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NGINX vs. Apache: The Ultimate Web Server Showdown in 2024

Updated on February 14, 2024

8 Min Read
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Choosing a web server can be tough. You might feel lost with many options and technical terms. Two popular choices are NGINX and Apache, but which one is right for you? This is a common dilemma faced by many developers.

The answer lies in comparing NGINX and Apache in a way that’s easy to understand. We’ll look at their features, performance, and compatibility, helping you see what each server can do. This comparison will provide you with the clarity you need.

This blog post is your guide through this decision. We’ll explore NGINX and Apache in detail, giving you the knowledge to pick the server that fits your needs. Let’s start this journey together. By the end of this post, you’ll be able to make an informed decision.

Overview of NGINX and Apache

Let’s start with overviewing NGINX and Apache in more detail.

NGINX

NGINX (pronounced “engine-x”) is a web server that was created by Igor Sysoev and was first publicly released in 2004. It was originally developed to solve the C10k problem, which is the challenge of handling 10,000 concurrent connections on a single server.

Over the years, NGINX has evolved to become a robust web server known for its high performance, stability, and low resource consumption.

Apache

Apache, officially known as the Apache HTTP Server, was developed by Robert McCool and became the first viable alternative to the Netscape Communications Corporation web server. It was released in 1995 by the Apache Group and later overseen by the Apache Software Foundation.

Apache quickly became popular due to its robust features, extensibility through a modular architecture, and strong community support. It has been a dominant web server on the Internet since April 1996.

Market Share of NGINX and Apache

According to data from the W3Techs, there’s been a shift in market share between NGINX and Apache from October 2020 to November 2023.

NGINX vs. Apache: The Ultimate Web Server Showdown in 2023

– Market Share of Web Servers / W3Techs

In October 2020, Apache was leading with a market share of 36.2%, compared to NGINX’s 32.4%. However, over the next three years, Apache’s share steadily decreased, reaching 30.8% by November 2023.

During the same period, NGINX’s share gradually increased, peaking at 34.5% in April 2023 before settling at 34.1% by November 2023.

This trend indicates that NGINX has gained popularity and overtook Apache in market share. Initially trailing by nearly 4%, NGINX not only bridged the gap but surpassed Apache’s share, suggesting a shift in user preference towards NGINX’s performance and resource efficiency over Apache’s flexibility.

NGINX and Apache: The Perfect Duo in Cloudways Hosting!

It’s not just about hosting, it’s about delivering performance, speed, and reliability. Give it a try and feel the difference!

Comparing NGINX and Apache

When choosing a web server, it’s important to consider various aspects such as architecture, scalability, compatibility, security, content handling, module system, and community support. Here’s a comparison of NGINX and Apache based on the mentioned features:

Features NGINX Apache
Server Architecture
Architecture Uses an event-driven model, handling multiple requests within one thread. Uses a process-driven model, with one thread per request.
Scalability Excels in performance and scalability, especially under high traffic. Offers a wide range of modules and is very versatile.
Compatibility and Security
OS & Language Compatibility Supports almost all Unix OSs, but only partial support for Windows. Works with many OSs like Windows, OpenVMS, Unix-like OSs.
Security NGINX has a smaller code base, which is better for security. Both are secure and reliable. Apache has a larger code base.
Content Handling and Module System
Content Handling Handles static content well. For dynamic content, it relies on external processes. Processes dynamic content within the server.
Module System Also supports modules, but not as extensive as Apache’s. Known for its module system that allows users to add or remove functions.
Community Support
Support Good community support with better files and tutorials. Great documentation and community support.

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1. Server Architecture

The architecture and scalability are fundamental to how these web servers operate and perform. Let’s see how NGINX’s event-driven architecture contrasts with Apache’s process-based model and how these differences impact their ability to handle high-traffic loads.

Architecture

NGINX and Apache are built differently. NGINX uses an event-driven model, which is very efficient and can handle a large number of connections at the same time. It has a main process and several worker processes.

Apache, however, uses a process-based model. It was developed from the NCSA HTTPd server and started in 1995. Apache’s design prioritizes correctness over speed. It has many features, most of which are implemented as compiled modules.

Scalability

NGINX is designed to handle a lot of connections at the same time. Its performance doesn’t rely heavily on hardware resources. It can also distribute traffic to several servers, improving the performance and reliability of web applications.

Apache wasn’t originally designed for high scalability but has improved over time. However, its performance depends on hardware resources like memory and CPU. Despite this, Apache has improved in performance scaling and offers options for improving performance.

Also, if you are using the Cloudways platform, you can choose Autonomous, that is provided with WordPress Auto-scaling to tackle high traffic and seasonal spikes.

2. Compatibility and Security

Next, we’ll see the OS and language compatibility, as well as the security features of NGINX and Apache. We’ll explore how these web servers interact with different operating systems and programming languages and how they ensure the security of your web applications.

OS Compatibility

NGINX works with many operating systems, especially various Linux distributions. However, its performance on Windows isn’t as good.

Apache is compatible with various operating systems, including Windows, macOS, and various Linux distributions.

Language Compatibility

NGINX mainly supports languages that have a FastCGI or similar interface. It also supports some JavaScript through njs, which can extend NGINX’s functionality.

Apache supports many languages through modules, including PHP, Python, Perl, Ruby, and others. It can support any language that has an Apache runtime.

Security

NGINX has several security features, including SSL termination, authentication, and access control. It also has a dedicated security team.

Apache also prioritizes security. It has a good security record and a developer community that is very concerned about security issues. Apache also has a dedicated security team.

3. Content Handling and Module System

Coming up, we’ll look into the content handling and module systems of NGINX and Apache. We’ll explore how these web servers manage static and dynamic content and how their module systems extend their core functionalities.

Content Handling

NGINX uses a configuration file to decide where to find requested files, set up index files, and optimize performance. It can serve static and dynamic content.

Apache uses a “handler” system to handle content. A “handler” is what Apache does when a file is called. Files have handlers based on the file type. Apache also supports dynamic content.

Module System

NGINX’s core is made up of modules. It supports core modules and third-party modules. Modules can be added to the NGINX server binary when it’s compiled.

Apache’s flexibility comes from its modules. The modules allow Apache to do additional things, like rewriting URLs to support SSL encryption. Apache has many modules that can be loaded to extend its functionality.

4. Community Support

NGINX has community support through different channels.

There’s a mailing list run by the NGINX community. This allows users to get help directly from the people who made and maintain NGINX Open Source and NGINX Plus. There’s also an NGINX forum for users to discuss and share knowledge.

Apache provides community support through several platforms.

The Apache HTTP Server Users List and Usenet groups are good places to ask questions. These platforms have people who know much about Apache HTTP and can answer your questions.

The Apache Software Foundation also has a Community Development project that helps open-source projects improve their community health.

When to Choose NGINX or Apache?

NGINX and Apache are both great! But your requirements and preferences should lead to your choice. Here is the abstract idea of when to choose what:

Choose NGINX

You should choose NGINX if you have:

  • High Traffic Sites: You expect high traffic levels and need efficient handling of concurrent connections without a significant memory footprint.
  • Reverse Proxy and Load Balancing: You need a reverse proxy configuration or a load balancer due to its efficient handling of static content and caching capabilities.
  • Microservices Architecture: Your setup involves a microservices architecture where NGINX can effectively route requests and handle multiple microservices.
  • Content Caching: You require robust content caching directly within the web server.
  • Static Content Delivery: You serve a lot of static content and need a server optimized for speed and resource efficiency.

Choose Apache

You should choose Apache if you have:

  • Shared Hosting: You’re using a shared hosting environment, as Apache’s .htaccess file allows for easy directory-level configuration without server restarts.
  • Dynamic Content: Your site heavily relies on dynamic content, and you prefer to process it within the web server using modules like mod_php.
  • Customizable Solutions: You need a highly customizable web server, as Apache’s modular nature allows for extensive fine-tuning.
  • Diverse Modules: You want access to various modules for various functionalities.
  • Familiarity and Community Support: You prefer a server with a long track record and a large community for support.

But do you know, you can choose both?

Get the best performance for your WordPress sites by using NGINX and Apache together. Put NGINX in front to quickly serve all your images and CSS, acting as a reverse proxy. Then let Apache handle the backend stuff.

This setup lets you use your .htaccess files and still enjoy NGINX’s fast static content delivery. It’s like having a speedy assistant upfront with a detail-oriented manager in the back.

Follow our guide on “Host WordPress on NGINX with Apache Web Server” to use both web servers together.

Looking to maximize the performance of your WordPress site with either NGINX or Apache?

Discover Cloudways’ WordPress hosting – where optimal server performance meets unparalleled ease of management.

Web Server Selection: Does Hosting Matter?

Yes, the choice of hosting provider does matter when selecting web servers because the performance, configuration options, and level of control you have can vary significantly between providers.

A provider like Cloudways offers ThunderStack, which combines the strengths of both NGINX and Apache, giving you the power and flexibility of Apache with the speed and efficiency of NGINX. This blend is great for handling both dynamic and static content swiftly.

Cloudways Hosting Stack

– Cloudways Hosting Stack

On top of that, Cloudways ThunderStack includes speed-enhancing tools like Memcached, Varnish Cache, and Redis for caching, along with MySQL and MariaDB for database management. PHP-FPM and PHP 7 ensure your PHP code runs faster.

So, with Cloudways, you’re getting a hosting solution that’s crafted for high performance.

Summary

In conclusion, NGINX stands out with its remarkable speed and efficiency in handling numerous requests simultaneously, an invaluable asset for websites with heavy traffic. However, when it comes to managing dynamic content, it requires a bit more effort to get things just right.

Meanwhile, Apache remains a robust option with its powerful modularity and the convenience of .htaccess files. While it may not always keep up with NGINX’s performance under high load, its adaptability cannot be understated.

You can also leverage the strengths of both by using the custom web hosting stack of Cloudways.

Q. What Are the Main Differences Between Apache and NGINX?

A. Apache operates on a process-driven architecture, offering a wide range of modules, while NGINX uses an event-driven approach, providing higher concurrency and performance.

Q. Can Apache and NGINX Work Together?

A. Yes, Apache and NGINX can work together, typically with NGINX serving static content and handling load balancing while Apache processes dynamic requests.

Q. Which is better: Apache or nginx?

A. “Better” depends on the specific use case: Apache is known for its flexibility and .htaccess, while NGINX is preferred for high traffic sites due to its scalability and speed.

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Liza Rajput

Liza Rajput is a Technical Content Producer at Cloudways. Being a software engineer, she loves to play with data and its processes and wishes to grow and excel in Data Science and Big Data Engineering. She has also been an avid reader and exceptional writer, with sufficient experience in technical, research-based, and creative writing.

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