When you’re establishing a new website or switching to a new web host, one of the most important determinations you’ll need to make is whether you want to host on a server running Nginx or one running Apache.
Together, Nginx and Apache are behind the success of more than half of the websites currently on the Internet.
There are a number of important differences between Apache and Nginx that can affect how your website will run and how you will interact with your server. Today, I’ll walk you through a head-to-head comparison of Nginx vs Apache to help you determine which is better for your website.
What is Nginx?
Nginx web server was released in 2004 to address the problem of increased web traffic. The innovation of Nginx compared to earlier servers such as Apache was to use an asynchronous, event-driven architecture. In layman’s terms, this means Nginx can handle up to 10,000 simultaneous connections on a single web server.
Nginx is also extremely efficient when it comes to hardware utilization, allowing servers to get more speed out of their limited CPU and RAM. As a result, it is one of the fastest web server options for serving static content.
What is Apache?
Apache has served as the base server for much of the Internet since its release in 1995. It remains the most popular web server and is commonly used in the LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) web stacks found on shared hosting servers.
The advantage to Apache is that it’s highly versatile and offers up to 60 different official modules to customize its feature set. While it wasn’t originally designed to work with the high connection loads of modern web traffic, Apache has developed several workarounds to get the job done.
Nginx vs Apache: Head-to-head Comparison
Both Nginx and Apache are best suited for different service needs. Here's a comparison of the most important features to make the choice easier.
Static Content Performance: Nginx Wins
When it comes to Nginx vs Apache performance for serving static web content, there’s no question that Nginx is superior. In benchmark tests using 1,000 simultaneous connections, Nginx is roughly 2.5 times quicker than Apache and uses slightly less RAM in the process.
This difference is thanks to Nginx’s straightforward approach to handling client requests for data. Nginx doesn’t require an interpreter to handle requests, whereas Apache uses a file-based mechanism to parse client requests and access data files.
Dynamic Content Performance: Similar Performance
One major difference between Apache and Nginx is how they load and handle dynamic content. Apache uses internal language processors that don’t require the server to communicate with additional programs or hardware. Nginx, on the other hand, handles PHP and other language requests by passing them to an external translator and then transferring the result to the requesting client.
That might make Nginx seem less favorable, and it’s certainly less fluid. However, Apache and Nginx perform about the same when it comes to serving dynamic content because of the overall higher efficiency of Nginx’s hardware usage.
‘.htaccess’ File: Nginx Has No Equivalent
One of the main advantages to Apache, especially for shared hosting servers, is that it offers a ‘.htaccess’ file. This file allows each user on a shared host to design a custom configuration for their website, bypassing some aspects of the web server’s main configuration.
Unfortunately, Nginx doesn’t offer any equivalent to Apache’s ‘.htaccess’ file. While this isn’t necessarily an issue if you are running a dedicated server, it does reduce the versatility of your system.
Modules: Both Similar, Apache A Bit Better
When it comes to adding modules to expand your web server’s feature set, it can be hard to choose between Nginx vs Apache. Both web servers offer a wide range of official modules, although Apache has a slight edge here with nearly 60 official modules available.
Each web server also supports third-party modules, which are largely comparable for core functions across the two software systems.
Where Nginx falls short is in dynamic module loading. Apache offers dynamic module loading and unloading, which allows you to easily turn additional functions on or off without altering the base Apache software in the course of handling web requests. Nginx, though, requires that modules be compiled into the core software in order to use their features on your server.
Support and Compatibility: Nginx Is Catching Up
There used to be a significant gap in support for Nginx compared to Apache, but that’s been closing rapidly as Nginx is more widely adopted by major web hosts. Complete English-language documentation is now available for Nginx and many third-party developers provide the option to compile their software for either Apache or Nginx.
That said, support and compatibility is almost a non-issue when it comes to Apache since it’s been around for so many years and so widely used.
There is a huge array of official documentation and online support for Apache and a far larger number of IT professionals who have experience working within the Apache environment.
In addition, more shared hosts offer support for Apache than for Nginx because of the ability to offer individual configurations using the ‘.htaccess’ file.
VPS Environment: Nginx Wins
If you’re running a VPS environment, you’ll need to compare the Nginx vs Apache reverse proxy rather than using each as a standard web server. In this case, Nginx handily wins out over Apache.
The main reason for this is that most VPS environments are RAM-limited. That makes the more efficient hardware utilization by Nginx as the number of connections grows a significant benefit.
In addition, Nginx performs extremely well for serving static files, which makes it an ideal reverse proxy. Apache, on the other hand, is designed to work as a general purpose web server and using it as a reverse proxy requires much more careful load balancing.
Nginx vs Apache: Apache is Still Best for Shared Hosting and Ease of Use
When it comes to choosing between Nginx vs Apache, Apache is still the best choice for web servers that aren’t hardware limited.
While support for Nginx is growing, you’ll be able to find Apache expertise more easily in the event that you run into issues.
Plus, the dynamic module loading available in Apache makes a huge difference in being able to add and remove features without dropping connections from the core software.
That said, Nginx is a serious competitor, especially for servers that are primarily serving static content or that are low on CPUs or RAM.
In terms of sheer performance, Nginx is up to 2.5 times faster than Apache for static content and can compete on dynamic content. Plus, its small footprint makes it an ideal choice as a reverse proxy for VPS hosting.
Did this guide help you choose between Nginx vs Apache for your web server? Let me know in the comments below!