no.php – Transparent reverse proxy written in PHP that allows you to not have to write PHP any more

This little project will probably be my only contribution to the world of PHP.

The code is at https://github.com/michaelfranzl/no.php

This short, single-file, 80-line PHP script is a simple and fully transparent HTTP(S) reverse proxy written in PHP that allows you to never have to use PHP again for a new project, if you feel so inclined, for example if you are forced to host on a fully 3rd-party-managed server where you can’t do more than run PHP and upload files via FTP. The PHP script simply reads all requests from a browser pointed to it, forwards them (via PHP’s curl library) to a web application listening at another URL (e.g. on a more powerful, more secure, more private, or more capable server in a different data center), and returns the responses transparently and unmodified.

Supports:

  • Regular and XMLHttpRequests (AJAX)
  • All HTTP headers without discrimination
  • GET and POST verbs
  • Content types (HTTP payload) without discrimination
  • Redirects (internal redirects are rewritten to relative URIs)

Does not support (or not tested):

  • HTTP verbs other than GET and POST (but these are usually emulated anyway)
  • HTTP greater than version 1.1 (e.g. reusable connections)
  • Upgrade to websocket (persistent connections)
  • Multipart content type

Usage illustrated by the standard example

You have a non-PHP web application (called the “backend”) listening on https://myapp.backend.com:3000 but due to constraints you must make it available on a shared hosting server called https://example.com/subdir which only supports PHP and can’t be configured at all. On latter server, Apache (or Nginx, doesn’t matter) will usually do the following:

  1. If a URI points to a .php file, this file will be interpreted
  2. If a URI points to a file that is not existing, a 404 status will be returned.

Using no.php, to accomodate the second case, all URIs of the proxied web app (including static files) must be appended to the URI https://example.com/subdir/no.php. For example:

If your backend app supports that extra /subdir/no.php prefix to all paths, you are all set and ready to use no.php. Then:

  1. Simply copy no.php into the subdir directory of example.com
  2. Change $backend_url in no.php to "https://myapp.backend.com:3000"
  3. Point a browser to https://example.com/subdir/no.php

Project status

Experimental. Use only if you know what you are doing.

100% HTTPS in the internet? Non-Profit makes it possible!

Selection_008HTTPS on 100% of websites in the internet? This just has gotten a lot easier! Let’s Encrypt is a free, automated, and open certificate authority (CA), run for the public’s benefit. Let’s Encrypt is a service provided by the Internet Security Research Group (ISRG), a Section 501(c)(3) Non-Profit entity dedicated to reduce financial, technological, and education barriers to secure communication over the Internet.

Let’s Encrypt offers free-of-cost certificates that can be used for HTTPS websites, even when these websites are ran for commercial purposes. Unlike traditional CA’s they don’t require cumbersome registration, paperwork, set-up and payment. The certificates are fetched in an automated way through an API (the ACME Protocol — Automatic Certificate Management Environment), which includes steps to prove that you have control over a domain.

Dedicated to transparency, generated certificates are registered and submitted to Certificate Transparency logs. Here is the generous legal Subscriber Agreement.

Automated API? This sounds too complicated! It is actually not. There are a number of API libraries and clients available that do the work for you. One of them is Certbot. It is a regular command-line program written in Python and the source code is available on Github.

After downloading the certbot-auto script (see their documentation), fetching certificates consists of just one command line (in this example certs for 3 domains are fetched in one command with the -d switch):

With the -w  flag you tell the script where to put temporary static files (a sub-folder .well-known  will be created) that, during the API control flow, serve as proof to the CA’s server that you have control over the domain. This is identical to Google’s method of verifying a domain for Google Analytics or Google Webmaster Tools by hosting a static text file.

Eventually, the (already chained, which is nice!) certificate and private key are copied into /etc/letsencrypt/live/example.com/ :

Then it is only a matter of pointing your web server (Nginx, Apache, etc.) to these two files, and that’s trivial.

Let’s Encrypt certificates are valid for 90 days. The automatic renewal of ALL certificates that you have loaded to your machine is as easy as …

… which they suggest should be put into a Cron job, run twice daily. It will renew the certificates just in time. No longer do you have to set a reminder in your calendar to renew a certificate, and then copy-paste it manually!

A bit of a downside is that Let’s Encrypt unfortunately doesn’t support wildcard domain certificates. For these, you still have to pay money to some other CA’s who support them. But in above shown code example, you would generate only 1 certificate for the domains example.com and its two subdomains www.example.com and blah.example.com. The two subdomains are listed in the Subject Alternative Name field of the certificate, which is as close to wildcard subdomains as it gets. But except for SAAS providers and other specialized businesses, not having wildcard certificates should not be too big of an issue, especially when one can automate the certificate setup.

On the upside, they even made sure that their certificates work down to Windows XP!

Today, I set up 3 sites with Let’s Encrypt (one of them had several subdomains), and it was a matter of a few minutes. It literally took me longer to configure proper redirects in Nginx (no fault of Nginx, I just keep forgetting how it’s done properly) than to fetch all the certificates. And it even gave me time to write this blog post!

Honestly, I never agreed with the fact that for commercial certificate authorities, one has to pay 1000, 100 or even 30 bucks per certificate per year. Where’s the work invested into such a certificate that is worth so much? The generation of a certificate is automated, and is done in a fraction of a second on the CPU. Anyway, that now seems to be a thing of the past.

A big Thumbs-up and Thanks go to the Let’s Encrypt CA, the ISRG, and to Non-Profit enterprises in general! I believe that Non-Profits are the Magic Way of the Future!

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