Virtualmin.. Holy Shit!

If you already know what Virtualmin is, you will probably want to skip straight to the tips. If not, do read on.. Virtualmin logo, in transparent webp

Enter Virtualmin..

And Webmin, of course. They come as a package. And wow! What a package!

I remember Webmin from days of yore. Handy. This Virtualmin/Webmin thing is a whole other level, literally. You to run as many web sites as your hardware can handle. Think hosting panel on steroids. It basically enables complete control of your box, from the intricacies of domain management, right down to the basic system hardware and software setup. And all from a nice blue, mobile-friendly web interface (yes, there are themes).

Once you have your chosen OS installed (your VPS company will have a control panel where you can select and install an OS, or their tech guys will do it for you), you can ssh into your box and install Virtualmin with one single command, well, two, if you include the download..


If you aren't logged in as root, prepend the install command with sudo.

I'm not going to go into details about setting up a VPS, because that has already been done excellently elsewhere.* Most big VPS hosting companies have tutorials, too. Nor am I going to run through a complete Virtualmin setup, for the same reason.

Suffice to say, you run the command, Virtualmin does a heap of installs (most of the real work is done by the individual installers), your console scrolls and at the end of it all, you have a feature-rich, open source hosting control panel that wipes the floor with commercial offerings.

The first time you open it, your mind will be blown, but after a while you get familiar with its many many tabs and features and as you realise the huge amount of work and thought that went into it, it starts to make sense. Incredible stuff. And all free. They also do commercial packages which will work out cheaper than a "managed" server would. You can do it yourself.

Okay, it's not for absolute beginners, but if you are comfortable enough in a console (and with Virtualmin, you rarely, if ever need to use an actual console** if you don't want to) and don't mind doing a bit of research and fiddling, it's certainly within your capabilities. Whatever happens, you will learn loads.

So, to summarise... VPS + Virtualmin = Hosting Nirvana. Doo eeeet.

* Pay special attention to his advice about using Cloudflare for your DNS. This is a Very Good Idea, for many reasons. And also free. Word on the street is there is practically no limit to the number of domains you can setup on a Cloudflare free account. Their interface is polished and mature and also catches many user errors. Recommended.
* Yes of course there is one right there in Virtualmin, at the bottom of the navigation panel, the wee >_ icon. THOUGH NOTE: This is NOT an "interactive" shell, so you can't do stuff that requires ncurses, etc., e.g. top/htop. It's basically the same as "Command Shell" module. Useful, but you would be better in a real console.

Virtualmin Tips

Google will provide most of the answers you seek. The Virtualmin "community" is pretty large. Here are some things you might not find easily, or at all, but which might prove useful..

Remote Backups

One of the first things you need to setup, is backups. Ideally daily, and off-site.

Virtualmin offers multiple backup "modules". Each offers a variety of destinations, one being SSH; so if you have another fast server kicking around, or even a Linux rig in your home network, you can easily get scheduled automatic off-site backups. The main Virtualmin backup modules are..

Webmin > Backup Configuration Files

This makes a backup of all your configuration files and the SSH facility works well. You can do strftime substitutions in file names and a destination might look something like this..


This being the path on the remote server. In this module there is no facility to delete old backups. That is up to you (they aren't even a MB, so no biggie).

The destination file would look something like: VPS_settings_backup_2021-04-08@7.24am.tar.gz

Curiously, you can ignorantly do $(date +%Y-%m-%d@%-I.%M%P) and Virtualmin will strip off the unnecessary "$date()" part for you.

So far so good. However..

Webmin > System > Filesystem Backup

This makes good old file system backups using dump, and the SSH does not work, well, maybe. This backup appears to require a quite specific set of unlikely circumstances; for starters, your remote host needs to have rmt installed. Or some fiddling. Hmm.

At any rate, I gave up on this malarkey fairly quickly and instead used a simple post-backup scp command to achieve the same effect. This one is for my /etc filesystem backup..

scp /backup/etc_fsbackup$(date +%Y-%m-%d@%-I.%M%P).tar.gz

And that's it. Fully automated filesystem backups to an off-site server.

Hold On! I hear you say. What about the password? Can't be having scripts running in the background asking for passwords!

The answer, of course, is keys*. Login to your VPS box as whichever user you want doing the backups, make a key..

ssh-keygen -t rsa -C "USER"

Accept the defaults ("USER" is just a comment, but will help you differentiate the key later - use something that will make the key easy to differentiate in a file of many keys, like "your-name@your-PC-name"), no password (which would defeat the purpose), then copy and paste the new key out of ~/.ssh/ and into the end of this file..


That's a file named "authorized_keys" (which you may need to create) inside a directory named ".ssh" (which again, you may need to first create) inside your home folder on the remote server, wherever that may be (whichever user you will login as), probably not /home/USER/!

So now there's a copy of your VPS-server-published user key in the authorized_keys file on the remote host.

Ensure the remote machine's permissions are set to 0700 for ~./ssh folder and 0600 for the ~/.ssh/authorized_keys file (in case "StrictModes" is set in the sshd_config). That's it.

Now the two servers are best friends and your scripts and cron jobs (and you) can happily scp and ssh to the remote server all day long without passwords.

More fun with keys..

I should add that once you have keys installed, it's much easier to (do so many things including) setup the above Filesystem Backups using the built-in SSH facility. The only thing that will likely get in your way is the port allocation.

There is no way, from within Webmin, to change the port used by the built-in tar-over-ssh. And who uses port 22 for SSH these days? The devs on the Webmin forum say it cannot be switched from the default. But it can.

A simple work-around (thanks to dev Jamie Cameron at the Webmin bug tracker)..

Create a /root/.ssh/config file containing :

Host backup-destination.IP.address
  Port 7777

Boom! It works instantly. You would think they would make a button.

NOTE: You can also put host names in this file, so if you had a second VPS, as well as a regular entry, you could fake a nice short entry in /etc/hosts ..	localhost localhost.localdomain
::1	localhost localhost.localdomain

Then add that fake host to your /root/.ssh/config..

Host vps2
  Port 7777

And then when you need to ssh into your other box you simply do..

ssh vps2

With no need to specify port number or long domain names or hard-to-remember IP addresses. Do the same thing on both boxes.

Sure, you could make an alias in your ~/.bashrc or ~/.bash_aliases files and reduce any length of command to a few simple keystrokes, but this method works everywhere; in scripts, in your shell, wherever ssh or scp are used.

Virtualmin > Backup and Restore

The backup third option is an entire section enabling backups to Amazon S3, Cloud storage and more. Here you can backup entire virtual servers and their configuration, or restore the same. The Scheduled Backups sub-section is the one most people will probably want, at least initially.

These backups are in a format that is designed for Virtualmin to easily restore, but almost completely useless for humans as the backup is in a zillion numerically-named folders. You will want to setup a schedule for this, of course; in case of need; but for usable backups that you can pluck files from later, the first two backup options (above) are definitely the way to go. So set this, test it, and forget it.

Note: if you are using separate files for each domain (seems smart) what you enter into the "file" input will be used as the backup directory, so no extension required here, simply do..


And your remote backup will be..


Or whatever.

With this backup module, put your ssh port directly after the IP address in the usual format:

* It goes without saying that you should also be using keys to login to your VPS.

Keys are superior to passwords and switching over leap-frogs a half-dozen half-arsed "accepted" security measures in one stroke, and makes communication between your PC and VPS effortless. Just do it. It literally takes less than a minute. Then disable password access altogether and say goodbye to so-called "hacking" attempts.

If you are on Windows, see here. Once you have created your ssh_private_key.ppk file, you can simply point any program that wants to access your VPS (PuTTY, Kitty, WinSCP, Filezilla, etc.) to that file and never have to think about passwords again.

A quick and obvious note about remote backup security..

It perhaps doesn't go without saying that if you are using a second server for backups, you should NOT be using the root account for these backup operations.

Create a separate user just for backups with permission to only do backups, and create backup directories on the target machine owned by that user. The same username on both VPS seems sensible.

Migrating from Cpanel

This is surprisingly painless. So long as you don't mind having your sites in the same user sub-directory structure as before (and you can change this afterwards).

Virtualmin > Add Servers > Migrate Virtual Server

Then you simply pick your FULL backup file and click. Done.

The downside is how long it might take to upload your full CPanel backup to your new VPS in the first place. We are probably talking many GB. Even if you have super-fast fibre, why tie up your own connexion with this chore? Once again, scp comes to the rescue..

scp -P 21098 /CPanel_Backup.tar.gz

This example copies a backup directly from the old web server (namecheap, where I have been living this last year) to the root of my shiny new VPS. And it happens in seconds instead of far, far longer. So long as you have SSH access to your old server, this is the way.

Note: you will be prompted for the password to your old server. Don't make keys for that server; you won't be back!

Note: I specified the port with "-P 21098", because that's what namecheap uses. If your old server uses the default port (22), you don't need to specify the port.

Note: For obvious reasons, you want to do this before your old hosting plan runs out. If you are migrating from namecheap, this is a surprisingly long time after your plan elapses! (10 days)

Free SSL, for mail, too..

Virtualmin makes it a doddle to get a free SSL certificate from Let's Encrypt. This is another thing hosting companies would prefer you paid for.

What isn't immediately apparent is how easy it is to have this certificate copied over to other servers, like postfix; your mail server. There is, in fact, a button for it!

Virtualmin > SSL Certificates [tab] Service Certificates.

So now you can send and receive mail with a valid SSL certificate. At least for one domain.

Currently there is no working SNI in Virtualmin postfix; it's on it's way mid 2021. In the meantime, when you copy over your certificate, remember THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE! Like Highlander. Whichever certificate you copy over (last!) covers all your domains.

It might be best to use your main domain as a single MX for all your domains until SLI arrives.

Where is my Inbox?

This was a weird one. Logging into Usermin, checking mail, I have no inbox. I migrated from CPanel and have been using Thunderbird; everything works fine, but just wanted to check the webmail was working, as I sometimes need it. Hmm.

Turns out the email was set to use a file rather than a folder (IMAP style). I changed it to folder, restart Usermin and bingo! All my emails appear.

Being a few levels deep in the prefs, I of course made a bookmark..

Webmin >> Usermin Configuration >> Usermin Module Configuration >> Read Mail :: Mail storage format for Inbox

Secure Remote Backups..

The built-in backup functions are fine for local backups or remote backups to servers you control. But if you want to backup to a server where there is a chance others might get to your backups (like a shared server), you will want to at least use a password protected archive. This is fairly simple to achieve..

Install 7z, if you haven't already..

apt-get install p7zip-full p7zip-rar

yum install p7zip p7zip-plugins

Then make a script, perhaps /usr/local/bin/


# prefs
#end prefs

# Grab it once NOW and re-use..
filex="$(date +%Y-%m-%d@%-I.%M%P)"

# enter directory to backup.. (I prefer doing it this way)
cd /etc
# create a 7zip archive, max strength, using our password from above.
7z a -mx=9 -mhe -t7z -r /backup/etc_$filex.7z * -p$pass
# transfer to insecure host..
scp  /backup/etc_$filex.7z ME@SomeServer.Com:/home/ME/backup/settings/etc_$filex.7z && rm -rf /backup/etc_$filex.7z

# repeat for other directories..
cd /root
7z a -mx=9 -mhe -t7z -r /backup/root_$filex.7z * -p$pass
scp /backup/root_$filex.7z ME@SomeServer.Com:/home/ME/backup/NY_VPS/homes/root_$filex.7z && rm -rf /backup/root_$filex.7z

For the scp commands to work, you will need to have keys setup. See above. And use your own details, of course.

NOTE: before setting this script loose, test a single scp command in the shell. For sure, if your cron job fails to login eight times in a row, you will most likely find your IP permanently banned from the target server. *sigh*

As more sh*t happens, I'll add stuff here..

Welcome to!

I'm always messing around with the back-end.. See a bug? Wait a minute and try again. Still see a bug? Mail Me!