Nginx vs Apache: Which is the Best Web Server? (2023)
While there are many different types of server software, you’ll often boil down the competitors to Nginx vs. Apache. Because both offer top performance for many different server configurations and are better suited for certain applications than the other.
Nevertheless, you should consider which of these makes more sense for your needs. There are a few different categories to look at such as: B. Operating System (OS) support, security, documentation and (of course) performance.
In this post, we will compare Nginx and Apache in different areas. At the end, we summarize our findings and give you the information you need to choose the right option.
Introduction to Nginx and Apache
Before we dive into the deep details of each server type, let us give you an overview of Nginx and Apache. Once we get to the next section, you’ll learn about some of the use cases of both and where you might see them “in the wild.”
Compared to Apache nginx (pronounced “engine X”) is a relative newcomer to the world of server-side technology. However, the development team has set itself the task of extending the limitations of Apache systems.
It is an open source solution that many users consider for its stability and scalability. This is (partially) due to its event-driven architecture – more on that later. In fact, part of the goal for the original Nginx release was to be able to do this Process 10,000 connections at once. This was already necessary in 2004 due to the then rapidly growing Internet.
Overall, system administrators and website owners like Nginx because it’s powerful, works great with static files, and performs the functions of a load balancer and “reverse proxy”. These are all relevant to uptime, speed and security.
Apache is something like the “old man” of web server technology. It’s almost as old as the web itself—since 1995, Apache has been the software at the core of thousands, if not millions, of servers.
Apache has long been a dominant technology among “system administrators”. There are many reasons for this – some are performance-related, others take getting used to. Regardless, Apache servers are often deployed where configuration matters.
You can find Apache as pre-installed software on all Linux distributions, so it is an ideal solution for this operating system. Although it uses a different architecture than Nginx, it still offers performance, scalability, and fantastic documentation.
Many system administrators also like the customizable nature of Apache and how you can make a server your own by loading different modules.
The common use cases for Nginx vs Apache
It’s fair to say that Apache is a “jack of all trades” when it comes to serving websites. However, this is a mixed blessing. Yes, Apache servers can do almost everything Nginx can, but at the cost of less-performing code. Age plays a role here.
Since Apache came out at a time before we had some of the more advanced web server applications, the code base couldn’t do what it needed to serve modern websites. While these issues are not necessarily a cause for concern nowdoes a solution like Nginx work with the modern web in mind.
Therefore, Apache is fantastic as an easy-to-configure server for applications like shared hosting. Its integrations also see it as local development server software as part of Linux, Apache, MySQLand PHP (LAMP) Stack.
In contrast, Nginx has a more mature software base with greater streamlining compared to Apache. It’s good when stability and security are important, fundamental elements. You’ll find that an Nginx server isn’t as configurable as other types, and that means you access its core less.
Additionally, it’s not as modular as Apache, making it less suitable for a situation where you need to do some server customization.
Nginx vs. Apache: How popular each server type is
For a long time, server software was like a one-horse race. Apache ran as dominant force for several years and still holds a large market share. Because of this, you’ll find that there are plenty of Apache server integrations and support, as well as top-notch documentation.
This is another reason to choose Apache and contributes to its continued use. However, Nginx is a server software with a massive market share from his own. Over time, Nginx usage is slowly increasing to the point that it is now the most dominant web server technology out there, albeit not by much.
Looking ahead, we would suggest that Apache becomes less used over time as Nginx offers much of what sysadmins need in a web server. However, LiteSpeed web server and Cloudflare servers are on the horizon, coming with a growing user base and strong support. In a few years, this comparison could compare Nginx to one of these younger upstarts.
Nginx vs. Apache: A Technical Breakdown of Features and Capabilities
The next sections cover a number of technical aspects of Nginx vs Apache. Although we cannot cover everything, we give sufficient time to the most important areas. Since these represent the core elements of both server types, you have more than enough clues when it comes to choosing the right software for you.
1. Connection and Request Handling
It is important to know how a server handles connections as this is its “core currency”. It’s debatable, but when people try to debate the relative merits of Nginx vs Apache, how the connection is handled plays a big role in perception.
Nginx is “asynchronous” and “event-driven” which means that it can process multiple requests at the same time and process them as long as resources are available. It spawns “worker processes” to handle the incoming connections, expecting thousands at a time. These are the “water bearers” for the rest of the server.
For example, each worker process listens for process events and connections and puts them in an infinite loop. From there, the server can process each event and remove it upon completion. The flow of an Nginx server offers inherent scalability, and the asynchronous, non-blocking architecture serves that purpose as well.
In contrast, Apache processes events individually through a series of Multi-Processing Modules (MPMs). A system administrator selects the most suitable connection architecture for the task, of which there are several.
mpm_prefork module is a common. This spawns child processes for each event and only handles one connection at a time. When the number of processes is higher than the number of requests, you have a hard time telling the difference between Nginx and Apache in terms of performance.
However, this type of situation is rare, and an Apache server will see a higher number of requests than processes in many cases. Also, this MPM doesn’t scale well due to memory usage.
For those working with PHP,
mpm_prefork is the only safe way to work with that
mod_php interpreter module. Despite the downsides, this will be the MPM that a WordPress developer will choose when they need to deploy to an Apache server.
You will see too
mpm_event also modules. These perform a similar operation and scale better because they can spawn multiple processes per collection of threads.
This set of MPMs shows how flexible Apache can be, despite the performance penalties in some cases.
Request handling for static vs. dynamic content
Before we continue, we should mention static and dynamic content for any server software. You will read that Nginx cannot handle dynamic content, which might be a concern for you. In fact, Nginx doesn’t handle this type of content natively. Instead, it sends it to an external processor (e.g. a cache) and then waits for its return before pushing the contents further.
For development, a system administrator sets up a solution like memcached Therefore. This approach has disadvantages, namely in terms of performance. However, the performance cost benefits for each part of the chain outweigh this. Nginx does not have to worry about processing these requests and can thus concentrate more efficiently on its areas of responsibility.
Apache’s MPM system makes it possible to process both static and dynamic content without the need for other modules. For dynamic content, Apache embeds a language processor in each worker. It’s a simple approach that works well. You can also swap out modules if you need to make a change.
2. Configuration of the server
One of the more obvious differences between Nginx and Apache is how each server is configured. Nginx uses a centralized approach, which means that a user has no way of configuring a server outside of a main file. While this may seem like a disadvantage, there are many advantages:
- The server administrator is responsible for global security, which tightens access to the server as a whole.
- A centralized server has higher performance than other types. This is because Nginx doesn’t need to process requests to look for configuration files in each directory.
- There is a domino effect here as there are no overrides for the server from multiple realms, further keeping request times low.
One way a layperson knows they’re using an Apache server is by the presence of
.htaccess files. These are configuration files that you can add almost anywhere on your server. Apache checks each element of a path for a
.htaccess File when a request is made.
This is fantastic for users who want to personalize their part of the server but could spell disaster if any of the directives cause performance or security issues. This decentralized approach is one of the reasons Apache is used in shared hosting. This is also a reason why a content management system (CMS) like WordPress performs well on Apache servers.
3. Request interpretation
A key difference between Nginx and Apache that doesn’t seem obvious is how requests are interpreted. In short:
- Nginx interprets and maps requests using a Uniform Resource Identifier (URI) for each component.
- Apache can also use URIs to interpret requests, but it’s more common to see a file-based path structure.
Since Apache is primarily a web server, it is used
<Location> Blocks for defining resources. The key concept here is that everything Apache “sees” is related to the web server, so there is no ambiguity within the resource path. Imagine a document tree, and this is how Apache “visualizes” the server’s file system.
In contrast, Nginx has many use cases, such as: B. a load balancer, a proxy server and a web server. Because of this, requests must come as a URI for Nginx to process them. For example, Nginx uses
location Blocks: the former interprets the requested host and the latter adjusts the URI parts afterwards. The entire request becomes a URI.
Overall, a URI is more flexible for Nginx as it can adapt to whatever function it performs. Despite this, Apache’s system works because it only has to fulfill the role of a web server.
Nginx vs Apache: Which Should You Choose for Your Server in 2023?
The all-encompassing answer to Which server software should I choose? is simple: it is what your hosting provider offers. In many cases you have no choice. We find that many web hosts follow the same pattern that you should use when deciding between Nginx and Apache:
- If you want to run a server that needs constant configuration, or if you want to give users configuration choices, Apache is for you.
- However, if you want great performance, rock-solid security, and want to manage configurations rather than your users, Nginx is the way to go.
When it comes to performance, Apache is can consume more memory due to its inherent architecture. Nginx will be better in high traffic situations, especially when it has to deal with a lot of static content.
So if you rely on caching to store and serve content, Nginx might be the best option. However, keep in mind that Nginx cannot serve dynamic content, so depending on the efficiency of the proxy your server is using, you will suffer a greater performance hit.
There are many areas of WordPress (and running a website) that offer an almost overwhelming choice. That is the nature of the animal. However, it doesn’t help when you need to get your site live quickly.
Choosing server type is a crucial frontline decision that you should pay special attention to. Nginx vs Apache is a common comparison as both offer advantages in certain situations.
In our opinion, Nginx can cover most bases with higher performance, making it the better option for most WordPress users. Because of this, many of the popular performance-oriented WordPress hosts have switched to an Nginx-only server stack, including Kinsta and Flywheel.
Regardless, you can certainly use whatever your host offers if you don’t have that choice, and most WordPress sites will be perfectly fine with either web server.