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How to Install Backdrop CMS 1.8.0 on a Debian 9 LAMP VPS

Last Updated: Fri, Mar 30, 2018
CMS Debian Linux Guides Server Apps Ubuntu
Archived content

This article is outdated and may not work correctly for current operating systems or software.

Backdrop CMS 1.8.0 is a simple and flexible, mobile-friendly, free and open source Content Management System (CMS) that allows web designers to design beautiful web sites without any knowledge of web programming languages. Backdrop CMS 1.8.0 features advanced access control, a robust API, integrated add-on installation, and is designed with web security best practices in mind.

In this tutorial we are going to install Backdrop CMS 1.8.0 on a Debian 9 LAMP VPS using Apache web server, PHP 7.1, and a MariaDB database.


  • A clean Vultr Debian 9 server instance with SSH access

Step 1: Add a Sudo User

We will start by adding a new sudo user.

First, log into your server as root:


The sudo command isn't installed by default in the Vultr Debian 9 server instance, so we will first install sudo:

apt-get -y install sudo

Now add a new user called user1 (or your preferred username):

adduser user1

When prompted, enter a secure and memorable password. You will also be prompted for your "Full Name" and some other details, but you can simply leave them blank by pressing "Enter".

Now check the /etc/sudoers file to make sure that the sudoers group is enabled:


Look for a section like this:

%sudo        ALL=(ALL:ALL)       ALL

This line tells us that users who are members of the sudo group can use the sudo command to gain root privileges. It should be uncommented by default so you can simply exit the file.

Next we need to add user1 to the sudo group:

usermod -aG sudo user1

We can verify the user1 group membership and check that the usermod command worked with the groups command:

groups user1

Now use the su command to switch to the new sudo user user1 account:

su - user1

The command prompt will update to indicate that you are now logged into the user1 account. You can verify this with the whoami command:


Now restart the sshd service so that you can login via ssh with the new non-root sudo user account you have just created:

sudo systemctl restart sshd

Exit the user1 account:


Exit the root account (which will disconnect your ssh session)


You can now ssh into the server instance from your local host using the new non-root sudo user user1 account:


If you want to execute sudo without having to type a password every time, then open the /etc/sudoers file again, using visudo:

sudo visudo

Edit the section for the sudo group so that it looks like this:


Please note: Disabling the password requirement for the sudo user is not a recommended practice, but it is included here as it can make server configuration much more convenient and less frustrating, especially during longer systems administration sessions. If you are concerned about the security implications, you can always revert the configuration change to the original after you finish your administration tasks.

Whenever you want to log into the root user account from within the sudo user account, you can use one of the following commands:

sudo -i
sudo su -

You can exit the root account and return back to your sudo user account any time by simply typing:


Step 2: Update Debian 9 System

Before installing any packages on the Debian server instance, we will first update the system.

Make sure you are logged in to the server using a non-root sudo user and run the following commands:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get -y upgrade

Step 3: Install Apache Web Server

Install the Apache web server:

sudo apt-get -y install apache2 

Then use the systemctl command to start and enable Apache to execute automatically at boot time:

sudo systemctl enable apache2
sudo systemctl start apache2

Check your Apache default site configuration file to ensure that the DocumentRoot directive points to the correct directory:

sudo vi /etc/apache2/sites-enabled/000-default.conf 

The DocumentRoot configuration option should look like this:

DocumentRoot "/var/www/html"

Now save and exit the file, and enable the mod_rewrite Apache module:

sudo a2enmod rewrite

We will restart Apache at the end of this tutorial, but restarting Apache regularly during installation and configuration is certainly a good habit, so let's do it now:

sudo systemctl restart apache2

Step 4: Install PHP 7.0

We can now install PHP 7.0 along with all of the necessary PHP modules required by Backdrop CMS:

sudo apt-get -y install php php-gd php-mbstring php-common php-mysql libapache2-mod-php php-curl

Step 5: Install MariaDB (MySQL)

Debian 9 defaults to using MariaDB database, which is an enhanced, fully open source, community developed, drop-in replacement for MySQL.

Install MariaDB database:

sudo apt-get -y install mariadb-server

Start and enable MariaDB to execute automatically at boot time:

sudo systemctl enable mariadb
sudo systemctl start mariadb    

And secure your MariaDB server installation:

sudo mysql_secure_installation

The root password will probably be blank, so simply hit "Enter" when prompted for the root password.

When prompted to create a MariaDB/MySQL root user, select "Y" (for yes) and then enter a secure root password. Simply answer "Y" to all of the other yes/no questions as the default suggestions are the most secure options.

Step 6: Create Database for Backdrop CMS

Log into the MariaDB shell as the MariaDB root user by running the following command:

sudo mariadb -u root -p

To access the MariaDB command prompt, simply enter the MariaDB root password when prompted.

Run the following queries to create a MariaDB database and database user for Backdrop CMS:

CREATE DATABASE backdrop_db CHARACTER SET utf8 COLLATE utf8_general_ci;
CREATE USER 'backdrop_user'@'localhost' IDENTIFIED BY 'UltraSecurePassword';
GRANT ALL PRIVILEGES ON backdrop_db.* TO 'backdrop_user'@'localhost';

You can replace the database name backdrop_db and username backdrop_user with something more to your liking, if you prefer. Also, make sure that you replace "UltraSecurePassword" with an actually secure password.

Step 7: Install Backdrop CMS Files

Change your current working directory to the default web directory:

cd /var/www/html/

If you get an error message saying something like 'No such file or directory' then try the following command:

cd /var/www/ ; sudo mkdir html ; cd html

Your current working directory should now be: /var/www/html/. You can check this with the pwd (print working directory) command:


Now use wget to download the Backdrop CMS installation package:

sudo wget

Please note: You should definitely check for the most recent version by visiting the Backdrop CMS download page.

List the current directory to check that you have successfully downloaded the file:

ls -la

Let's quickly install unzip so we can unzip the file:

sudo apt-get -y install unzip

Now uncompress the zip archive:

sudo unzip

Move all of the installation files to the web root directory:

sudo mv backdrop/* /var/www/html

Change ownership of the web files to avoid any permissions problems:

sudo chown -R www-data:www-data *

Let's restart Apache again:

sudo systemctl restart apache2

Now we're ready to move on to the final step.

Step 10: Complete Backdrop CMS Installation

Before running the Backdrop CMS installer, we will first edit the Backdrop CMS settings file settings.php to make sure Backdrop CMS correctly detects the database settings. Make sure you are in the webroot directory and then open the settings file:

sudo vi settings.php

Now find the following line in settings.php:

$database = 'mysql://user:pass@localhost/database_name';

Edit it so that it looks like this:

$database = 'mysql://backdrop_user:UltraSecurePassword@localhost/backdrop_db';

We are now ready to run the Backdrop CMS installer, so visit the IP address of your Vultr server instance in your browser, or if you've already configured your Vultr DNS settings (and given it enough time to propagate) you can simply visit your domain instead:


If the Backdrop CMS installation page doesn't appear in your browser, then simple add index.php to the end of the URL:


Most of the Backdrop CMS installation options are self explanatory, but here are a few pointers to help you along:

Choose your language and click on the "Save and Continue" button.

Once the installation script has run, simply enter the following details on the Configure site page:

Site name: <Your preferred site name>

Username: <Your preferred username>
E-mail address: <Your email address>
Password: <A secure password>

Default time zone: <Appropriate time zone>

Click "Save and Continue".

You will be automatically redirected to the home page of your site.

If you haven't already set up your Vultr DNS, then that should probably be your next step.

You are now ready to start adding content and configuring the look and feel of your site. Be sure to check out the excellent Backdrop CMS User Guide for more information on how you can build and configure your site.

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