Creating a simple url redirect service in under 10 minutes using nginx

You may ask yourself, why on earth would I want to build a simple URL redirect service... Let me explain ...


This website is hosted on the DigitalOcean App Platform. You need to configure CNAME DNS records pointing to the domain provided by the DigitalOcean App Platform to use your own custom domain like For me the target domain is

I want to serve this website with and I also want to redirect from older domains where I have the same problem as with the primary domain. This gives me some headaches when dealing with Most DNS providers won't let you create CNAME records for the top level domain, while A records are fine.

Therefore, you need some additional service that you can use for an A record.

In this article we will go through the tasks of setting up a simple URL redirect service that is easy to run and maintain.


Create a simple URL redirect service that runs on a DigitalOcean droplet. Note that this will work with any virtual machine that has a dedicated IPV4 or IPV6 address. We'll use nginx with very simple and easy to set up redirect rules, then create DNS A records pointing to the droplet/virtual machine. The whole process takes about 10 minutes to get up and running.

Stefan, more details please

First, we need to create a droplet on DigitalOcean or a virtual machine on another provider of your choice, such as Hetzner Cloud.

The DigitalOcean droplet can be created by clicking through the user interface. It's also possible to use the command line tool doctl or good old cURL.

Create droplet using doctl

doctl compute droplet create \
    --image ubuntu-22-04-x64 \
    --size s-1vcpu-512mb-10gb \
    --region fra1 \

Create droplet using cURL

curl -X POST -H 'Content-Type: application/json' \
    -H 'Authorization: Bearer '$TOKEN'' \
    -d '{"name":"static-redirecter-01",
        "image":"ubuntu-22-04-x64"}' \

Install nginx

Installing nginx is simple. After connecting to the droplet via SSH, run the following commands.

apt update
apt install nginx -y

Querying for the Droplets IP address should display the default "Welcome to nginx" page.

Now we can set up the required nginx sites and define the redirect rules.

Configure nginx to redirect incoming requests

First, remove the default nginx configuration. Do this by removing the symlink in the sites-enabled directory.

rm /etc/nginx/sites-enabled/default

This is just a symlink. It will be removed. The original file is in /etc/nginx/sites-available/default. Nginx has a convention for having available and enabled site configurations. Available site configurations are stored in /etc/nginx/sites-available. By creating a symlink to /etc/nginx/sites-enabled the linked site will be enabled after nginx is reloaded or restarted.

To add a new site configuration, create a new file in /etc/nginx/sites-available.

# /etc/nginx/sites-available/botzenhart-io-redirects.conf
server {
  server_name _;
  return 301;

This configuration redirects all incoming requests to This can be done using the _ as for the server_name.

If you want to manage multiple sources and destinations, you can specify a list of domains with the server_name directive. See the official nginx documentation for more information.

I recommend naming the configuration files properly. It makes it easier to understand what you're doing. This is for your future-self.

Activate the site configuration. Create a symlink to

sudo ln -s /etc/nginx/sites-available/botzenhart-io-redirects.conf /etc/nginx/sites-enabled/botzenhart-io-redirects.conf

Validating the nginx configuration

Before you reload nginx to enable the new site redirect, make sure that your nginx configuration is valid. Do this by running

nginx -t

This should return something like the following, indicating that all is well with the configuration.

nginx: the configuration file /etc/nginx/nginx.conf syntax is ok
nginx: configuration file /etc/nginx/nginx.conf test is successful

Activating the new site

Activate the new site by reloading nginx.

systemctl reload nginx

Testing the site configuration

You can easily test your redirections with cURL before updating your DNS settings for the domains you want to redirect.

curl --header "" --location --head

The command sends a request to your VM using its IPV4 address and a host header. You'll get output like this

HTTP/1.1 301 Moved Permanently
Server: nginx/1.18.0 (Ubuntu)
Date: Wed, 15 Mar 2023 09:36:04 GMT
Content-Type: text/html
Content-Length: 178
Connection: keep-alive


The important part is Location:, which indicates that you're getting the redirect you expect.

Well, I hope you have enjoyed reading this article!

I will see you next time! 👋