Directory ownership and permissions for deploying a Laravel web app

(This is part of a larger guide to deploying a Laravel and Vue.js web application.)

This article covers a few ownership and permission settings that will allow the Nginx web server to properly serve your Laravel web app. (Some familiarity with Unix permissions, users, and groups is helpful here; I’ve done my best to explain the big picture for everyone interested.)

The big picture

Feel free to skip to the next section, but reading the rest of this section might help you understand the reason for the ownership and permission tweaks in this article and later in the series.

The requirement: For Laravel to run, your app’s storage/ and bootstrap/cache/ directories must be writable by the web server that serves your app.

Why this requirement? Laravel regularly records session information, writes logs, caches data, and stores uploaded user files. All of these operations require writing to the file system, so Laravel needs write permissions on the directories in which it stores files as part of normal operation. There are two special directories requiring write permissions1:

  1. storage/
  2. bootstrap/cache/

The solution: simple—grant the web server running your Laravel app permissions to write files in your app’s storage/ and bootstrap/cache/ directories. In this guide we’ll use Nginx to serve your app (this is covered in the next article), so you need to grant Nginx write permissions on the storage/ and bootstrap/cache/ directories.

In terms understood by your operating system (i.e. users and processes), what we really need to do is grant write permissions to the operating system user as which the Nginx process runs. By default, Nginx runs as a user called www-data, so throughout this guide you’ll see me granting www-data write permissions on your app’s storage/ and bootstrap/cache/ directories.

Here’s how we’ll perform the permission grants:

  • Keep the laravel user as the owning user of your app’s files (this way you can still SSH into your server and manually manage your web app as the laravel user when needed)
  • Make the www-data group the owning group of your app’s files. Grant the owning group write permissions on your app’s storage/ and bootstrap/cache/ directories. This way all users in the www-data group (i.e. the www-data user) have write permissions on these directories.

Okay, on to implementation!

Grant Nginx write permissions on storage/ and bootstrap/cache

If you skipped the theory above: the Nginx user, www-data, needs write permissions on your app’s storage/ and bootstrap/cache directories, which we’ll grant by targeting the www-data group.

First change the group ownership of your app’s files to the www-data group:

# Make www-data the owning group of your app's files
laravel@server$ sudo chgrp -R www-data /srv/www/laravel-project

Then give the owning group (i.e. www-data) write permissions on your app’s storage/ and bootstrap/cache/ directories and the files.

# Grant the owning group write permissions on storage/ and bootstrap/cache/
laravel@server$ cd /srv/www/laravel-project/
laravel@server:laravel-project$ sudo chmod -R g=rwX storage/ bootstrap/cache/

I’m using chmod’s g mode to modify only group permissions, using r and w to set read and write permissions, respectively, and using chmod’s special X mode to only set execute permissions for files that are already executable (in practice, this keeps directories executable, as they should be, but avoids unnecessarily making all regular files executable—recall that the permissions of regular files and directories are interpreted differently).

Other ways you could set permissions…

This is just a short comparison of other techniques you’ll find online.

You’ll often see people do something like this:

# A more crude way to do this---it makes all regular files executable!
sudo chmod -R 775 storage/
sudo chmod -R 775 bootstrap/cache/

This gets the job done just fine, but it’s bit more coarse than using g=rwX. Using chmod -R 775 makes all files (both directories and regular files) executable, even if they were originally non-executable regular files (775 is equivalent to ug=rwx, o=rx). You end up with a bunch of unnecessarily executable regular files.

Another technique you’ll see (e.g. as in this Stack Overflow answer) looks something like this:

# Grant group read, write, and execute permissions on directories files...
find storage/ -type d -exec sudo chmod 775 {} \;
find bootstrap/cache/ -type d -exec sudo chmod 775 {} \;

# ...and read and write permissions on regular files...
find storage/ -type f -exec sudo chmod 664 {} \;
find bootstrap/cache/ -type f -exec sudo chmod 664 {} \;

This technique uses the find command to set different permissions for regular files (-type f) and directories -type d, and avoids unnecessarily making regular files executable by applying a blanket 775 to all files.

Using find also works perfectly well—it’s just a bit harder to read and requires two passes per directory instead of just one with chmod -R.

If you’re using SQLite…

You can skip to the next article if you’re not using SQLite for your database.

The PHP SQLite driver requires that your database.sqlite file is inside a directory that is writable by your web server. (I haven’t found this in the Laravel docs, but have confirmed it personally; see Stack Overflow for details.)

In other words, your database directory structure should look something like this:

/srv/www/laravel-project/
├── ...
├── database/
│   ├── factories/
│   ├── migrations/
│   ├── seeders/
│   └── sqlite/              # writable by www-data
│       └── database.sqlite  # writable by www-data
└─ ...

You can satisfy requirement this by moving your app’s SQLite database file to a directory writable by the www-data group:

# Change into server-side Laravel app's database directory
laravel@server$ cd /srv/www/laravel-project/database

# Create a dedicated subdirectory for your SQLite database file
laravel@server:database$ mkdir sqlite  # the directory name is your choice

# Move your existing SQLite database to the dedicated sqlite directory...
laravel@server:database$ mv database.sqlite sqlite/database.sqlite
# ... or create a fresh SQLite database file if you haven't yet.
laravel@server:database$ touch sqlite/database.sqlite

# Grant www-data write permissions on your SQLite database directory
laravel@server$ sudo chgrp -R www-data sqlite
laravel@server$ sudo chmod 775 sqlite/
laravel@server$ sudo chmod 664 sqlite/database.sqlite

Be sure to update the Laravel .env file with the new path to the SQLite database. The relevant .env file setting should look something like this:

DB_DATABASE=/srv/www/laravel-project/database/sqlite/database.sqlite

Next: The next article shows how to configure Nginx for serving a Laravel web app.

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  1. You can see the storage/ and bootstrap/cache/ directories mentioned in old Laravel documentation (scroll to the “Directory Permissions” section), but for whatever reason I cannot find a reference to this in the current Laravel docs, although the requirement certainly still exists! ↩︎