If you are visiting a website, one of the two web servers, Apache or Nginx, has probably served it for you. To make several different websites available to visitors, the web host needs web server software. The main task of a web server is to take requests and analyze them to return the requested documents to the browser. Here we are going to take a look at two popular Apache and Nginx web servers by comparing them; we will discover their characteristics in detail and what is best suited for which purposes.
Apache HTTP Server
The Apache HTTP Server is especially popular due to its many years of development, extensive documentation, open source community, and flexible application options. This Web server released in 1995 is an open source which quickly gained popularity thanks to the free availability of the source code for collaboration and visualization. Apache can handle high volumes of traffic with minimal configuration. One of the biggest advantages of Apache is that you can assign a separate .htaccess file with individual configuration to each level or directory in the tree. For example, this allows shared hosting providers to offer their customers an option to configure their website on the same machine without affecting other users. If a user makes a configuration for his dedicated environment, the global configuration of the server remains unchanged. You can add or remove modules to make it more efficient. You can add server side programming (PHP) support modules and load balancing configurations.
As the Apache has a modular structure, it can be extended as needed depending on the field of application. For example, the communication between the server and the client can be encrypted using the mod_ssl module or complex changes to URLs can be made using the mod_rewrite module.
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Some of the best features of the Apache HTTP web server are:
- Managing static files
- Loadable dynamic module
- Auto indexing
- Compatible with IPv6
- Supports HTTP / 2
- FTP connections
- Gzip compression and decompression
- Bandwidth limitation
- Perl, PHP, Lua scripts
- Load balancing
- Session tracking
- URL rewrite
- Geolocation based on IP address
NGINX Web Server
NGINX, pronounced as “Engine X”, is now a more popular web server than Apache and was launched in 2004, but the company of the same name was founded in 2011. Since its release, the Nginx web server has become an alternative. popular to Apache which is steadily gaining market share. The web server is based on an asynchronous event architecture. This means that a separate process is not started for each connection, but several thousand connections can be handled per process. In this way, NGINX can handle many simultaneous requests without sacrificing speed and stability. Resource consumption remains relatively constant even during peak loads, which means that high performance pages with many hits also come with limited hardware. The NGINX configuration system is simpler. The functionality of the software can be extended individually using additional modules such as load balancing or reverse proxy.
Some of the main features of NGINX are:
- Reverse proxy with caching
- Load balancing
- Support for FastCGI with caching
- Management of static files, index files and automatic indexing
- LS / SSL with SNI
Apache vs NGINX architecture
The two servers take a different approach when it comes to Apache vs NGINX, architecturally speaking – that is, how they handle connections and traffic. The Apache HTTP server operates on a process-oriented approach and creates a new thread for each request. This leads to greater consumption of resources and creates problems like slow speed. At the same time, the NGINX web server has an event driven approach and handles multiple requests within a single thread. This lightens the structure because thousands of requests can be processed under a single thread, making the server faster.
Apache manages its static content using file-based storage and stores the files on server computers. At the same time, NGINX handles static content much better by eliminating copying data to the buffer and directly copying data from one file descriptor to another.
No configuration adjustment
In Apache we use .htaccess, directory level configuration can be done directly, however this is not possible with Nginx as there is no such config file, instead there is a file Nginx.conf to make changes. This generally makes setting up an NGINX web server a bit more complex than with Apache, especially for new users. However, if you have the right hosting provider, you have the right modules to easily handle common tasks. Somehow this is another reason why most hosting providers offer Apache as their default web server due to the great flexibility it offers.
Operating system support
The two servers are almost similar in operating system support. Apache and NGINX support all Unix-like systems. While Apache fully supports MS Windows, NGINX only partially supports Windows.
When it comes to security, both servers offer the best security. Apache offers support tips to help prevent possible hacking attacks. It provides tips for handling DDoS attacks and modules to respond to HTTP DoS, DDoS, etc. NGINX offers better security than Apache using smaller code bases. Additionally, NGINX does not allow access to directory listings. (By enabling directory listings, anonymous users can browse the contents of website directories).
Both servers provide equally good customer service. While Apache provides customer support with the help of third-party companies, NGINX provides customer support through a commercial product called NGINX plus. The servers provide services to clients through mailing lists, IRC, and Stack Overflow. NGINX also provides customer service through a forum.
Conclusion- Apache or NGINX?
The question of which web server is now the best cannot be answered in general terms. Where NGINX is ahead of Apache in performance, it has the edge when it comes to dynamic content management. Where beginners may be faced with a bit of a difficult setup. However, the decision ultimately still depends on the individual configuration and requirements. This is the reason why, in practice, many users also rely on a network from the strengths of both web servers. And this is the reason why many people use Apache as their primary web server while to improve overall performance, Nginx – as a front-end HTTP cache server. If your web host offers CPanel (WHM), you can easily implement both. This will not only improve performance but also allow you to remove necessary cache plugins from your CMS such as WordPress.
Therefore, this is a great way to mix the two open source servers so that the advantages of the two web servers can be used to the fullest. The static content is then delivered by one server at the desired speed and the other web server can be used for the dynamic content.
Alternatives to Apache or Nginx as a web server:
Well if you don’t want to use Apache or Nginx then go for OpenLiteSpeed which not only offers high performance but also support for .htaccess and Apache configuration. Besides LiteSpeed, Caddy with out-of-the-box HTTP / 2 support and Lighttpd are other open source web servers to think about.
Whereas, if you are a beginner, you can start with Apache or OpenLiteSpeed to understand how the web server environment works. And also communities like “Stack Overflow” are always there to help you with codes and solutions if you get stuck somewhere while implementing your own web project on the web server software mentioned above.
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How is a web server different from an application server?
The task of a web server is to establish a connection between a physical or cloud server and the stored websites (or browsers) of Internet users. On the other hand, the application server is responsible for making the applications available within a network.
Are NGINX and Apache web server both suitable for handling dynamic requests?
No, unlike the Apache web server, NGINX only supports static content delivery. On the other hand, dynamic content is transmitted to other software.
Can the two web servers also be used together?
Yes, it works extremely well. In practice, you will mainly find the NGINX combination as a reverse proxy and one or more Apache servers in the backend.