How To Configure WebDAV Access with Apache on Ubuntu 18.04

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Introduction

WebDAV is an extension of the HTTP protocol that allows users to manage files on remote servers. There are many ways to use a WebDAV server, you can, for example, share Word or Excel documents with your colleagues by uploading them to your WebDAV server. You can also share your music collection with your family and friends by simply giving them a URL. All of this can be achieved without them installing any additional software as everything is built right into their operating system.

In this article, you’ll configure an Apache web server to enable WebDAV access from Windows, Mac, and Linux with SSL and password authentication.

Prerequisites

Before you begin this guide, you will need the following:

  • An Ubuntu 18.04 server. Follow the Initial Server Setup with Ubuntu 18.04 to create a sudo enabled, non-root user.
  • A domain name that resolves to the public IP address of your server. The Domains and DNS explains how to set this up.
  • An Apache web server. Follow the How To Set Up Apache Virtual Hosts on Ubuntu 18.04 guide for instructions on how to configure Apache with your domain name.
  • An SSL Certificate for your domain name. Follow the How To Secure Apache with Let’s Encrypt on Ubuntu 18.04 guide for instructions on how to do this.

WebDAV requires very few server resources, so any sized virtual machine will be enough to get your WebDAV server up and running.

Log in to your server as the sudo-enabled, non-root user to start the first step.

Step 1 — Enabling the WebDAV Apache Modules

The Apache web server provides a lot of functionality as optional modules. You can enable and disable these modules to add and remove their functionality from Apache. Its WebDAV functionality is included in a module that you installed along with Apache, but is not enabled by default.

You enable the WebDAV module for Apache using the a2enmod utility. The following two commands will enable the WebDAV modules:

  • sudo a2enmod dav
  • sudo a2enmod dav_fs

Now, restart Apache to load the new modules:

  • sudo systemctl restart apache2.service

You’ve now loaded and started the WebDAV module. In the next step, you will configure Apache to serve your files via WebDAV.

Step 2 — Configuring Apache

In this step, you will create all the configurations that Apache needs to implement a WebDAV server.

First, create the WebDAV root folder at /var/www/webdav that will hold the files you want to make available over WebDAV:

  • sudo mkdir /var/www/webdav

Then, set Apache’s user, www-data, to be the owner of the WebDAV directory:

  • sudo chown www-data:www-data /var/www/webdav

Next, you need to create a location for the database file that Apache uses to manage and lock the files that WebDAV users are accessing. This file needs to be readable and writable by Apache, but must not be available from the website as this can leak sensitive information.

Create a new directory with the mkdir utility for the database file at /usr/local/apache/var/:

  • sudo mkdir -p /usr/local/apache/var/

The -p option tells the mkdir utility to create all the directories in the path you specified if they don’t exist.

Next, set the owner and group of the new directory to Apache’s user and group with the chown utility:

  • sudo chown www-data:www-data /usr/local/apache/var

Now, you need to edit the VirtualHost file that holds the Apache configuration about your domain name. This file is located in /etc/apache2/sites-enabled/ and ends in le-ssl.conf if you used Certbot to register the SSL certificate.

Open the VirtualHost file with a text editor:

  • sudo nano /etc/apache2/sites-enabled/your_domain-le-ssl.conf

On the first line, add the DavLockDB directive:

/etc/apache2/sites-enabled/your_domain-le-ssl.conf

DavLockDB /usr/local/apache/var/DavLock . . . 

Next, add the following Alias and Directory directives inside the <VirtualHost> tags following all the other directives:

/etc/apache2/sites-enabled/your_domain-le-ssl.conf

. . . Alias /webdav /var/www/webdav  <Directory /var/www/webdav>     DAV On </Directory> 

The Alias directive maps requests to http://your.server/webdav to the /var/www/webdav folder.

The Directory directive tells Apache to enable WebDAV for the /var/www/webdav folder. You can find out more about mod_dav from the Apache docs.

Your final VirtualHost file will be as follows, which includes the DavLockDB, Alias, and Directory directives in the correct locations:

/etc/apache2/sites-enabled/your_domain-le-ssl.conf

DavLockDB /usr/local/apache/var/DavLock <IfModule mod_ssl.c> <VirtualHost *:443>     ServerAdmin [email protected]_domain         ServerName your_domain         ServerAlias your_domain         DocumentRoot /var/www/your_domain/public_html         ErrorLog ${APACHE_LOG_DIR}/error.log         CustomLog ${APACHE_LOG_DIR}/access.log combined          SSLCertificateFile /etc/letsencrypt/live/your_domain/fullchain.pem         SSLCertificateKeyFile /etc/letsencrypt/live/your_domain/privkey.pem         Include /etc/letsencrypt/options-ssl-apache.conf          Alias /webdav /var/www/webdav          <Directory /var/www/webdav>             DAV On         </Directory>  </VirtualHost> </IfModule> 

If you make any syntax errors while you are editing Apache’s configuration it will refuse to start. It’s a good practice to check your Apache configuration before restarting Apache.

Use the apachectl utility to check the configuration:

  • sudo apachectl configtest

If your configuration is error free, apachectl will print Syntax OK. When you receive this, it is safe to restart Apache to load the new configuration:

  • sudo systemctl restart apache2.service

You’ve now configured Apache as a WebDAV server to serve files from /var/www/webdav. However, you don’t yet have authentication configured or enabled so anyone that can access your server will be able to read, write, and edit your files. In the next section, you will enable and configure WebDAV authentication.

Step 3 — Adding Authentication to WebDAV

The authentication method that you will use is called digest authentication. Digest authentication is the more secure method of WebDAV authentication, especially when coupled with HTTPS.

Digest authentication works with a file that stores the usernames and passwords of users that are allowed to access the WebDAV server. Just as with the DavLockDB the digest file needs to be stored in a location that Apache can read and write to and that cannot be served from your website.

As you already created /usr/local/apache/var/ for this purpose, you will place the digest file there as well.

First, create an empty file called users.password at /usr/local/apache/var/ with the touch utility:

  • sudo touch /usr/local/apache/var/users.password

Then change the owner and group to www-data so Apache can read and write to it:

  • sudo chown www-data:www-data /usr/local/apache/var/users.password

New users are added to WebDAV using the htdigest utility. The following command adds the user sammy:

  • sudo htdigest /usr/local/apache/var/users.password webdav sammy

The webdav in this command is the realm and should be thought of as the group you are adding the new user to. It is also the text displayed to users as they enter their username and password when they access your WebDAV server. You can choose whatever realm best describes your use case.

It will prompt you to enter a password and confirm it when you run the htdigest command:

OutputAdding user sammy in realm webdav New password: Re-type new password: 

Next, you’ll tell Apache to require authentication for WebDAV access and to use the users.password file.

Open your VirtualHost file:

  • sudo nano /etc/apache2/sites-enabled/your_domain-le-ssl.conf

Then, add the following lines inside the Directory directive block:

/etc/apache2/sites-enabled/your_domain-le-ssl.conf

AuthType Digest AuthName "webdav" AuthUserFile /usr/local/apache/var/users.password Require valid-user 

These directives do the following:

  • AuthType Digest: Use the digest authentication method.
  • AuthName "webdav": Only allow users from the webdav realm.
  • AuthUserFile /usr/local/apache/var/users.password: Use the usernames and passwords contained in /usr/local/apache/var/users.password.
  • Require valid-user: Allow access to any user listed in the users.password file that supplied the correct password.

Your <Directory> directive will be as follows:

/etc/apache2/sites-enabled/your_domain-le-ssl.conf

<Directory /var/www/webdav>   DAV On   AuthType Digest   AuthName "webdav"   AuthUserFile /usr/local/apache/var/users.password   Require valid-user </Directory> 

Next, enable the auth_digest Apache module so that Apache knows how to use the digest authentication method:

  • sudo a2enmod auth_digest

Finally, restart Apache to load all the new configuration:

  • sudo systemctl restart apache2.service

You’ve now configured your WebDAV server to use HTTPS and digest authentication. It is ready to start serving files to your users. In the next section, you’ll access a WebDAV server from either Windows, Linux, or macOS.

Step 4 — Accessing WebDAV

In this step, you’ll access a WebDAV server with the native file browsers of macOS, Windows, and Linux (KDE and GNOME).

Before you get started accessing your WebDAV server you should put a file into the WebDAV folder, so you have a file to test.

Open a new file with a text editor:

  • sudo nano /var/www/webdav/webdav-testfile.txt

Add some text then save and exit. Now, set the owner and group of this file to www-data:

  • sudo chown www-data:www-data /var/www/webdav/webdav-testfile.txt

You are now ready to start accessing and testing your WebDAV server.

Linux KDE

First, open the KDE Dolphin file manager. Then edit the address bar with a URL that has the following form:

webdavs://your_domain/webdav 

image showing WebDAV link in the Dolphin address bar

When you hit ENTER you will be prompted to enter a username and password.

image showing the username and password dialog box

Check the Remember password option if you want Dolphin to retain your password. Then click OK to continue. It will now present you with the contents of the /var/www/webdav/ directory, which you can manipulate as if they were on your local system.

Bookmark your WebDAV server by grabbing the folder icon in the address bar and dragging it under the Remote section in the left-hand navigation panel.

Image showing the WebDAV server in the Dolphin Remote locations

Linux GNOME

First, open the Files application by clicking on its icon on the right-hand side of the desktop.

Image showing Finder icon

When Files opens do the following:

  1. Click on + Other Locations.
  2. Enter the URL of your WebDAV instance with the following form:
davs://your_domain/webdav 

Image showing the Files application

Then, click on Connect. It will then prompt you with a username and password dialog box.

Image showing the username and password dialog

Enter your username and password then click Connect to log in to your WebDAV server. Check the Remember forever option if you do not want to enter your password every time you access your files.

Your WebDAV folder will now be available in Files where you can manage your files:

Image showing the WebDAV server in the Files application

macOS

First, open the Finder application. Next, click on the Go menu and then on Connect to server.

Image showing the Go menu in the Finder application

You will now find a new dialog box where you enter the URL of the WebDAV server. This URL must have the following form:

https://your_domain/webdav 

Image showing the URL entry dialog box

Click on the Connect button to continue. It will prompt you to enter a username and password.

Image showing the username and password dialog

Click on Connect to complete adding your WebDAV server to your system.

You will now find your WebDAV server in Finder under the Locations section.

Image showing the WebDAV share in Finder

Windows

First, from the Start Menu, open the File Explorer application. When this opens select This PC from the left-hand navigation panel.

Image showing This PC in the navigation panel

Next, click on the Map network drive icon in the top navigation bar.

Image showing the Map network drive icon in top navigation panel

Enter the URL of your WebDAV server with a URL of the following form:

https://your_domain/webdav 

Image showing the URL entry dialog

Click Finish to connect to your WebDAV server. It will prompt you to enter a username and password.

Image showing username and password entry dialog

Enter your username and password and click OK to log in to your server. Check the Remember my credentials option if you do not want to enter your password every time you access your files.

Your WebDAV will now appear as a location under the This PC section of the File Explorer left-hand navigation panel.

Image showing the WebDAV share in File Explorer

Conclusion

You have now set up and configured a secure WebDAV server to serve your files to your users. No matter what operating system your users have on their local system they will be able to access and manage the files in your WebDAV server.