Setting up VHOSTS using XAMPP/Apache in Windows

Setting up a vhost allows you to use an alias of your localhost in your browser. For example, say that you want to work with a website which is normally located in http://localhost/example, but your script loads its assets from the root of the domain (in this example http://localhost/). This method allows you to load from the root of your document without needing to move your site files directly to http://localhost/.

This applies to both XP and Vista environments, and most likely all other Windows'.

The first thing you need to do is determine the alias you're going to use. For example, if our site is located at http://localhost/example we may want to make an alias using http://example/. To do this, first open up your hosts file. Your hosts file contains aliases of network devices mapped to their IP addresses. To add a new one, just put in the IP address you want to map to (in the case of the local machine use 127.0.0.1), then some whitespace (tabs are nice), then the alias. To edit your hosts file, click Start | Run (or press Win+R) and type the following:

notepad C:\\Windows\\System32\\Drivers\\etc\\hosts

Once you do this press enter and a notepad document will appear with the contents of your hosts file. Add the extra line detailed above. In this case, your file will look like the following (ignoring the comments at the top):

127.0.0.1       localhost
127.0.0.1       example
::1             localhost

Once you're done, hit save and close the file. Vista may popup some UAC notice, hit ok. If you type http://example in your browser, it will take you to your http://localhost/ directory. We still need to configure apache/xampp to load the subdirectory.

To do this, open your vhosts file. To do this, you can open the run box like previously and type the following (depending on your xampp/apache installation directory)

notepad C:\\xampp\\apache\\conf\\extra\\httpd-vhosts.conf

In this file, you'll want to set up a localhost server and an example server (TIP: if you forget to set up localhost explicitly going to http://localhost will take you to the http://localhost/example directory). Make sure you backup the file first (copy and paste somewhere else) because if you make a typo in this file your Apache server may not start up properly after we restart it later.

Set up your file to look something like this:

NameVirtualHost *:80

<VirtualHost *:80>
 ServerAdmin webmaster@localhost
 DocumentRoot C:/xampp/htdocs
 ServerName localhost

 <Directory "C:/xampp/htdocs">
 Options Indexes FollowSymLinks Includes ExecCGI
 AllowOverride All
 Order allow,deny
 Allow from all
 </Directory>
</VirtualHost>

<VirtualHost *:80>
 ServerAdmin webmaster@localhost
 DocumentRoot C:/xampp/htdocs/example
 ServerName example

 <Directory "C:/xampp/htdocs/example">
 Options Indexes FollowSymLinks Includes ExecCGI
 AllowOverride All
 Order allow,deny
 Allow from all
 </Directory>
</VirtualHost>

Once thats done, you'll want to restart your Apache server. If you go to http://example/ right now, you'll just see your normal http://localhost/ site. This is because the changes to your hosts file are immediate however the changes to Apache's configuration files need to be re-read. To do this, open the run box again and type the following:

services.msc

Once you do that you'll get a window where you can alter system services. Just select the option named Apache (in my case Apache2.2) and click Restart the service on the left side of the screen. This will restart Apache with the new settings. If you made a typo in your Apache vhosts configuration file, the server may not start properly.

Vista Services.msc Screenshot
Vista Services.msc Screenshot

Thomas Hunter II Avatar

Thomas is the author of Advanced Microservices and is a prolific public speaker with a passion for reducing complex problems into simple language and diagrams. His career includes working at Fortune 50's in the Midwest, co-founding a successful startup, and everything in between.