Nextcloud on Azure

Nextcloud and Azure Blob Storage: A Match Made in the Cloud

Hosting your own File Sharing service like DropBox or OneDrive is not only possible, it’s actually not too hard. One of the most widely used products for doing just this is an app called Nextcloud. In short, Nextcloud is an open source web app written in PHP that acts as a front end for and sync server for a file repository. It supports multiple users, is highly extensible, and really just downright awesome in what in what you get out of the box. It can also sync files from your phone and laptops too with its sync clients.

For a small installation for a couple of users (say, less than 20 users) that doesn’t need to be highly available, setting up a single virtual machine to handle the load is probably more than enough.

While it’s possible to install Nextcloud on an Azure VM and just use a VHD to host the files, I wanted to explorer the possibility of using Azure Blob Storage as a backend for Nextcloud instead. The justification for using blob storage was that it could be cheaper than VHD’s because on a per GB basis blob storage is cheaper than a VHD. Also, with blob storage you only pay for the storage that you actually use rather than paying for the full capacity of a VHD even if half the disk isn’t in use. Some other advantages could be rationalized like geo-redundant storage and easy acess to files even if Nextcloud or the VM blows up. It seemed to make a lot of sense.

Nextcloud appears to have an in-progress plug-in for Azure blob storage and there wasn’t anything in the way of documentation on how to use it. However , there is a little known project from the Azure Storage team called Blobfuse. Blobfuse allows a user to mount a Blob Storage container as a folder in a Linux filesystem. Behind the scenes, it’s using the libfuse library that lets users create mount points on the filesystem in Linux user mode. This creates challenges, but also opens up a lot of possibilities for things like Blobfuse. After some fiddling, a recipe for creating an instance of Nextcloud that uses Azure Blob Storage emerged.

Prerequisites:

  • An Azure Blob Storage account. From the account, you will need.
    • An Access Key
    • The name of the Account
    • A container to serve as the backend
  • A virtual machine running Ubuntu 18.04 LTS. The recommend VM for a small install is a B1ms (1 core, 2GB of RAM) in the same region as your storage account.

SSH into your Ubuntu box, get root access (sudo -i) and run the following recipe…

Install Packages

There are several default packages and some from Microsoft that need to be installed to make the installation work.

  1. Download Microsoft sources.
     wget https://packages.microsoft.com/config/ubuntu/18.04/packages-microsoft-prod.deb
    
  2. Install the Microsoft sources.
     dpkg -i packages-microsoft-prod.deb
    
  3. Update and upgrade your system.
     apt update && apt upgrade
    
  4. Install the packages for NGINX, MariaDB, PHP, and Blobfuse
     apt install nginx mariadb-server mariadb-client php7.2 php7.2-fpm php7.2-mysql php-common php7.2-cli php7.2-common php7.2-json php7.2-opcache php7.2-readline php7.2-mbstring php7.2-xml php7.2-gd php7.2-curl php7.2-zip unzip php-imagick php7.2-bz2 php7.2-intl blobfuse
    

Configure MariaDB

MariaDB is a drop-in replacement for MySQL that is commonly used with applications that need MySQL databaes to run, including Nextcloud.

  1. Secure the MariaDB instance. This script will remove the test database and tie up some loose ends in the default MariaDB installation to make the installation more secure. First, for the root password, enter a new password (don’t leave it blank.) Second, Remove anonymous users. Third, Disallow root login remotely. Fourth remove the test database and access. Fifth, reload privilege table.
     mysql_secure_installation
    
  2. Connect to MariaDB with the MySQL client that was installed.
     mysql
    
  3. Create the Nextcloud database.
     create database nextcloud;
    
  4. Create a user for Nextcloud. Replace your-password with a password for your database instance. Remember the password because you will need it later to configure NextCloud.
     create user nextclouduser@localhost identified by 'your-password';
    
  5. Grant the new user permissions to the Nextcloud database. Use the same password you used above.
     grant all privileges on nextcloud.* to nextclouduser@localhost identified by 'your-password';
    
  6. Apply the permissions.
     flush privileges;
    
  7. Finally, exit the client.
     exit;
    

Configure NGNIX

NGINX is the web server responsible for serving the content for the Nextcloud installation.

  1. Remove any enabled sites.
     rm /etc/nginx/sites-enabled/*
    
  2. Create a nextcloud.conf.
     nano /etc/nginx/conf.d/nextcloud.conf
    
  3. Paste in the configuration below. Change the server_name value from example.com to the name of your intended host and then press Ctrl + O to save the configuration.
     server {
         listen 80;
         server_name example.com;
    
         # Add headers to serve security related headers
         add_header X-XSS-Protection "1; mode=block";
         add_header X-Robots-Tag none;
         add_header X-Download-Options noopen;
         add_header X-Permitted-Cross-Domain-Policies none;
    
         #This header is already set in PHP, so it is commented out here.
         #add_header X-Frame-Options "SAMEORIGIN";
    
         # Path to the root of your installation
         root /usr/share/nginx/nextcloud/;
    
         location = /robots.txt {
             allow all;
             log_not_found off;
             access_log off;
         }
    
         # The following 2 rules are only needed for the user_webfinger app.
         # Uncomment it if you're planning to use this app.
         #rewrite ^/.well-known/host-meta /public.php?service=host-meta last;
         #rewrite ^/.well-known/host-meta.json /public.php?service=host-meta-json
         # last;
    
         location = /.well-known/carddav {
             return 301 $scheme://$host/remote.php/dav;
         }
         location = /.well-known/caldav {
            return 301 $scheme://$host/remote.php/dav;
         }
    
         location ~ /.well-known/acme-challenge {
           allow all;
         }
    
         # set max upload size
         client_max_body_size 512M;
         fastcgi_buffers 64 4K;
    
         # Disable gzip to avoid the removal of the ETag header
         gzip off;
    
         # Uncomment if your server is build with the ngx_pagespeed module
         # This module is currently not supported.
         #pagespeed off;
    
         error_page 403 /core/templates/403.php;
         error_page 404 /core/templates/404.php;
    
         location / {
            rewrite ^ /index.php$uri;
         }
    
         location ~ ^/(?:build|tests|config|lib|3rdparty|templates|data)/ {
            deny all;
         }
         location ~ ^/(?:\.|autotest|occ|issue|indie|db_|console) {
            deny all;
          }
    
         location ~ ^/(?:index|remote|public|cron|core/ajax/update|status|ocs/v[12]|updater/.+|ocs-provider/.+|core/templates/40[34])\.php(?:$|/) {
            include fastcgi_params;
            fastcgi_split_path_info ^(.+\.php)(/.*)$;
            fastcgi_param SCRIPT_FILENAME $document_root$fastcgi_script_name;
            fastcgi_param PATH_INFO $fastcgi_path_info;
            #Avoid sending the security headers twice
            fastcgi_param modHeadersAvailable true;
            fastcgi_param front_controller_active true;
            fastcgi_pass unix:/run/php/php7.2-fpm.sock;
            fastcgi_intercept_errors on;
            fastcgi_request_buffering off;
         }
    
         location ~ ^/(?:updater|ocs-provider)(?:$|/) {
            try_files $uri/ =404;
            index index.php;
         }
    
         # Adding the cache control header for js and css files
         # Make sure it is BELOW the PHP block
         location ~* \.(?:css|js)$ {
             try_files $uri /index.php$uri$is_args$args;
             add_header Cache-Control "public, max-age=7200";
             # Add headers to serve security related headers (It is intended to
             # have those duplicated to the ones above)
             add_header X-Content-Type-Options nosniff;
             add_header X-XSS-Protection "1; mode=block";
             add_header X-Robots-Tag none;
             add_header X-Download-Options noopen;
             add_header X-Permitted-Cross-Domain-Policies none;
             # Optional: Don't log access to assets
             access_log off;
        }
    
        location ~* \.(?:svg|gif|png|html|ttf|woff|ico|jpg|jpeg)$ {
             try_files $uri /index.php$uri$is_args$args;
             # Optional: Don't log access to other assets
             access_log off;
        }
     }
    
  4. Restart NGINIX
     systemctl reload nginx
    

Install Nextcloud

Finally, install Nextcloud after all the supporting components have been installed.

  1. Download Nextcloud.
     wget https://download.nextcloud.com/server/releases/nextcloud-13.0.2.zip
    
  2. Unzip Nextcloud
     unzip nextcloud-13.0.2.zip -d /usr/share/nginx/
    
  3. Change the owner of Nextcloud to the www-data user.
     chown www-data:www-data /usr/share/nginx/nextcloud/ -R
    

Install Blobfuse

Lastly configure and start Blobfuse.

  1. Purge the data folder. These two commands remove the default files along with any hidden files.
     rm  /usr/share/nginx/nextcloud/data/*
     rm -rf /usr/share/nginx/nextcloud/data/.*
    
  2. Create a new folder called blob.
     mkdir /blobfuse
    
  3. Create a blobfuse config file.
     nano /blobfuse/blob.cfg
    
  4. Paste in the following config. Replace yourstorageaccount with the name of your storage account, accountKey with either the primary or secondary key for your storage account, then finally containerName with the name of the container you want to use in your storage account.
     accountName yourstorageaccount
     accountKey youraccountkey
     containerName thenameofthecontainer
    
  5. Create the rc.local file. rc.local is a script file that executes when the system starts. Because Blobfuse needs to be run as the user that will be using blobfuse (in this case, www-data) using fstabs or other mounting conventions isn’t possible.
     nano /etc/rc.local
    
  6. Paste in the follow code into the file and save it.
     #!/bin/sh -e
    
     sudo -u www-data blobfuse /usr/share/nginx/nextcloud/data --tmp-path=/tmp -o uid=33 -o gid=33  -o attr_timeout=240 -o entry_timeout=240 -o negative_timeout=120 --config-file=/blobfuse/blob.cfg  --log-level=LOG_DEBUG --file-cache-timeout-in-seconds=120
    
  7. Make the script executable.
     chmod +x /etc/rc.local
    
  8. Execute the script.
     /etc/rc.local
    

Finish the Nextcloud Install

  1. Now that server is configured, open your browser and point it to your Nextcloud host.
  2. For the username and password, pick and username and password for your first user. For the database settings, use nextclouduser for the user, supply the password you used to create the user when you set up the database, set the database to nextcloud, and the server to localhost.
  3. Click Finish setup and wait for Nextcloud to finish.

    Final setup
    Final setup

Final Security Thoughts

  • Out of the box, this is NOT using SSL. You may want to install a certificate to encrypt the data. This is super easy to do with Let’s Encrypt (Follow this Digital Ocean tutorial here) or you can use an exist certificate that you already have.
  • Turn off SSH access (or, at least block the port with an NSG on Azure) to the server once you’re finished. Re-enable it if you need to do admin work on the box.
  • Don’t use the VM for other websites. This creates a a greater attack surface for the VM in the case it gets compromised.
  • You may want to lock down the network access for the storage account to only allow the Virtual Network being used by the VM to access the storage account. 

Well, that’s it! Happy Nextclouding!

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