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Build Your Own Video Community With Lighttpd And FlowPlayer (Debian Etch)

This article shows how you can build your own video community using lighttpd with its mod_flv_streaming module (for streaming .flv videos, the format used by most major video communities such as YouTube) and its mod_secdownload module (for preventing hotlinking of the videos). I will use FlowPlayer as the video player, a free Flash video player with support for lighttpd’s mod_flv_streaming module. I will also show how you can encode videos (.mp4 .mov .mpg .3gp .mpeg .wmv .avi) to the FLV format supported by Adobe Flash.

This document comes without warranty of any kind! I want to say that this is not the only way of setting up such a system. There are many ways of achieving this goal but this is the way I take. I do not issue any guarantee that this will work for you!


1 Preliminary Note

In this tutorial I use the hostname with the IP address These settings might differ for you, so you have to replace them where appropriate.

We need a lighttpd installation with PHP support, as shown in this tutorial: Installing Lighttpd With PHP5 And MySQL Support On Debian Etch. I won’t cover this here, so please refer to this tutorial if you haven’t already set up lighttpd with PHP support.


2 Installing LAME

LAME is an MPEG Audio Layer III (MP3) encoder. We need this so that our videos don’t lose their sound while they are being converted to FLV. Unfortunately, LAME isn’t available as an official Debian Etch package, so we must compile it manually. First, we install the tools we need for the compilation:

apt-get install build-essential

Then we go to the /tmp directory and download the latest LAME version from SourceForge, e.g. like this:

cd /tmp

Then we unpack and compile LAME:

tar xvfz lame-3.97.tar.gz
cd lame-3.97
./configure –enable-shared –prefix=/usr
make install


3 Installing ffmpeg

We will use ffmpeg to convert our video files to the FLV format. First, we install ffmpeg and a few plugins like this:

apt-get install ffmpeg libavcodec0d libavformat0d libavifile-0.7c2 libpostproc0d libasound2-plugins avifile-player avifile-utils avifile-mad-plugin avifile-mjpeg-plugin avifile-vorbis-plugin

The problem with Debian’s ffmpeg package is that is doesn’t come with MP3 encoding support, which means that our FLV videos will lose their sound after the conversion. Therefore we will recompile Debian’s ffmpeg source package with mp3lame support (which is why we had to install LAME in the previous chapter).

First we download the ffmpeg source package to /usr/src:

cd /usr/src/
apt-get source ffmpeg

Then we change to the ffmpeg source directory:

cd ffmpeg-0.cvs20060823

and edit the file debian/rules. Towards the beginning of that file, you will find two confflags lines. Add the configuration switch –enable-mp3lame to one of them and save the file:

vi debian/rules

confflags += --enable-gpl --enable-pp --enable-pthreads --enable-mp3lame
confflags += --enable-vorbis --enable-libogg --enable-a52 --enable-dts --enable-libgsm

Now we can build our new ffmpeg package:


dpkg-buildpackage will most likely complain about missing packages that it needs to build the new ffmpeg .deb package:

server1:/usr/src/ffmpeg-0.cvs20060823# dpkg-buildpackage
dpkg-buildpackage: source package is ffmpeg
dpkg-buildpackage: source version is 0.cvs20060823-8
dpkg-buildpackage: source changed by Sam Hocevar (Debian packages) <>
dpkg-buildpackage: host architecture i386
dpkg-buildpackage: source version without epoch 0.cvs20060823-8
dpkg-checkbuilddeps: Unmet build dependencies: debhelper (>= 4.0) quilt libogg-dev libvorbis-dev liba52-dev libdts-dev zlib1g-dev libsdl1.2-dev libfreetype6-dev libimlib2-dev texi2html libraw1394-dev libdc1394-13-dev libtheora-dev (>> 0.0.0.alpha4) libgsm1-dev
dpkg-buildpackage: Build dependencies/conflicts unsatisfied; aborting.
dpkg-buildpackage: (Use -d flag to override.)

If you see an error like this, install the missing packages, e.g. like this:

apt-get install debhelper quilt libogg-dev libvorbis-dev liba52-dev libdts-dev zlib1g-dev libsdl1.2-dev libfreetype6-dev libimlib2-dev texi2html libraw1394-dev libdc1394-13-dev libtheora-dev libgsm1-dev

Afterwards, run dpkg-buildpackage again:


The dpkg-buildpackage command should now compile ffmpeg again and create new .deb packages (ffmpeg plus some plugins) in the /usr/src directory. This can take some time, so please be patient. It’s possible that you get some warnings about signatures at the end – you can ignore them.

Afterwards, we go to the /usr/src directory and install our new .deb packages:

cd ..
dpkg -i *.deb

That’s it for ffmpeg.


4 Installing flvtool2

When we convert videos to the FLV format, we need to add some metadata such as the duration of the video to the FLV file so that FlowPlayer can properly display the length of the video. We can add this metadata with flvtool2. flvtool2 is written in Ruby, so we must install Ruby first:

apt-get install ruby

Then we download the latest version of flvtool2 to the /tmp directory, e.g. like this:

cd /tmp

Afterwards, we install it:

tar xvfz flvtool2-1.0.6.tgz
cd flvtool2-1.0.6
ruby setup.rb config
ruby setup.rb setup
ruby setup.rb install

5 Creating Video Directories

In this tutorial I’m assuming that your lighttpd document root for your video web site is /var/www (the default document root for lighttpd on Debian). Of course, we don’t want to store the original videos and the FLV videos in the document root (or a subdirectory) to prevent that anyone can download them directly (if he knows the link). Therefore we create a directory for the original videos (e.g. /var/videos/incoming) and a directory for the FLV videos (e.g. /var/videos/flv) outside the document root:

mkdir -p /var/videos/incoming
mkdir -p /var/videos/flv

You (or your users) can then upload their original videos to /var/videos/incoming (e.g. through FTP or some web interface that you program), and you can then encode the videos to FLV (either manually or through some script), as shown in the next chapter.


6 Encoding Videos To FLV

Let’s assume we have a video called video.avi in /var/videos/incoming (works for the extensions .mp4 .mov .mpg .3gp .mpeg .wmv as well). We want to convert it to the file video.flv and store it in the directory /var/videos/flv. I want video.flv to have a size of 320×240 pixels with an audio sampling frequency of 44100 Hz and a frame rate of 12 fps. This is how we do it:

ffmpeg -i /var/videos/incoming/video.avi -s 320×240 -ar 44100 -r 12 /var/videos/flv/video.flv

(For more options, take a look at

man ffmpeg


This can take some time, and the output should look something like this:

server1:~# ffmpeg -i /var/videos/incoming/video.avi -s 320×240 -ar 44100 -r 12 /var/videos/flv/video.flv
FFmpeg version SVN-rUNKNOWN, Copyright (c) 2000-2004 Fabrice Bellard
configuration:  –enable-gpl –enable-pp –enable-pthreads –enable-mp3lame –enable-vorbis –enable-libogg
–enable-a52 –enable-dts –enable-libgsm –enable-dc1394 –disable-debug –enable-shared –prefix=/usr
libavutil version: 0d.49.0.0
libavcodec version: 0d.51.11.0
libavformat version: 0d.50.5.0
built on Aug 14 2007 15:02:25, gcc: 4.1.2 20061115 (prerelease) (Debian 4.1.1-21)
Input #0, avi, from ‘/var/videos/incoming/video.avi’:
Duration: 00:10:53.8, start: 0.000000, bitrate: 5455 kb/s
Stream #0.0: Video: mpeg4, yuv420p, 1024×576, 24.00 fps(r)
Stream #0.1: Audio: ac3, 48000 Hz, 5:1, 448 kb/s
Output #0, flv, to ‘/var/videos/flv/video.flv’:
Stream #0.0: Video: flv, yuv420p, 320×240, q=2-31, 200 kb/s, 12.00 fps(c)
Stream #0.1: Audio: mp3, 44100 Hz, stereo, 64 kb/s
Stream mapping:
Stream #0.0 -> #0.0
Stream #0.1 -> #0.1
No accelerated IMDCT transform found
Press [q] to stop encoding
frame= 7847 q=2.0 Lsize=   21682kB time=653.8 bitrate= 271.7kbits/s
video:16061kB audio:5108kB global headers:0kB muxing overhead 2.427536%

Please make sure that in the Output section, you see two streams, one for video, one for audio. If you see video only, this means that the sound gets lost which means you’ve probably done something wrong in chapters two and three.

After the conversion, we can now add metadata to video.flv with flvtool2:

cat /var/videos/flv/video.flv | flvtool2 -U stdin /var/videos/flv/video.flv


7 Configuring Lighttpd

Now we have to open lighttpd’s main configuration file, /etc/lighttpd/lighttpd.conf, and enable the modules mod_secdownload and mod_flv_streaming in it. It is very important that mod_secdownload is listed before mod_flv_streaming in the server.modules stanza. When I did it the other way round, I found that fast-forwarding the video in FlowPlayer didn’t work!

vi /etc/lighttpd/lighttpd.conf

server.modules              = (
#           "mod_rewrite",
#           "mod_redirect",
#           "mod_status",
#           "mod_evhost",
#           "mod_compress",
#           "mod_usertrack",
#           "mod_rrdtool",
#           "mod_webdav",
#           "mod_expire",
#           "mod_evasive"

In the same file, we add also add the following configuration (you can add it right at the end of /etc/lighttpd/lighttpd.conf):

flv-streaming.extensions = ( ".flv" )
secdownload.secret          = "somesecret"
secdownload.document-root   = "/var/videos/flv/"
secdownload.uri-prefix      = "/dl/"
secdownload.timeout         = 120

Please replace somesecret with your own secret string (you can choose one).

What mod_secdownload does is this: a web application (e.g. a PHP script) can have a link in it of the following form:




where <token> is an MD5 of

  1. a secret string (user supplied)
  2. <rel-path> (starts with /)
  3. <timestamp-in-hex>

mod_secdownload will then map this link to the appropriate file in the secdownload.document-root (which is outside the document root of the web site) and allow access to that file for secdownload.timeout seconds. After secdownload.timeout seconds, the link isn’t valid anymore, and access is denied.

After we have installed FlowPlayer, we will use a PHP script to generate the appropriate video links for mod_secdownload.

You can find more information about mod_secdownload here:

Don’t forget to restart lighttpd after your changes to /etc/lighttpd/lighttpd.conf:

/etc/init.d/lighttpd restart

8 Installing FlowPlayer

Go to and download the latest FlowPlayer version to your /tmp directory, e.g. like this:

cd /tmp

FlowPlayer comes in .zip format, so we must install unzip to uncompress it:

apt-get install unzip

Afterwards we can uncompress it:


This creates a directory called flowplayer in the /tmp directory. I’d like to have that directory in the document root of my video web site (/var/www), so I move it there:

mv flowplayer /var/www/


9 Configuring FlowPlayer

FlowPlayer is now installed, so all that is left to do is create an HTML file that lets us watch our video. I will create a PHP file for this called /var/www/flowplayertest.php which contains all parameters to start FlowPlayer in the user’s browser and which also create valid video links for mod_secdownload:

vi /var/www/flowplayertest.php


$secret = "somesecret";
$uri_prefix = "/dl/";

# filename
$f = "/video.flv";

# current timestamp
$t = time();

$t_hex = sprintf("%08x", $t);
$m = md5($secret.$f.$t_hex);

<title>Flowplayer Test</title>
<body text="#000000" bgcolor="#FFFFFF" link="#FF0000" alink="#FF0000" vlink="#FF0000">

<object type="application/x-shockwave-flash" data="/flowplayer/FlowPlayerThermo.swf"
    width="320" height="256" id="FlowPlayer">
    <param name="allowScriptAccess" value="sameDomain" />
    <param name="movie" value="/flowplayer/FlowPlayerThermo.swf" />
    <param name="quality" value="high" />
    <param name="scale" value="noScale" />
    <param name="allowFullScreen" value="true" />
    <param name="flashvars" value="config={videoFile: '<?php printf('%s%s/%s%s', $uri_prefix, $m, $t_hex, $f, $f); ?>', streamingServer: 'lighttpd', loop: 'false', useNativeFullScreen: true}" />


It’s very important that $secret has the same value than secdownload.secret in /etc/lighttpd/lighttpd.conf. Also, $uri_prefix and secdownload.uri-prefix must match. If this is fulfilled, the above script will generate valid links. $f must hold the filename of the FLV video, beginning with a slash (/). (The filename is hard-coded in the above example, but of course you can program whatever you like to dynamically generate the filename.)

The <object></object> stanza contains the FlowPlayer configuration. FlowPlayer comes with some different skins (see; I like the FlowPlayerThermo skin most, so I use that. Our FLV video has a size of 320x240px (see chapter six), and the control bar of the FlowPlayerThermo skin has a height of 16px. Therefore I specify a width of 320px and a height of (240 + 16 = 256)px. If you use another skin, adjust the height appropriately.

In the <param name=”flashvars”… line we can configure the behaviour of FlowPlayer. The most important setting is the videoFile setting (which is set by PHP in the above script) which specifies the path to the FLV video.

Another important setting is streamingServer: ‘lighttpd’ which causes the video to be streamed through lighttpd’s mod_flv_streaming module which allows better support for long videos.

The other two settings (loop, useNativeFullScreen) are optional in this setup. However, if you set useNativeFullScreen to true (adds support for native Flash 9 full screen mode), you must also include the line

<param name=”allowFullScreen” value=”true” />

in the <object></object> stanza, and you cannot use

<param name=”wmode” value=”transparent” />


To learn more about all options that you can use in the <param name=”flashvars”… line, take a look at

Now it’s time to test our setup. Direct your browser to or, and your video should start to play in your browser (including sound):


This is how the native Flash 9 full screen mode looks:


  • Lighttpd:
  • mod_flv_streaming:
  • mod_secdownload:
  • FlowPlayer:
  • LAME:
  • ffmpeg:
  • flvtool2:
  • PHP:
  • Debian: