NGINX / Server Setup

Mastering the index Directive in Nginx: Best Practices and Optimization Tips

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When it comes to configuring NGINX, the index directive plays a crucial role in determining which file is served when a directory is requested. This comprehensive guide will explore the index directive, its configuration, best practices, and optimization tips to ensure your NGINX server runs smoothly and efficiently.

What is the index Directive?

The index directive in NGINX specifies the default file(s) to serve when a directory is requested. For example, when a user visits the homepage of your website, the server will look for the specified index file (e.g., index.html) in the root directory.

Why Use the index Directive?

Using the index directive ensures that visitors are presented with the correct default page without needing to specify the filename explicitly. This improves user experience and maintains a clean URL structure.

Basic Syntax of the index Directive

The syntax for the index directive is straightforward:

index file1 [file2 ...];
  • file1: The primary file to serve as the index.
  • file2: Additional files to fall back on if the primary file is not found.

Configuring the index Directive

Here’s a basic example of how to configure the index directive in your NGINX configuration file:

server {
    listen 80;
    server_name example.com;

    location / {
        root /usr/share/nginx/html;
        index index.html index.htm index.php;

In this example:

  • The server listens on port 80.
  • The root directory for the website is /usr/share/nginx/html.
  • NGINX will first look for index.html. If it doesn’t find index.html, it will then look for index.htm and finally index.php.

Best Practices for Using the index Directive

  1. Specify Multiple Index Files:
    • Always list multiple index files to provide fallbacks in case the primary index file is not found. This can be especially useful when working with different content management systems or static site generators.
  2. Consistent Naming Conventions:
    • Maintain consistent naming conventions for your index files to avoid confusion and ensure predictability.
  3. Optimize for Performance:
    • Place the most commonly requested index file first in the list to minimize file lookups and reduce server load.
  4. Security Considerations:
    • Ensure that the specified index files do not expose sensitive information. For example, avoid listing files that contain configuration or database connection details.

Advanced Configuration Examples

Using try_files with index:

Combine index with try_files to provide more control over request handling:

server {
    listen 80;
    server_name example.com;

    location / {
        root /usr/share/nginx/html;
        index index.html;

        try_files $uri $uri/ /index.html;

In this configuration:

  • NGINX will first try to serve the requested URI.
  • If the URI is a directory, it will look for index.html.
  • If neither is found, it will fall back to serving /index.html.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

  1. Index File Not Found:
    • Ensure the specified index files exist in the root directory.
    • Check file permissions to ensure Nginx can read the index files.
  2. Incorrect File Served:
    • Verify the order of index files in the directive. Nginx serves the first file it finds in the list.
  3. Unexpected Behavior with try_files:
    • Ensure the try_files directive is correctly configured to fall back to the desired index file.


The index directive is a vital component of NGINX configuration, ensuring that the correct default file is served when a directory is requested. By following best practices and optimizing your configuration, you can enhance your server’s performance, security, and user experience.

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