Configuring Nginx Logging: A Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners

Nginx, a popular open-source web server and reverse proxy server, is widely used to serve web content efficiently and handle high traffic loads. One crucial aspect of managing a web server is logging, which provides insights into server activity, errors, and user interactions. In this comprehensive guide, we will walk you through the process of configuring Nginx logging to ensure effective monitoring and troubleshooting.


Before diving into the configuration process, let’s ensure you have a working Nginx installation on your system. If not, follow the official Nginx installation guide to get started.

Selecting Log Formats

Nginx offers flexible logging capabilities, allowing you to choose from various log formats depending on your monitoring requirements. In the configuration, log formats are defined using the log_format directive. We’ll explore common log formats like combined, main, and custom formats, detailing their components and appropriate use cases.

The Combined Log Format

The combined log format, often used for comprehensive analysis, includes essential details such as the client IP, timestamp, request method, requested URL, HTTP status code, and more. This format is invaluable for tracking user behavior and identifying potential security threats.

The Main Log Format

The main log format provides a simpler overview of server activity, focusing on essential information like client IP, timestamp, request, and response. It’s a lighter option compared to the combined format, suitable for routine monitoring.

Creating Custom Log Formats

Tailoring log formats to your specific needs is possible by defining custom formats. This involves selecting variables like $remote_addr (client IP), $request_time (request processing time), and constructing a format that aligns with your analytical goals.

Configuring Logging Directives

Nginx logging is controlled through directives within the server block of the configuration file. Here, we’ll cover fundamental logging directives:


The access_log directive specifies the file where access logs will be written. We’ll explore how to set up access logs in various formats, including specifying the log format and defining log locations.


The error_log directive defines the file where error logs are stored. These logs are crucial for diagnosing issues and maintaining server health. We’ll delve into configuring error logs with different levels of verbosity.

Rotating and Managing Logs

As logs accumulate, proper log rotation is vital to prevent file bloat and ensure efficient storage utilization. We’ll introduce the concept of log rotation and explore tools like logrotate that automate the process.

Analyzing Logs

With logs in place, deriving meaningful insights requires analysis. We’ll introduce you to tools like grep, awk, and sed that enable searching, filtering, and manipulation of log data. Additionally, we’ll touch on visualization tools that offer a graphical representation of log trends.


Effectively configuring Nginx logging is a fundamental skill for every web server administrator. This guide has equipped you with the knowledge needed to select appropriate log formats, set up logging directives, manage log rotation, and analyze log data. By mastering these steps, you’ll be well-prepared to monitor your server, identify issues promptly, and optimize its performance.

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