I wanted to install an FTP server on my servers, I checked online and it turned out that VSFTPD is the most secure one, so I began to installing it.
I’ve been through many tutorials but couldn’t find any in full detail, so decided to write my own. I set up VSFTPD on my personal server, wrote the tutorial step by step then followed my own tutorial to deploy VSFTPD on my production dedicated server.
How to do it
- Install vsftpd and a PAM library
- Edit /etc/vsftpd.conf and /etc/pam.d/vsftpd
- Create user accouts with custom directories (in /var/www/ for example)
- Set directories with the correct chmod and chown
- Create a admin user with full access to the server
1. Install vsftpd (Very Secure FTP Deamon) and libpam-pwdfile to create virtual users
I wanted to create FTP users but I didn’t want to add local unix users (no shell access, no home directory and so on). A PAM (Pluggable Authentication Modules) will help you create virtual users.
sudo apt-get install vsftpd libpam-pwdfile
2. Edit vsftpd.conf
First you need to back up the original file
sudo mv /etc/vsftpd.conf /etc/vsftpd.conf.bak
Then create a new one
sudo vim /etc/vsftpd.conf
Copy and paste the following lines. The file should ONLY contain these lines:
listen=YES anonymous_enable=NO local_enable=YES write_enable=YES local_umask=022 nopriv_user=vsftpd virtual_use_local_privs=YES guest_enable=YES user_sub_token=$USER local_root=/var/www/$USER chroot_local_user=YES hide_ids=YES guest_username=vsftpd
3. Register virtual users
To register a user you use htpasswd, so I assume you have apache2 working on your server. Create a vsftpd folder then put configuration files in it.
sudo mkdir /etc/vsftpd
sudo htpasswd -cd /etc/vsftpd/ftpd.passwd user1
- -c means that we’ll create the file if it’s not existing yet
- -d forces MD5, you need it on ubuntu 12.04, just use it always The command will prompt for a password.
If you want to add new users afterwards:
sudo htpasswd -d /etc/vsftpd/ftpd.passwd user2
4. Configure PAM in /etc/pam.d/vsftpd
Again, you need to back up the orignal file
sudo mv /etc/pam.d/vsftpd /etc/pam.d/vsftpd.bak
and create a new one
sudo vim /etc/pam.d/vsftpd
Copy and paste these 2 lines (this should be the only content). I insist only these 2 lines, I wasted a lot of time keeping the originals and just added these.
auth required pam_pwdfile.so pwdfile /etc/vsftpd/ftpd.passwd account required pam_permit.so
5. Create a local user without shell access
sudo useradd --home /home/vsftpd --gid nogroup -m --shell /bin/false vsftpd
You can check that it’s been created with the id command: id vsftpd. We define the user with the /bin/false shell because of the check_shell parameter (even if you don’t use it).
6. Restart vsftpd
The common way is using init.d like all deamon
sudo /etc/init.d/vsftpd restart
In Ubuntu 12.04 there is something new with services. It worked on my 12.04 but not on my 10.04 one. To be honest I’m not a Linux expert (yet) so I can’t explain why. Something to do with Upstart I think.
sudo service vsftpd restart
7. Create directories
According to your configuration all users will be placed into this folder: /var/www/user1.
You need to create them with particular rights: the root folder cannot be writable!
- Folder / [root = /var/www/user1] => 555
- Folder www [ /var/www/user1/www ] => 755
- Folder docs [ /var/www/user1/docs ] => 755
In vsftpd.conf we have chroot_local_user=YES so the user can’t see anything outside of his folder. To him, the server looks like this:
So just run these commands:
mkdir /var/www/user1 chmod -w /var/www/user1 mkdir www/user1/www chmod -R 755 /var/www/user1/www chown -R vsftpd:nogroup /var/www/user1
The /var/www/user1 folder HAS TO exist or connection will fail.
Right now you can try to connect with your FTP client and it will succeed! If it doesn’t you can check the troubleshooting part.
8. Create an Admin user to access the entire server
To create an admin user we need to register a new user with htpasswd.
Before we do so, I’ll advise you to check into the /etc/ftpusers file that define certain users that are not allowed to connect with ftp. I think it’s only for local users and not virtual users but just in case don’t choose a name contained in this file. Let’s be honest, vsftpd is complicated enough!
sudo htpasswd -d /etc/vsftpd/ftpd.passwd theadmin
Now we need to add a new line into /etc/vsftpd.conf
This means that your user will be placed into their folder (as a jail) EXCEPT users in the /etc/vsftpd.chroot_list
Let’s create this file and add our user, the file is a simple line containing “theadmin”. Add one user per line. That means you DON’T need to create a /var/www/theadmin folder, the user will login and start in /home/vsftpd.
Restart the server and you’re done !
Here are some errors I encountered.
500 OOPS: vsftpd: refusing to run with writable root inside chroot ()
Your root directory is writable, this is not allowed. Check part 7 for more information, you need to create a 555 root and 755 subfolders
500 OOPS: cannot change directory:/var/www/theadmin if the folder doesnt exist
The /var/www/$USER folder doesn’t exist, create it with the correct rights (not writable) or add the user into the /etc/vsftpd.chroot_list (see part 8). Don’t forget to restart the server.
htpasswd: cannot create file /etc/vsftpd/ftpd.passwd
The /etc/vsftpd/ folder has to be existing, htpasswd won’t create it.
vsftpd restart or stop error: “restart: Unknown instance”
This means you can’t start the deamon even if you have success message with /etc/init.d/vsftpd start. It doesn’t start because your configuration is wrong. Start the tutorial again.
Here are some websites that helped me
- My favorite one
- The man page
- this one says something about allow_writeable_chroot but it’s not in the man page
- A post on this forum