How HSTS Can Be Enabled in the Apache Web Server?


Larry Thompson

How HSTS Can Be Enabled in the Apache Web Server?

HSTS, or HTTP Strict Transport Security, is a security feature that allows websites to enforce the use of HTTPS (HTTP over SSL/TLS) for all communication with clients. By enabling HSTS, you can protect your users from man-in-the-middle attacks and ensure a secure browsing experience. In this tutorial, we will explore how to enable HSTS in the Apache web server.

Step 1: Verify Apache Version

Before proceeding, it’s essential to confirm that you are running a compatible version of Apache with HSTS support. HSTS requires at least Apache version 2.4.7 or later. To check your Apache version, open a terminal and run the following command:

apache2 -v

Step 2: Enable the Headers Module

To enable HSTS in Apache, we need to make sure that the headers module is enabled. The headers module allows us to manipulate HTTP headers sent by the server. Run the following command to enable the headers module:

sudo a2enmod headers

After enabling the module, restart Apache for changes to take effect:

sudo service apache2 restart

Step 3: Configure Virtual Hosts

To enable HSTS for specific websites hosted on your Apache server, you need to configure the virtual hosts accordingly. Open your virtual host configuration file using your preferred text editor:

sudo nano /etc/apache2/sites-available/your_domain.conf

Within the section of your domain configuration file, add the following lines:

Header always set Strict-Transport-Security "max-age=31536000; includeSubDomains; preload"

The Strict-Transport-Security header sets the HSTS policy for the website. The max-age directive indicates the duration (in seconds) that the browser should remember to enforce HTTPS.

In this example, it’s set to one year (31536000 seconds). The includeSubDomains directive ensures that all subdomains of your domain will also be subject to HSTS policy. Lastly, the preload directive allows you to submit your domain to be included in browsers’ HSTS preload lists.

Save and close the file once you have made the necessary changes.

Step 4: Test Configuration and Restart Apache

Before restarting Apache, it’s always a good practice to test your configuration files for any syntax errors. Run the following command:

sudo apache2ctl configtest

If there are no errors, you can safely restart Apache:

Step 5: Verify HSTS in Action

To ensure that HSTS is working correctly, open a web browser and navigate to your website using HTTP (e.g., If everything is configured correctly, you should automatically be redirected to HTTPS (e., without any warnings or errors.

You can also verify the presence of the HSTS header by inspecting network traffic using browser developer tools or online HTTP header checking tools.


Enabling HSTS is a significant security enhancement, but it comes with some considerations. Once the HSTS policy is set, it becomes challenging to revert back to regular HTTP as the browser will enforce HTTPS for the specified duration. Therefore, make sure you thoroughly test and validate your HTTPS setup before enabling HSTS.

In conclusion, by enabling HSTS in your Apache web server, you can enhance the security of your website and protect your users from potential security threats. Follow the steps outlined in this tutorial carefully, and always keep your configuration files up to date.

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