1. Introduction

Nginx is a popular open-source Web server widely adopted for its efficiency, performance, security, and ease of use. One of the key features of Nginx is modular configuration, which enables us to organize and manage server settings in a structured and maintainable way.

In this tutorial, we’ll learn about using the include directive in Nginx server blocks and explore best practices for storing the included configuration files.

2. Understanding the include Directive

At its core, the include directive in Nginx facilitates the inclusion of additional configuration files within a server block or any other context that supports Nginx configuration directives.

It lets administrators compartmentalize their configurations into modular, reusable snippets. Rather than cluttering the main nginx.conf configuration file, the include directives facilitate the incorporation of additional configuration files within specific server blocks or a global context.

Let’s consider a scenario, in which we manage multiple websites on a single Nginx server. Each site may have unique configuration requirements, including caching directives, SSL settings, or custom headers. We can organize these configurations into separate files and link them using the include directive within the appropriate server blocks.

For example, let’s look at how we can use include in an Nginx server block:

server {
    listen 80;
    server_name example.com;

    # Include additional configuration files
    include /path/to/includes/*.conf;


In this configuration, the line that starts with include makes certain files part of the current configuration without repeating their contents within all files with a .conf extension from the directory we specify in /path/to/includes/.

The choice of where to store the include files is a matter of personal preference and system organization. However, the configuration files are usually in the /etc/nginx directory or its subdirectories.

3. Advantages of Using include

The include directive in Nginx configurations offers several advantages, making it an important tool for administrators seeking to optimize their server setups.

Let’s discuss some of the advantages of using the include directive:

  • offers modularity and organization by breaking down configuration files into smaller, modular components to promote a structured approach to server setup
  • maintenance is simpler since the configuration files are categorized into separate files, making updates or additions straightforward
  • improves readability because we can isolate and focus on specific sections of the configuration making it easier to understand and troubleshoot configurations
  • in team environments, where multiple people may be responsible for managing different Nginx configurations, include directives promote their collaboration
  • facilitates integration with version control systems such as Git with each file being treated as a standalone entity, enabling granular tracking of changes and simplifying rollback processes when necessary
  • offers flexibility in adapting Nginx configurations to evolving requirements for rapid scalability because of the ease of adding or removing snippets

Finally, we can optimize server performance more effectively. For example, caching directives or SSL settings can be fine-tuned independently, enabling targeted performance enhancements without impacting unrelated aspects.

4. Best Practices for Using include

It’s important to adhere to best practices when using the include directive in Nginx configurations to ensure efficient management, readability, and scalability.

Let’s discuss some recommended best practices for using include directives effectively.

4.1. Directory Structure

Best practices dictate that we establish a dedicated directory specifically for storing include files. The directory is commonly named includes or snippets with a prefix or suffix denoting a specific category. Once ready, we can place it within the Nginx configuration directory /etc/nginx/includes/.

We can also consider organizing the include files into subdirectories based on their purpose of functionality. For example /etc/nginx/includes/ssl and /etc/nginx/includes/caching can store the SSL and caching configuration files respectively.

4.2. File Naming Conventions

It’s usually best to use descriptive and consistent file names that reflect the purpose or content of the include file. For example caching_settings.conf or zero_ssl_settings.conf.

We can also prefix include files with numbers to enforce a specific order of inclusion if necessary. Examples include 00_ssl.conf or 7_gzip.conf. This helps us quickly identify the purpose of each file and the associated server block.

4.3. Security Considerations

Of course, any directory containing include files should have the appropriate permission set to prevent unauthorized access.

In addition, it’s best to avoid storing sensitive information, such as passwords or private keys, in plain text within include files. Instead, we can consider secure methods such as environment variables or encrypted files.

Finally, it’s important to test configurations thoroughly after making changes to include files to ensure they’re functional. To that end, we can use the nginx -t command to validate the configurations before committing them, reducing the risk of errors or misconfigurations.

4.4. Commenting and Documentation

Adding comments to the configuration files to explain the purpose of each section or directive makes it easier for other administrators to manage the server environment.

Further, it’s good to ensure we keep the documentation updated as configurations evolve to ensure that other administrators always have accurate information.

5. Conclusion

In this tutorial, we talked about the include directive in Nginx.

In summary, the include directive enables us to break down server configurations into smaller, more manageable files. This enhances modularity and organization, simplifies maintenance, improves readability, and facilitates collaboration. By adopting a modular approach to configuration management, we can optimize server setups, streamline maintenance processes, and adapt to evolving requirements.

Finally, we discussed some important security considerations to avoid unauthorized access or information leaks.

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