The short version of my question is whether or not it is possible to get the Apache directive ErrorDocument to use a file above the web root (/home/username/example/wee.php) for HTTP errors like 404, etc. From what I read, it sounds like it should be possible. I can get it to work on my local machine through Aliases, and the Apache documentation implies that there are methods besides alias to make this work. But Aliases don’t seem to be an option on Dreamhost, and don’t think mod_rewrite alone would work either. I know I could use a file beneath the document root that includes the file above, but I would like to avoid that if possible. At this point it’s not so much a matter of saving time but solving the puzzle and filling the gaps in my knowledge.
Now for the long version… This is a reeeeeally long question, I appreciate anyone’s attempt to help!
I had a hard time deciding how I should manage these errors (404, 500, …) and when I finally decided, I am encountering problems.
Let me first describe how I decided to set it up. I have several sites hosted on a shared Dreamhost account. In the folder structure that I see, everything of mine on the server is under /home/username, and for example, site1.com’s web root is at
I am creating a generic error handler (php script) for errors like 404 not found, 500, etc. that I want to store above the web roots of my sites at
so that I can use an .htaccess file at /home/username/.htaccess which includes something like the following:
ErrorDocument 404 /error_handler/index.php
ErrorDocument 500 /error_handler/index.php
…and many more
When these errors occur on any of my sites, I want it to be directed to
This is the problem I’m having a hard time figuring out. The ErrorDocument directives above will actually cause Apache to look for
Anyway, the errors should be redirected to my error handling php script. The script will use $_SERVER[‘REDIRECT_STATUS’] to get the error code, then use $_SERVER[‘REDIRECT_URL’] and $_SERVER[‘HTTP_HOST’] to decide what to do. It will check if an error handler specific to that site exists (for example: site1.com/errors/404.php). If this custom page doesn’t exist, it will output a generic message that is slightly more user-friendly and styled, and perhaps will include some contact info for me depending on the error.
Doing it this way lets me funnel all these errors through this 1 php script. I can log the errors however I like or send email notifications if I want. It also lets me set up the ErrorDocument Apache directives once for all my sites instead of having to do it for every site. It will also continue to work without modification when I move the site around, since I already have a system that scans the folder structure to figure out where my site roots are when they really aren’t at the web root technically speaking. This may not be possible with other solutions like using mod_rewrite for all 404 problems, which I know is common. Or if it is possible, it may be very difficult to do. Plus, I have already done that work, so it will be easy for me to adapt.
When I am working on sites for which I don’t have a domain name yet (or sites where the domain name is already in use at the moment), I store them temporarily in site1.com/dev/site3.com for example. Moving the site to site3.com eventually would cause me to have to update the htaccess files if I had one for each site. Changing the domain name would do the same.
Ex: a site stored at site1.com/dev/site3.com would have this in its htaccess file:
ErrorDocument 404 /site1.com/dev/site3.com/error/404.php
And it would have to be changed to this:
ErrorDocument 404 /site3.com/error/404.php
Obviously, this isn’t a huge amount of work, but I already manage a lot of sites and I will probably be making more every year, 95% of which will be hosted on my shared DreamHost account. And most of them get moved at least once. So setting up something automatic will save me a some effort in the long run.
I already have a system set up for managing site-relative links on all my sites. These links will work whether the site exists in a subdirectory of an existing site, or in their own domain. They also work without change in a local development server despite a difference in the web root location. For example, on the live server, the site-relative http link /img/1.jpg would resolve to the file /home/username/site1.com/img/1.jpg while on my local development server it would resolve to C:\xampp\htdocs\img\1.jpg, despite what I consider the logical site root being at C:\xampp\htdocs\site1.com. I love this system, and it is what gave me the idea to set up something that would work automatically like I expected it to, based on the file structure I used.
So, if I could get it to work, I think this seems like a pretty good system. But I am still very new to apache configuration, mod_rewrite, etc. It’s possible there is a much easier and better way to do this. If you know of one, please let me know.
Anyway, all that aside, I can’t get it working. The easiest thing would be if I could have the ErrorDocument directive send the requests to folders above the web root. But the path is a URL path relative to the document root. Using the following in /home/username/.htaccess,
ErrorDocument 404 /error_handler/index.php
a request for a non-existent resource causes Apache to look for the file at
So I thought I should set up a redirection (on all my sites) that would redirect those URLS to /home/username/error_handler. I tried a few things and couldn’t get any of them to work.
Alias seemed like the simplest solution, but it is something that has to be set at server runtime (not sure if that is the right terminology - when the server is started). On my local server, it worked fine using:
Alias /error_handler C:\xampp\htdocs\error_handler2
I changed the local folder to test that the Alias was functioning properly. (On the local server, the URL path specified by the ErrorDocument directive is actually pointing to the right folder, since in my local server the web root is technically C:\xampp\htdocs and I store the error handler I want to use is stored locally at C:\xampp\htdocs\error_handler\index.php)
Dreamhost has a web client that can create what I am guessing is an Alias. When I tried to redirect the folder error_handler on site1.com to /home/username/error_handler, it would seem to work right if I typed site1.com/error_handler in the browser. But if I typed site1.com/test1234 (non-existant), it would say there was a 404 error trying to use the error handler. Also, I would have to login through the web client and point and click (and wait several minutes for the server to restart) every time I wanted to set this up for a new site, even if I could get it to work.
So I tried getting it to work with mod_rewrite, which seems like the most flexible solution. My first attempt looked something like this (stored in /home/username/site1.com/.htaccess for now, though it would eventually be at /home/username/.htaccess:
RewriteRule ^error_handler/index.php$ /home/username/error_handler/index.php
The plain english version of what I was trying to do above is to send requests on any of my sites for error_handler/index.php to /home/username/error_handler/index.php. The mis-understanding I had is that the subsitution will be treated as a file path if it exists. But I missed that the documentation says “(or, in the case of using rewrites in a .htaccess file, relative to your document root)”. So instead of rewriting to /home/username/error_handler/index.php, it’s actually trying to rewrite to /home/username/site1.com/home/username/error_handler/index.php.
I tried including Options +FollowSymLinks because in the Apache documentation it says this:
To enable the rewrite engine in this context [per-directory re-writes in htaccess], you need to set “RewriteEngine On” and “Options FollowSymLinks” must be enabled. If your administrator has disabled override of FollowSymLinks for a user’s directory, then you cannot use the rewrite engine. This restriction is required for security reasons.
I searched around for a while and I couldn’t find anything about how Dreamhost handles this (probably because I don’t know where to look).
I experimented with RewriteBase because in the Apache documentation it says this:
"This directive is required when you use a relative path in a substitution in per-directory (htaccess) context unless either of the following conditions are true:
The original request, and the substitution, are underneath the DocumentRoot (as opposed to reachable by other means, such as Alias)."
Since this is supposed to be a URL path, in my case it should be RewriteBase /, since all my redirects will be from site1.com/error_handler. I also tried Rewrite Base /home/username and RewriteRule ^error_handler/index.php$ error_handler/index.php. However, the Rewrite Base is a URL path relative to the document root. So I need to use something like an alias still. The implication in the quote from the documentation above is that it is possible to use mod_rewrite to send content above the web root. One of the many things I don’t know is what the ‘other means’ besides Alias might be. I believe Alias might not be an option on Dreamhost. At least I couldn’t make sense of it.