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nginx vs Varnish: What are the differences?

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; Varnish: High-performance HTTP accelerator. Varnish Cache is a web application accelerator also known as a caching HTTP reverse proxy. You install it in front of any server that speaks HTTP and configure it to cache the contents. Varnish Cache is really, really fast. It typically speeds up delivery with a factor of 300 - 1000x, depending on your architecture.

nginx belongs to "Web Servers" category of the tech stack, while Varnish can be primarily classified under "Web Cache".

"High-performance http server", "Performance" and "Easy to configure" are the key factors why developers consider nginx; whereas "High-performance", "Very Fast" and "Very Stable" are the primary reasons why Varnish is favored.

nginx and Varnish are both open source tools. nginx with 9.11K GitHub stars and 3.44K forks on GitHub appears to be more popular than Varnish with 908 GitHub stars and 216 GitHub forks.

According to the StackShare community, nginx has a broader approval, being mentioned in 8676 company stacks & 2560 developers stacks; compared to Varnish, which is listed in 1006 company stacks and 140 developer stacks.

What is nginx?

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.

What is Varnish?

Varnish Cache is a web application accelerator also known as a caching HTTP reverse proxy. You install it in front of any server that speaks HTTP and configure it to cache the contents. Varnish Cache is really, really fast. It typically speeds up delivery with a factor of 300 - 1000x, depending on your architecture.

Want advice about which of these to choose?Ask the StackShare community!

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      What are some alternatives to nginx and Varnish?
      HAProxy
      HAProxy (High Availability Proxy) is a free, very fast and reliable solution offering high availability, load balancing, and proxying for TCP and HTTP-based applications.
      lighttpd
      lighttpd has a very low memory footprint compared to other webservers and takes care of cpu-load. Its advanced feature-set (FastCGI, CGI, Auth, Output-Compression, URL-Rewriting and many more) make lighttpd the perfect webserver-software for every server that suffers load problems.
      Traefik
      Træfɪk is a modern HTTP reverse proxy and load balancer made to deploy microservices with ease. It supports several backends (Docker, Swarm, Mesos/Marathon, Kubernetes, Consul, Etcd, Zookeeper, BoltDB, Rest API, file...) to manage its configuration automatically and dynamically.
      Caddy
      Caddy is a production-ready open-source web server that is fast, easy to use, and makes you more productive. HTTP/2 and HTTPS by default
      Envoy
      Originally built at Lyft, Envoy is a high performance C++ distributed proxy designed for single services and applications, as well as a communication bus and “universal data plane” designed for large microservice “service mesh” architectures.
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      What tools integrate with nginx?
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          Reviews of nginx and Varnish
          Review ofVarnishVarnish

          Thank you for posting such a great article! I found your website perfect for my needs. It contains wonderful and helpful posts. Keep up the good work!. Thank you for this wonderful Article! five nights at freddy's

          How developers use nginx and Varnish
          Avatar of MaxCDN
          MaxCDN uses nginxnginx

          The original API performed a synchronous Nginx reload after provisioning a zone, which often took up to 30 seconds or longer. While important, this step shouldn’t block the response to the user (or API) that a new zone has been created, or block subsequent requests to adjust the zone. With the new API, an independent worker reloads Nginx configurations based on zone modifications.It’s like ordering a product online: don’t pause the purchase process until the product’s been shipped. Say the order has been created, and you can still cancel or modify shipping information. Meanwhile, the remaining steps are being handled behind the scenes. In our case, the zone provision happens instantly, and you can see the result in your control panel or API. Behind the scenes, the zone will be serving traffic within a minute.

          Avatar of Cloudcraft
          Cloudcraft uses nginxnginx

          Nginx serves as the loadbalancer, router and SSL terminator of cloudcraft.co. As one of our app server nodes is spun up, an Ansible orchestration script adds the new node dynamically to the nginx loadbalancer config which is then reloaded for a zero downtime seamless rolling deployment. By putting nginx in front or whatever web and API servers you might have, you gain a ton of flexibility. While previously I've cobbled together HAProxy and Stun as a poor man's loadbalancer, nginx just does a much better job and is far simpler in the long run.

          Avatar of datapile
          datapile uses nginxnginx

          Used nginx as exactly what it is great for: serving static content in a cache-friendly, load balanced manner.

          It is exclusively for production web page hosting, we don't use nginx internally, only on the public-facing versions of static sites / Angular & Backbone/Marionette applications.

          Avatar of Pēteris Caune
          Pēteris Caune uses nginxnginx

          We use NGINX both as reverse HTTP proxy and also as a SMTP proxy, to handle incoming email.

          We previously handled incoming email with Mandrill, and then later with AWS SES. Handling incoming email yourself is not that much more difficult and saves quite a bit on operational costs.

          Avatar of Pinterest
          Pinterest uses VarnishVarnish

          When you visit the site, you talk to a load balancer which chooses a varnish front-end which in turn talks to our web front-ends which used to run nine python processes. Each of these processes are serving the exact same version on any given web front-end.

          Avatar of Wirkn Inc.
          Wirkn Inc. uses nginxnginx

          NGINX sits in front of all of our web servers. It is fantastic at load balancing traffic as well as serving as a cache at times when under massive load. It's a robust tool that we're happy to have at the front lines of all Wirkn web apps.

          Avatar of The Independent
          The Independent uses VarnishVarnish

          Varnish sits as a secondary cache layer behind Akamai. Two servers operate in a Primary/Secondary configuration with failover managed by HAProxy. Requests peak at around 10k/s.

          Avatar of Hevelop
          Hevelop uses VarnishVarnish

          Varnish is the http cache proxy we use to achieve maximum performance on high traffic e-commerce.

          Avatar of Pruvit
          Pruvit uses VarnishVarnish

          Used as part of site hosting (Firebase HTTP Hosting manages implementation)

          Avatar of Reactor Digital
          Reactor Digital uses VarnishVarnish

          Caching static content requested by Drupal.

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