nginx v1.4.5 and IPv6

I recently updated the VPS this blog is sitting on. Coincidentally, this also updated nginx to the latest version and broke everything. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but when I linked a friend to this post over on my fun blog, he was delivered to the default nginx page. Puzzled, I poked around for a while, mostly examining DNS records and server configurations. I couldn’t find anything wrong.

Then I had a eureka moment.

I’m on IPv6 at home. I have this site (and others) configured to use IPv6. It hadn’t occurred to me until then that it might be protocol related. Using curl (curl -4 and curl -6), I confirmed my suspicions. Although the server was listening on TCP and TCP6, it was only serving up the vhosts on IPv6 and not IPv4. IPv4 was receiving the standard welcome page.

I knew that I had configured the server appropriately for both stacks. I’ve read through the docs. I combed through dozens of blog posts documenting the process. I was convinced the server was correctly configured. I must’ve fiddled with it for a good hour or so, reviewing documentation and the likes to no avail.


Since nginx 1.2 or 1.3 (I can’t remember precisely), it’s been necessary to add ipv6only=off to the listen directives in order to support a dual stack environment. It’s my understanding this trick doesn’t work on some BSDs, but I know for a fact it worked fine under Linux. Or so I thought. I tried it successfully under Arch and Ubuntu with identical results with the exception that I neglected to recall one minor detail: My Arch install updated to nginx 1.4-something well after I had configured my desktop for developing on a dual IPv4/IPv6 stack. I suspect it’s probably broken in the same manner. But, I use it strictly for development, so I’m not particularly concerned whether or not it works on IPv4. I don’t use the protocol much within my network, so why worry, right?

To continue: I decided to take another stab at it and discovered something curious. Previously, all that was required to enable dual-stack support in nginx was to add the following to whatever was configured as the default host

    listen [::]:80 ipv6only=off default_server

And then all subsequent vhosts simply required


That’s all. It used to work–like magic. But, sadly, magic eventually runs out. This is why electronics stop working once you let all the “magic smoke” escape. Sorry, it’s an old electrical engineering joke my father has oft repeated. I guess it’s brushed off onto me.

Anyway, here’s the solution. You might find it contrary to some of the antiquated information out there lurking on various blogs dating back from 2011 through the middle of 2013. It works for nginx 1.4.5 (and possibly earlier versions), but the trick is to add this to the default vhost configuration

    listen[::]:80 ipv6only=on default_server;
    listen 80 default_server;

And for all subsequent vhosts

    listen 80;

I should note it works fine without adding the ipv6only=on directive, just like the generic vhost config (above). I believe I’ve read that this is because the default behavior enables ipv6only automatically. However, if you’re running a slightly older version, you might need to keep it. Hence why I’m not going to remove it from my examples. Better safe than sorry, right?

default_server is (hopefully) obvious, but only required if you want to provide a default site (or page) for users hitting your web server’s IP. Or for ancient browsers that haven’t been taught how to use the Host header. Are there any of those left?

So, the trick is that you need two listen directives. Period. Yes, even for TLS/SSL. If you skip these directives on any vhost, the missing protocol binding will be skipped for that vhost. I suspect this is probably documented somewhere. The problem though is that there are literally dozens of blogs pointing the old instructions that used to work. These are now deprecated. Following them will only lead to sadness.

Initial frustration aside, I find meshes well with my preferences. It’s more explicit and there’s no question which protocols nginx will use when binding to the configure port or ports. However, it will cause headaches for IPv6-enabled sites migrating from nginx 1.2. So, if you’re running Ubuntu and have decided to update in order to gain access to newer features (websocket support, SPDY, et al), expect breakage. More importantly, be absolutely certain you’ve independently tested all of your deployed sites using IPv4 and IPv6. Make liberal use of the -4 and -6 switches for curl. It’ll save you from unpleasant surprises.

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