NGINX vs. Apache: Which Server Is Right for You?

  • Aug 12, 2019
  • 0
  • by Alex Ali

Both Apache and NGINX (pronounced ‘Engine-X’) offer capable, open-source server technology. However, which one is right for you? In order to be sure your site runs as efficiently as possible, it’s important to choose the type of server that best matches your needs. 

Apache has been a solid choice for over 20 years, and there are a lot of resources to help web developers learn and manage it. However, certain design elements in its code may be limiting factors for modern web demands. While it may be less popular, NGINX is not without its fair share of advantages, and its market share has been rising. 

In this article, we’ll discuss how your choice of server is completely within your control and why that matters. Then we’ll introduce NGINX and Apache, compare them, and help you decide which one is right for your site. Let’s get started!

Why It’s Important to Choose Your Web Server Carefully

Together, Apache and NGINX are responsible for serving over 50% of traffic on the internet. This makes them the two most common open-source web servers in the world.

Just as you have a choice of web host, you can also decide which server you would like your site to run on. It’s important to make the right decision. Both solutions are capable of handling diverse workloads, but each functions a little differently. 

There is no one perfect server for everyone – which technology you choose will depend on your objectives and needs (as we’ll discuss below). Choosing a server that’s a strong fit can have a positive impact on your site’s functionality and speed. 

An Introduction to Apache and NGINX

At this point, it’s time to introduce the two major players in the world of web servers. First up, we have Apache HTTP:

The Apache website.

This server is developed and maintained by a large group of developers through the Apache Software Foundation. It’s an open-source, high-performance, and secure web server that’s built to be in compliance with current HTTP standards.

Apache HTTP has been the most popular web server on the internet since 1995. Since it’s the Apache Software Foundation’s original project, and their most popular piece of software, it is often referred to simply as ‘Apache’.

Next up, NGINX is a web server platform designed to serve modern web demands:

The NGINX website.

It was originally designed as an answer to the challenge of serving ten thousand connections, a requirement for the growing webTherefore, the technology is focused on serving a large number of users at the same time in an efficient way. NGINX was released to the public in 2004, and has steadily grown in popularity. 

The Pros and Cons of Apache and NGINX Servers

As we mentioned earlier, it’s important to choose a web server that meets the demands of your particular website. Apache is a feature-rich option, for example, but NGINX offers superior resource efficiency.

That’s a simplification of what the two technologies have to offer, however. Now, let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of each.

Apache

Apache has been on the scene for much longer than NGINX, and is still considered a top choice by many site owners and developers. It runs on almost any OS, and benefits from great documentation and integrated support with other popular software projects.

A few other key benefits of Apache include that it:

  • Follows a multi-threaded approach to process client requests
  • Handles dynamic content within the web server itself
  • Dynamically loads and unloads modules (making it more flexible)
  • Is designed from the ground up as a web server

However, it’s important to note that Apache cannot process multiple requests concurrently when web traffic becomes heavy. This is because it follows a multi-threaded approach to processing client requests, and each thread can only handle one connection at a time.

NGINX

Unlike Apache, NGINX is designed to handle the demands of today’s web. Its focus is on efficiency, and it has a lightweight architecture and high concurrency.

Some of NGINX’s primary benefits are that it:

  • Uses an event-driven approach to serve client requests
  • Processes multiple client requests concurrently and efficiently, even with limited hardware resources
  • Can handle multiple connections via a single thread
  • Can be deployed as a standalone HTTP server, to improve the web server’s architecture with minimal resources

NGINX’s major downside is that it cannot process dynamic content natively. To handle PHP and other requests for dynamic content, NGINX must pass them to an external processor for execution, and wait for the rendered content to be sent back (slowing down the process).

How to Choose the Right Type of Server for Your Website

In most areas, both of these servers compete well with one another. Still, they have distinct strengths. Apache comes with greater documentation and better support for loading various dynamic modules, while NGINX can serve a lot of static content and media streams for high-traffic websites. 

In addition, both servers now offer commercial support and training. However, many web developers using shared hosting prefer the convenience of Apache. On the other hand, NGINX is mainly used for VPS hosting and dedicated hosting

Another option to consider is using Apache and NGINX in combination. NGINX can be placed in front of Apache as a reverse proxy. This takes advantage of NGINX’s fast processing speed to handle all requests from clients. For dynamic content, such as PHP files, NGINX proxies the request to Apache, which processes the results and returns the rendered page. 

The bottom line is that if you’re running a high-traffic website with a lot of static content, NGINX may be a smart option to consider. Alternatively, if you value the supportive community and the wealth of resources it provides, Apache is a convenient choice. Either way you choose to go, we have options to match the needs of your site. 

Conclusion

Both Apache and NGINX are powerful, flexible, and capable web servers. Which one you choose will largely depend on your specific requirements and priorities. 

Apache has a large community, and a lot of support to help you navigate common problems. However, NGINX can offer greater stability and speed. If you are running a popular site with lots of content, you may prefer NGINX, while newer web developers often do well with Apache.

Do you have any questions about NGINX or Apache? Ask away in the comments section below!

Image credit: ItNeverEnds.

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