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How to Install Vanilla Forum on Debian 9

Last Updated: Fri, May 17, 2019
Debian Linux Guides PHP Server Apps Social
Archived content

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

Vanilla is a simple discussion forum written in PHP. Vanilla source code is publicly hosted on Github. This guide will walk you through the Vanilla installation process on a fresh Debian 9 Vultr server instance using PHP, MariaDB as a database, and Nginx as a web server.


Vanilla Forum recommended software stack:

  • PHP version 7.2 or greater with the following extensions:

    • mbstring

    • curl

    • gd

    • PDO

    • mysqli

    • openssl

  • MySQL version 5.7 or greater, or MariaDB equivalent. This guide will use MariaDB 10.2.x.

  • Web server software such as Nginx or Apache. This guide will use Nginx.

  • SSL encryption

Before you begin

Check the Debian version.

lsb_release -ds

# Debian GNU/Linux 9.7 (stretch)

Ensure that your system is up to date.

apt update && apt upgrade -y

Install some basic system administration packages if they are not installed.

apt install -y vim sudo curl wget git unzip bash-completion apt-transport-https lsb-release ca-certificates dirmngr

Create a new non-root user account with sudo access and switch to it.

adduser johndoe --gecos "John Doe"

usermod -aG sudo johndoe

su - johndoe

NOTE: Replace johndoe with your username.

Set up the timezone.

sudo dpkg-reconfigure tzdata

Install PHP

Install PHP 7.2 and PHP extensions.

sudo wget -O /etc/apt/trusted.gpg.d/php.gpg

echo "deb $(lsb_release -sc) main" | sudo tee /etc/apt/sources.list.d/php.list

sudo apt update && sudo apt upgrade -y

sudo apt install -y php7.2 php7.2-cli php7.2-fpm php7.2-common php7.2-mbstring php7.2-curl php7.2-gd php7.2-mysql php7.2-json

Check the version.

php -v

# PHP 7.2.14-1+0~20190113100742.14+stretch~1.gbpd83c69 (cli) (built: Jan 13 2019 10:07:43) ( NTS )

# Copyright (c) 1997-2018 The PHP Group

# Zend Engine v3.2.0, Copyright (c) 1998-2018 Zend Technologies

#     with Zend OPcache v7.2.14-1+0~20190113100742.14+stretch~1.gbpd83c69, Copyright (c) 1999-2018, by Zend Technologies

Check installed PHP extensions.

php -m

# mbstring

# curl

# gd


# mysqli

# openssl

# . . .

Install MariaDB

Install MariaDB 10.2.

sudo apt install -y software-properties-common dirmngr

sudo apt-key adv --recv-keys --keyserver 0xF1656F24C74CD1D8

sudo add-apt-repository 'deb [arch=amd64,i386,ppc64el] stretch main'

sudo apt update

sudo apt install -y mariadb-server

Check the version.

mysql --version

# mysql  Ver 15.1 Distrib 10.2.21-MariaDB, for debian-linux-gnu (x86_64) using readline 5.2

Run the mysql_secure_installation script to improve the security of your installation.

sudo mysql_secure_installation

Log into MariaDB as the root user.

sudo mysql -u root -p

# Enter password:

Create a new database and user and remember the credentials.


GRANT ALL ON dbname.* TO 'username' IDENTIFIED BY 'password';



Install Nginx

Install Nginx.

sudo apt install -y nginx

Check the version.

sudo nginx -v

# nginx version: nginx/1.10.3

Configure Nginx for use with Vanilla forum.

sudo vim /etc/nginx/sites-available/vanilla.conf

Populate the file with the following.

server {

  listen 80;


  root /var/www/vanilla;

  index index.php;

  location ~* /\.git { deny all; return 403; }

  location /build/ { deny all; return 403; }

  location /cache/ { deny all; return 403; }

  location /cgi-bin/ { deny all; return 403; }

  location /uploads/import/ { deny all; return 403; }

  location /conf/ { deny all; return 403; }

  location /tests/ { deny all; return 403; }

  location /vendor/ { deny all; return 403; }

  location ~* ^/index\.php(/|$) {

    include snippets/fastcgi-php.conf;

    fastcgi_param SCRIPT_NAME /index.php;

    fastcgi_param SCRIPT_FILENAME $realpath_root/index.php;

    fastcgi_param X_REWRITE 1;

    fastcgi_pass unix:/var/run/php/php7.2-fpm.sock;


  location ~* \.php(/|$) {

    rewrite ^ /index.php$uri last;


  location / {

    try_files $uri $uri/ @vanilla;


  location @vanilla {

    rewrite ^ /index.php$uri last;



Activate the new vanilla.conf configuration by linking the file to the sites-enabled directory.

sudo ln -s /etc/nginx/sites-available/vanilla.conf /etc/nginx/sites-enabled

Test the configuration.

sudo nginx -t

Reload Nginx.

sudo systemctl reload nginx.service

Install Vanilla forum

Create a document root directory.

sudo mkdir -p /var/www/vanilla

Change ownership of the /var/www/vanilla directory to johndoe.

sudo chown -R johndoe:johndoe /var/www/vanilla

Navigate to the document root directory.

cd /var/www/vanilla

Download the latest Vanilla forum.


Unzip it and remove the zip archive.



Provide the appropriate ownership.

sudo chown -R www-data:www-data /var/www/vanilla

Navigate to the folder where you uploaded Vanilla in your web browser and follow the instructions on the screen to complete the setup.

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