NGINX configuration @ nginx.conf:

location ~^/images/.*$ {
    # style directory listing
    fancyindex on;
    fancyindex_exact_size off;
    fancyindex_footer /Nginxy/footer.html;
    fancyindex_header /Nginxy/header.html;
    fancyindex_css_href /Nginxy/style.css;
    fancyindex_time_format "%B %e, %Y";

    auth_basic "Private Property";
    auth_basic_user_file /etc/nginx/.htpasswd;

    # turn off authentication for files
    location ~ "\..{3,4}$" {
        auth_basic off;

A few notes on this solution:

  • The parent location block and the nested location block must both use regex, otherwise it won’t work (see this post for more information)
  • fancyindex is a NGINX module that styles directory listing. Check out my post on installing it here
  • NGINX basic authentication can be set up quite easily and there are plenty of tutorials on doing so, like this one
    • Or, if you’re on CentOS/RHEL, try this one-liner yum -y install httpd-tools && sudo htpasswd -c /etc/nginx/.htpasswd your_username
  • My regex just allows all file extensions of 3-4 characters in length. This may or may not work for you, depending on the files you are storing. To allow specific filetypes, try something like this: location ~ \.(jpg|png|gif)$ {...}
  • Remember to run nginx -t before reloading/restarting NGINX to check for syntax errors!

Hope this helps!

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