Multiple virtual hosts with SSL on one machine


In this article, you’ll find instructions for how to setup multiple websites with SSL on one host easily using Docker, Docker Compose, nginx, and Let’s Encrypt.

Diagram of how it works.


This article assumes that you have a little experience with Ubuntu and know what Docker is. Also, that you have installed Docker and Docker Compose on your Ubuntu system. Instructions on how to do it you can find on the official Docker’s documentation page and Docker Compose documentation page respectively.

Nginx proxy

To be able to host multiple websites on one machine we need a proxy server that will handle all requests and direct them to the correct nginx server instances running in Docker containers. To achieve that we will use jwilder/nginx-proxy image for Docker. It will automatically configure a proxy for our nginx containers when we launch them.

Let’s Encrypt companion

For automatic certificate management, we will use jrcs/letsencrypt-nginx-proxy-companion image. It will watch for containers that we launch and do everything needed along with the nginx proxy to enable SSL on our nginx virtual host containers.

Main Docker Compose file

Let’s start by creating our main Docker Compose file, that will launch our nginx proxy and Let’s Encrypt companion containers. In a separate folder called proxy create file docker-compose.yml with contents below:

version: '3' # Version of the Docker Compose file format
        image: jwilder/nginx-proxy:alpine
        restart: "always" # Always restart container
         - "80:80" # Port mappings in format host:container
         - "443:443"
         - nginx-proxy # Name of the etwork these two containers will share
         - "com.github.jrcs.letsencrypt_nginx_proxy_companion.nginx_proxy" # Label needed for Let's Encrypt companion container
        volumes: # Volumes needed for container to configure proixes and access certificates genereated by Let's Encrypt companion container
         - /var/run/docker.sock:/tmp/docker.sock:ro
         - "nginx-conf:/etc/nginx/conf.d"
         - "nginx-vhost:/etc/nginx/vhost.d"
         - "html:/usr/share/nginx/html"
         - "certs:/etc/nginx/certs:ro"
        image: jrcs/letsencrypt-nginx-proxy-companion
        restart: always
        container_name: letsencrypt-nginx-proxy-companion
         - "/var/run/docker.sock:/var/run/docker.sock:ro"
         - "nginx-conf:/etc/nginx/conf.d"
         - "nginx-vhost:/etc/nginx/vhost.d"
         - "html:/usr/share/nginx/html"
         - "certs:/etc/nginx/certs:rw"
        depends_on: # Make sure we start nginx proxy container first
            - nginx-proxy
    nginx-proxy: # Name of our shared network that containers will use
volumes: # Names of volumes that out containers will share. Those will persist on docker's host machine.

Now, if we’ll execute following command:

docker-compose up -d
Docker Compose will look for a file named docker-compose.yml in the current folder and launch all services (containers) that are described in there. In this case it will launch nginx proxy and Let’s Encrypt companion containers. Also, because we trying to launch it for the first time it will build images first.

Flag -d means that we want to run our containers in the background (detached mode).

Use the following command to check containers status:

docker ps
You should see two containers with Up status.

Nginx virtual host

Now, we will launch our first nginx container that will securely serve content through the proxy to the client.

In a new folder, called (replace with the name of your domain) create new docker-compose.yml file. In a subfolder named www place contents of your website. Also, create a subfolder called nginx with two files called Dockerfile and default.conf.

Structure of folder should look like this:


FROM nginx:alpine
COPY ./nginx/default.conf /etc/nginx/conf.d/default.conf # Copy nginx configuration file
COPY ./www/ /usr/share/nginx/html/ # Copy website contents


server {
	listen 80 default_server;
	listen 443 ssl;


	root /usr/share/nginx/html/;
	index index.html;

	location / {
		try_files $uri $uri/ =404;


version: '3'
        container_name: example-nginx
        image: example-nginx
        restart: always
            context: ./
            dockerfile: ./nginx/Dockerfile
         - # Enviroment variable needed for nginx proxy
         - # Enviroment variables needed for Let's Encrypt companion
         - "80" # Expose http port
         - "443" # along with https port
         - nginx-proxy # Connect this container to network named nginx-proxy, that will be described below
            name: proxy_nginx-proxy # Reference our network that was created by Docker Compose when we launched our two main containers earlier. Name generated automaticaly. Use `docker network ls` to list all networks and their names.
Don’t forget to replace in all files with your domain name.

Now everything ready for building and launching our container:

docker-compose up -d

Now you have three up and running Docker containers: nginx proxy for handling requests and configuring proxies for our virtual hosts, Let’s Encrypt companion for generating SSL certificates and one virtual host container that will serve to users content.

That’s it!

In no time you’ll be able to access your website securely!
To launch another virtual host, just repeat steps starting from Nginx Virtual Host paragraph.

Rebuilding container’s image

To rebuild docker images described in compose file, for example, if you changed website’s content, use the following command:

docker-compose build
It will rebuild all images of services that are described in docker-compose.yml file located in the current folder.

What if something isn’t working

If you have problems launching containers, try to launch them without -d flag, this way you’ll be able to see the output of the container’s service (its stdout and stderr).

To see logs of already running container you can use the following command:

docker logs CONTAINER_ID

To find CONTAINER_ID look at the output of the following command:

docker ps


Ability to serve content from different domains using different certificates from one host is possible thanks to SNI. You can read more about this technology on Wikipedia. It’s widely supported technology in browsers and other web clients. You can check support by popular web browsers here.

Github project

You can find example project on GitHub. Have fun!