Apache HTTP Server vs NGINX

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Nginx or Apache - Help me decide


Nginx & Apache are the two most used web servers on the internet. Together, they own over 60% of the total market share.

But which one should you use? That's exactly the purpose of this article.

Performance

The first thing you should think about when choosing a critical piece of software like a web server is its performance characteristics.

Not only how many requests they can serve per second, but also how they behave under heavy load & what does the resource usage (RAM, CPU) look like.

This our testing setup:

  • Ubuntu 18.04
  • Apache 2.4.29 (mpm_event)
  • Nginx 1.14.0
  • Default settings
  • 1GB ram
  • 1 CPU

As a benchmarking tool we're going to use wrk with the following settings:

  • -d 60 (duration of the test)
  • -c 40 (concurrency)
  • --latency (latency distribution)

Our target URL returns a small HTML file with no server language involved.

Running this test we get the following results (requests/second):

Apache Nginx
670.53 660.15

It seems like Nginx & Apache are about the same speed!

But what about resource usage?

While running this test, Apache averaged a CPU usage of 20% & 18MB RAM:

nginx_vs_apache_apache-perf.png

Nginx CPU usage averaged 12% & only 8MB RAM:

nginx_vs_apache_nginx-perf.png

While this benchmark might not be representative of all real-world use cases & you should consider running your own benchmarks for your particular setup, it can give you a general idea of how these servers perform.

In conclusion, if your biggest concern is performance & efficient use of your resources you should consider using Nginx.

Extensibility

Both servers come with a good set of core features which should be enough for most people...

...but sometimes you need that little extra.

That's why you can extend both servers using modules.

Modules can be compiled into the main server binary, or they can be added as dynamic modules that can be installed separately from the binary.

Dynamic modules are more flexible because they can be updated on their own, and you can add new modules without having to recompile your server.

Most Apache modules are dynamic, but Nginx recently (version 1.9.11, released in 2016) started supporting this feature.

Now:

Let's take a look at some useful modules for both servers.

  • modsecurity: Available for Apache. This module adds a Web Application Firewall (WAF) in front of your application. There is a Nginx version, but it seems not maintained, you can use Naxsi instead.
  • page_speed: Available for Apache & Nginx. This module can optimize images on the fly & add other optimizations to improve page loading times.
  • ngx_mruby / mod_ruby: Available for Apache & Nginx. This module allows you to use the Ruby programming language to process requests & make decisions to redirect to another page, return some file contents, etc. The nginx version is well-maintained & faster.

Many popular modules are available for both servers, so module availability may not be a factor when deciding what server to use.

For a complete list of available modules you can go here:

Installing a new module:

Adding a new module to Apache is easier than adding new modules to Nginx.

You can install Apache modules from your package repository, then use the a2enmod command to enable it & restart your server.

That's it.

Nginx may require you to compile from source to install some modules, since dynamic modules must be built against the same version of Nginx that you're running.

However, you can do this on a non-production server, then copy the dynamic module (.so file) into production.

If you think you'll need to be changing modules frequently this is something to consider, but that's not often the case.

Popularity

The popularity of a piece of open-source software matters because the most popular usually get the most attention. This can translate into better documentation, the ability to find solutions to specific problems & how well maintained is the software itself.

So exactly how popular are Apache & Nginx?

According to the 2018 August Web Server Survey conducted by netcraft.com, these are the stats for active sites:

  • Apache 38.68% (-0.62 from previous month)
  • nginx 22.67% (+0.11 from previous month)

The rate of change is pretty small, but that's to be expected from an established technology.

nginx_vs_apache_web-server-market-share.png

Looking at the big picture it looks like Apache has been losing a lot of ground over the last 7 years. In 2011, Apache owned 60% of the active sites market share, while Nginx (released in October 2004) only had 10% by that same year.

If the trend continues, Nginx is going to overtake Apache as the "king of web servers" in a few years.

Maybe earlier than we expect.

Something to keep in mind when making your decision.

Most Common Uses

Let's have a look at the most common uses for Apache & Nginx, this will help you decide if your use case matches with what the server does best naturally.

Apache strengths:

  • Runs PHP applications (like Wordpress) without external software, just install mod_php if it isn't already part of the default install for your distribution.
  • Works great in a shared environment (like a hosting provider) because it supports directory-based configuration with .htaccess files.

Nginx strengths:

  • Serves static assets very efficiently thanks to its event-driven approach to handling requests.
  • Is a great proxy & cache layer for the same reason.
  • You can easily implement custom logic with modules like ngx_lua & ngx_mruby. Cloudflare makes great use of this for their custom WAF (Web Application Firewall).

Final Considerations

A few more things to consider before making your final decision:

  • Nginx offers an enterprise-grade solution in the form of Nginx PLUS. This adds professional support & a few extra capabilities (like monitoring) which may be important to you if you are running a big operation.
  • Apache & Nginx can be used together, with Nginx proxying non-static asset request to Apache. This can add significant complexity to your setup, but it's something to consider if you want to use features from both.

We hope you found this comparison useful!

Apache HTTP Server vs nginx: What are the differences?

What is Apache HTTP Server? The most popular web server on the Internet since April 1996. The Apache HTTP Server is a powerful and flexible HTTP/1.1 compliant web server. Originally designed as a replacement for the NCSA HTTP Server, it has grown to be the most popular web server on the Internet.

What is nginx? A high performance free open source web server powering busiest sites on the Internet. nginx [engine x] is an HTTP and reverse proxy server, as well as a mail proxy server, written by Igor Sysoev. According to Netcraft nginx served or proxied 30.46% of the top million busiest sites in Jan 2018.

Apache HTTP Server and nginx belong to "Web Servers" category of the tech stack.

"Web server", "Most widely-used web server" and "Virtual hosting" are the key factors why developers consider Apache HTTP Server; whereas "High-performance http server", "Performance" and "Easy to configure" are the primary reasons why nginx is favored.

Apache HTTP Server and nginx are both open source tools. It seems that nginx with 9.1K GitHub stars and 3.43K forks on GitHub has more adoption than Apache HTTP Server with 2.21K GitHub stars and 657 GitHub forks.

According to the StackShare community, nginx has a broader approval, being mentioned in 8669 company stacks & 2556 developers stacks; compared to Apache HTTP Server, which is listed in 6194 company stacks and 1067 developer stacks.

Advice on Apache HTTP Server and NGINX

I am diving into web development, both front and back end. I feel comfortable with administration, scripting and moderate coding in bash, Python and C++, but I am also a Windows fan (i love inner conflict). What are the votes on web servers? IIS is expensive and restrictive (has Windows adoption of open source changed this?) Apache has the history but seems to be at the root of most of my Infosec issues, and I know nothing about nginx (is it too new to rely on?). And no, I don't know what I want to do on the web explicitly, but hosting and data storage (both cloud and tape) are possibilities. Ready, aim fire!

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Replies (1)
Simon Aronsson
Developer Advocate at k6 / Load Impact · | 4 upvotes · 209.4K views
Recommends
NGINX

I would pick nginx over both IIS and Apace HTTP Server any day. Combine it with docker, and as you grow maybe even traefik, and you'll have a really flexible solution for serving http content where you can take sites and projects up and down without effort, easily move it between systems and dont have to handle any dependencies on your actual local machine.

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Needs advice
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Apache HTTP Server
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NGINX

From a StackShare Community member: "We are a LAMP shop currently focused on improving web performance for our customers. We have made many front-end optimizations and now we are considering replacing Apache with nginx. I was wondering if others saw a noticeable performance gain or any other benefits by switching."

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Replies (3)
Recommends
NGINX

I use nginx because it is very light weight. Where Apache tries to include everything in the web server, nginx opts to have external programs/facilities take care of that so the web server can focus on efficiently serving web pages. While this can seem inefficient, it limits the number of new bugs found in the web server, which is the element that faces the client most directly.

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Leandro Barral
Recommends
NGINX

I use nginx because its more flexible and easy to configure

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Christian Cwienk
Software Developer at SAP · | 1 upvotes · 198.7K views

I use Apache HTTP Server because it's intuitive, comprehensive, well-documented, and just works

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Decisions about Apache HTTP Server and NGINX
Daniel Calvo
Co-Founder at Polpo Data Analytics & Software Development · | 8 upvotes · 37.3K views

For us, NGINX is a lite HTTP server easy to configure. On our research, we found a well-documented software we a lot of support from the community.

We have been using it alongside tools like certbot and it has been a total success.

We can easily configure our sites and have a folder for available vs enabled sites, and with the nginx -t command we can easily check everything is running fine.

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Grant Steuart
  • Server rendered HTML output from PHP is being migrated to the client as Vue.js components, future plans to provide additional content, and other new miscellaneous features all result in a substantial increase of static files needing to be served from the server. NGINX has better performance than Apache for serving static content.
  • The change to NGINX will require switching from PHP to PHP-FPM resulting in a distributed architecture with a higher complexity configuration, but this is outweighed by PHP-FPM being faster than PHP for processing requests.
  • The NGINX + PHP-FPM setup now allows for horizontally scaling of resources rather vertically scaling the previously combined Apache + PHP resources.
  • PHP shell tasks can now efficiently be decoupled from the application reducing main application footprint and allow for scaling of tasks on an individual basis.
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I was in a situation where I have to configure 40 RHEL servers 20 each for Apache HTTP Server and Tomcat server. My task was to 1. configure LVM with required logical volumes, format and mount for HTTP and Tomcat servers accordingly. 2. Install apache and tomcat. 3. Generate and apply selfsigned certs to http server. 4. Modify default ports on Tomcat to different ports. 5. Create users on RHEL for application support team. 6. other administrative tasks like, start, stop and restart HTTP and Tomcat services.

I have utilized the power of ansible for all these tasks, which made it easy and manageable.

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What are some alternatives to Apache HTTP Server and NGINX?
Apache Tomcat
Apache Tomcat powers numerous large-scale, mission-critical web applications across a diverse range of industries and organizations.
JBoss
An application platform for hosting your apps that provides an innovative modular, cloud-ready architecture, powerful management and automation, and world class developer productivity.
Jetty
Jetty is used in a wide variety of projects and products, both in development and production. Jetty can be easily embedded in devices, tools, frameworks, application servers, and clusters. See the Jetty Powered page for more uses of Jetty.
XAMPP
It consists mainly of the Apache HTTP Server, MariaDB database, and interpreters for scripts written in the PHP and Perl programming languages.
Microsoft IIS
Internet Information Services (IIS) for Windows Server is a flexible, secure and manageable Web server for hosting anything on the Web. From media streaming to web applications, IIS's scalable and open architecture is ready to handle the most demanding tasks.
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