How to change the document root directory

This article describes how to change the document root directory for an account on a shared server. By default, your account's document root directory is the /home/username/public_html directory, where username represents your A2 Hosting account username. However, sometimes you may want to use a different directory as the document root. This is often the case, for example, if you want to try out a new application or test a website configuration before it goes live.

Use either of the following two procedures to change the document root directory. The first method uses symbolic links and requires SSH access. The second method uses .htaccess redirection, and can be configured in cPanel.

If you want to change the document root directory for an addon domain, do not follow the procedures below. Instead, use cPanel to change the addon domain's document root directory. For more information about how to do this, please see this article.

You can change the document root directory by moving the contents of the public_html directory to another directory, and then creating a symbolic link that points public_html to the new document root directory. To do this, follow these steps:

  1. Log in to your account using SSH.
  2. At the command prompt, type the following command:
    mv ~/public_html ~/public_html_backup
    • This command moves the public_html directory, and all of the files it contains, to the public_html_backup directory. You can use another name besides public_html_backup if you want.
    • After you run this command, you must run the next command in step 3 as soon as possible for two reasons. First, your site is inaccessible as long as public_html is missing. Second, cPanel will automatically recreate the public_html directory if it detects that it is missing. If you have not run the command in step 3 before this occurs, your site will not function like you expect.
  3. Type the following command, replacing new_document_root with the name of the directory that you want to use as the new document root:

    ln -s ~/new_document_root ~/public_html

    Your site may be inaccessible until the server's cron job sets the correct file permissions and group ownership for the new document root directory. This cron job runs on the server at twelve minutes past the hour on every hour evenly divisible by four (4:12, 8:12, 12:12, etc.). To minimize any possible downtime for your site, you can change the document root directory just before one of these scheduled times. (To determine the current time on the server, access a terminal using SSH or by logging in to cPanel, and then in the ADVANCED section, click Terminal. At the command prompt, type date and then press Enter.)

    After the cron job runs, the new document root directory file permissions are set to 750, and the group ownership is set to nobody, as shown in the following sample directory listing:

    drwxr-x---  3 username nobody       4096 Mar 10 10:08 new_document_root/
  4. Use a web browser to test your web site. The browser should display content from the new document root directory.

    If your web site does not function correctly:

    • Make sure that the new document root directory exists and contains web site files (such as index.html or index.php).
    • Make sure you run the commands in step 2 and 3 in quick succession. To verify that the symbolic link is correct, type the following command:
      ls -l ~/public_html

      You should see output similar to the following, where username represents your account username:

      /home/username/public_html -> /home/username/new_document_root

      If you do not see similar output, then the symbolic link is not set up correctly. Type the following command:

      rm -rf ~/public_html
      

      Then repeat steps 2 and 3.

Restoring the public_html directory

You can restore the original configuration and use the public_html directory as the document root again by reversing the procedure that you followed above. To do this, follow these steps:

  1. Log in to your account using SSH.
  2. At the command prompt, type the following:
    rm ~/public_html
    • This command removes the symbolic link that redirects public_html to the modified document root directory.
    • After you run this command, you must run the next command in step 3 as soon as possible for two reasons. First, your site is inaccessible as long as public_html is missing. Second, cPanel will automatically recreate the public_html directory if it detects that it is missing. If you have not run the command in step 3 before this occurs, your site will not function like you expect.
  3. Type the following command, replacing source_directory with the name of the directory that you want to use as public_html. For example, this directory could be the public_html_backup directory that you created in the previous procedure, the new_document_root directory that you were using for testing, or an entirely different directory:

    mv ~/source_directory ~/public_html
  4. Use a web browser to test your web site. The browser should display content from the public_html directory.

Method #2: Using redirection with .htaccess

This method uses redirection rules in an .htaccess file to change the document root directory. With this method, you configure the web server to redirect incoming requests to a subfolder of your choice. To do this, follow these steps:

  1. Log in to cPanel.
    If you do not know how to log in to your cPanel account, please see this article.
  2. In the FILES section of the cPanel home screen, click File Manager:

    cPanel - File Manager icon

  3. In the left sidebar, click the public_html folder. The folder's contents appear in the right pane.
  4. In the list of files, right-click .htaccess, click Edit, and then click Edit again.

    If the .htaccess file is not in the list of files, you must create it first. On the top menu bar, click + File. In the New File Name text box, type .htaccess, and then click Create New File.
  5. Copy and paste the following text into the .htaccess file. Replace example.com with your own domain name, and replace subfolder with the name of the folder that you want to use as the new document root directory. Additionally, if you want to use a different main file for your site instead of index.html, specify the filename you want to use (for example, index.php):

    # .htaccess main domain to subfolder redirect
    RewriteEngine on
    
    RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^(www.)?example.com$
    RewriteCond %{REQUEST_URI} !^/subfolder/
    
    RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-f
    RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-d
    
    RewriteRule ^(.*)$ /subfolder/$1
    
    RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^(www.)?example.com$
    
    RewriteRule ^(/)?$ subfolder/index.html [L]
    
    The subfolder you use must be in the public_html directory.
  6. Click Save Changes, and then click Close.
  7. Use a web browser to test your web site. The browser should display content from the new document root directory.

    If your web site does not function correctly:

    • Make sure that the new document root directory exists and contains web site files (such as index.html or index.php).
    • Make sure the .htaccess file contains the correct domain name and subfolder name.
Restoring the public_html directory

You can restore the original configuration and use the public_html directory as the document root again by reversing the procedure that you followed above. To do this, follow these steps:

  1. Log in to cPanel.
    If you do not know how to log in to your cPanel account, please see this article.
  2. In the FILES section of the cPanel home screen, click File Manager:

    cPanel - File Manager icon

  3. In the left sidebar, click the public_html folder.
  4. In the file listing, right-click the .htaccess file, and then click Rename.
  5. In the New file name text box, type an alternate name for the .htaccess file (for example, .htaccess.bak), and then click Rename File.
  6. Use a web browser to test your web site. The browser should again display content from the public_html directory.

    Alternatively, you can delete just the relevant redirection rules in the .htaccess file, and leave the rest of the file contents unchanged. You may want to do this, for example, if your .htaccess file has other directives in it that are unrelated to the document root directory.

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