22Mar 2021

Nginx vs Apache – Notable Differences

Which web server is the best choice between Apache and Nginx? The two are the largest open-source web servers on the internet today handing over 50% of all internet traffic.

Each has a design that handles different amounts of work at the same time complementing various software. This gives them a capability of being a complete web stack.

You could probably be worried about which web server would be more suitable for your needs.

There are a couple of similarities, but trust me, they are different! Each has their own merits and demerits so it is crucial that you understand this before dwelling on either.

In this article, we make a comparison between the two servers based on various aspects – from performance, server security, architecture, and file management. 

NGINX Overview


Nginx, NGINX, nginx, or NginX, is a web server which can as well be used as a reverse proxy, HTTP cache, load balancer, and mail proxy. Nginx was created by Igor Sysoev and officially made open source in 2004.

Nginx was initially developed to address the performance drawbacks of Apache.

Unlike Apache’s process per connection approach, Nginx utilizes a synchronous, event-driven type of architecture that can handle loads of traffic. It makes it possible to predict RAM and CPU usage as well as latency.

A Nginx worker can support tens of thousands of HTTP client connections simultaneously. Its lightweight architecture, high performance, and scalability has made NGINX a highly regarded implementation.

You can use NGINX as a standalone web server or as a frontend proxy for Apache and other web servers.

The latter solution helps in offloading the network by placing it in front of Apache server. This transforms a slow internet connection into an extremely fast, reliable server-side connection.

Further, Nginx protects a vulnerable Apache web server from attacks like slowhttprequest or Slowloris form traffic spikes. 


Apache Overview


Beginning 1996, Apache was recognized as the most popular internet server, hence receiving massive support and contributions. Sys admins to use Apache because of its powerful, wide range support and high flexibility.

Apache has a dynamic module system that makes it extensible. It has a rich set of features that can be used by installing either one of over 60 modules available.

Further, it can process various programming languages without the need to use external software. 

There is no doubt that Apache has made significant developments over the years where sites need to handle more concurrent web requests.

There are several methods to improve efficiency i.e. latency and RAM use, especially in a world where page sizes have got a lot bigger.

A Detailed Comparison Between NGINX and Apache


Application development using Apache is easier. Due to its connection per process model makes it easy to add modules in any point of the web serving logic. In case one process fails, others are not affected whatsoever.

Unlike Apache, Nginx has a complex architecture making application development a bit difficult.

It requires a deep understanding of creating efficient code that does not have bugs so as to make the proper interaction with the event driven architecture. 

Handling connections

The capabilities to handle traffic and connections is one of the most significant differences between Apache web server and Nginx.

The team developing Apache had much awareness about the issues related to handling multiple connections.

Therefore, a fast-looping function was developed to search for events and process them continuously. Once an event is activated, every worker can be able to make a connection.

This form of connection processing can scale Nginx even to greater heights given limited resources. Even during periods of heavy loads, memory utilization and CPU utilizations remain fairly consistent.

You can configure the Apache’s request processing methodology in one of three modules as follows (also known as multi-processing modules (MPMs)):

  1. Process model: The old method, which probably doesn’t scale well with many concurrent connections because of its high RAM usage in possibility of refusing connections when at high load capacity. This might not be noticed by small sites, but larger sites definitely will.
  2. Worker model: the beauty about this feature is creating child processes that each create a number of threads and listener threads. A listener threads listens for connections and passes them to a thread for processing once they arrive.
  3. Event model: similar to a worker model, it creates a listener thread that listens for connections then passing them to a worker thread to process.

A Nginx worker can support thousands of HTTP client connections simultaneously. Its lightweight architecture, high performance, and scalability has made NGINX a highly regarded implementation

Static Content

It is with no doubt that Nginx performs faster than Apache. In a benchmark test that was done by running up to 1000 connections, it proved that Nginx is about 2.5 times faster compared to Apache and consumes less memory space.

Therefore, Nginx would be the suitable choice to handle concurrent static content.

Dynamic Content

Tests from the same benchmark were done for dynamic content, and it showed that speeds for handling dynamic content were exactly the same.

The reason behind this is that all requests are processed within the PHP runtime environments which are similar to both servers. 

Operating System Support

Apache is supported on all operating systems including Windows, Linux, and UNIX. 

NGINX is very stable in UNIX platforms and also supported on windows.


Using very simple terms, caching is preparing content for a web visitor before they visit it such that once they request the content, you don’t have to go searching for it. You have it ready and will hand it to them as soon as they need it.

There are three types of caching offered by Apache to improve its performance:

  • Three state RFC266 caching- offers smart caching when handling locally stored dynamic content
  • Two state – offers value shared object caching 
  • Specialized file caching – files can be preloaded on start up therefore improving access time when they are required

Nginx, on the other hand, caches dynamic content hence provides faster load speeds and effectively reduces the load on a server.

The two directives used for Nginx caching include the following:

  • Procy_cache_path that sets the cache path and configuration
  • Proxy_cache: activates the cache

Nginx has an additional capability to display cached website content when the server is down.

You should however note that caching is not recommended in some scenarios. 

File vs URI Based Interpretation

Apache uses the Directory and File blocks to interpret requests as filesystem resources. By following the host and port number, the server tries to locate the location of the file.

When a match is not found Apache goes through the file system to find alternative ways to find alternative ways to serve the requests:

  • Alias: maps URLs to filesystem locations and allows storing documents elsewhere than the DocumentRoot
  • Redirect: works by mapping an old URL into a new URL; server redirects client to fetch the resources in a different location
  • Location: working with URLs is made possible by working with blocks

NGINX on the other hand, allows for a server to be used as a proxy therefore it mainly handles URIs. Server and location blocks are primarily used as configuration blocks:

  • Server block is a config file subset that identifies the virtual server to handle requests. The fact that virtual servers can be set to handle specific types of connections, server administrators can assign different blocks to different domains, ports, and IP addresses.
  • Location block is defined as a server block that handles requests for various resources and URIs. It routes requests to their correct file locations in the file system.


Both servers are considered to be secure, therefore problems could only arise due to poor configuration.

Follow the following key points to the letter:

For Apache:

  • Adjust the configuration to avoid Denial of Service (DoS) attacks.
  • Change permissions of the directory ServerRoot
  • ensure correct server side includes
  • counter check CGI scripts
  • configure the server config file to ensure system is protected against .htaccess overriding
  • keep eye on your logs
  • always keep the server updated to the latest version

For Nginx:

  • disable unwanted modules to lower risks associated with vulnerability exploits by attackers
  • hide your Nginx version by disabling server_tokens directive.
  • Disable any unnecessary or unused HTTP method
  • Disabling resources to avoid DoS attacks
  • Include security headers
  • Update the server to the latest version


Apache has had a dynamic module loading for quite a while so it can be easily customized.

Nginx Plus is a software module that is built on Nginx and acts as a load balancer, web server, and content cache. This supports additional software modules which can be run on demand. 

We can say the core operational functionalities are supported by both web servers.

Support and Documentation

Apache has community support through Apache HTTP server mailing lists. It is also done through Stack Overflow and IRC channels.

Third party channels also offer commercial Apache support but no official list is maintained by Apache.

NGINX also has support through mailing lists, IRC, and stack Overflow. NGINX Plus is a commercial product with additional features in terms of load-balancing, server monitoring, and media streaming. 

Both servers offer amazing Documentation. Nginx offers NGINX wiki

In general, Apache has more support from third parties since it has been in existence for more time.

Nginx vs Apache: Head-to-Head 


To put an end to this, here is a summary of the key differences between Apache and NGINX.

SimplicityEasy to develop and deploy because of its process-per-process architectureComplex to develop and deploy because of its sophisticated architecture to handle many concurrent connections 
Handling connectionsUses a fast-looping function was developed to search for events and process them continuouslyworker can support thousands of HTTP client connections simultaneously
StaticSlow to handle static content2.5 times faster than Apache and consumes less memory
DynamicPerforms excellentlyPerforms excellently
OS supportRuns on all operating systemsRuns on all operating systems
Caching Actual caching is done by one of the caching providersDoes not cache responses with cache control set to private
File vs URI interpretationDesign reflects a web server needsArchitecture allows the server to act as a proxy
SecurityHas a secure webs server but configuration settings should be properHas a secure webs server but configuration settings should be proper
FlexibilityEasily customized by adding modulesNginx plus introduced dynamic modules 
Support & documentationExcellent support and documentation because of its long existenceHas excellent resource support and documentation available

Working Together: When to Use Both Nginx and Apache


You now understand the benefits and downsides of using either NGINX or Apache. However, both servers complement each other really well in many applications.

Traditionally, NGINX was placed ahead of Apache to act as a reverse proxy. This enables accommodating every client request because NGINX can handle many concurrent requests and connections.

Allowing NGINX to sort requests and processes to the ones it can handle alone avoids potential overloading issues. Apache would be left to handle smaller volumes of requests. 

Further, NGINX is easily scalable as it communicates with the server pools and supports addition of more servers to handle specific requests.


After reading this article, you understand the clear differences between NGINX and Apache and you can identify which one you can go for to suit your needs.

To speak fairly, both Apache and NGINX offer amazing performance, high flexibility, many capabilities and are both powerful. They are capable of competing alongside each other.

A number of tangible differences can have significant effects in performance, capabilities, and time required to effectively implement each solution.

Once all is said and done, there is no particular web server that meets all the needs and requirements of every individual at one single time. It would be wise to utilize the solution that is best in line with your objectives.

Acodez is a renowned web development company and web application development company in India. We offer all kinds of web design and Mobile app development services to our clients using the latest technologies. We are also a leading digital marketing company providing SEO, SMM, SEM, Inbound marketing services, etc at affordable prices. For further information, please contact us.

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Jamsheer K

Jamsheer K

Jamsheer K, is the Tech Lead at Acodez. With his rich and hands-on experience in various technologies, his writing normally comes from his research and experience in mobile & web application development niche.

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