The NGINX Handbook - A Beginner’s Cheat Sheet to Learning NGINX

Published on:
December 14, 2023

Consider this: You've designed a web application & now need one of the best web servers to host it.

Your application could comprise several static files — HTML, CSS, and JavaScript — and a backend API service or numerous web services. Enter NGINX! Using NGINX might be what you're looking for & for good reasons. As Owen Garrett, Product Manager of F5, puts it - “Building the app is half the battle. Delivering the app is the other half & we’re here to help.”

NGINX (pronounced "engine-x") has developed as a popular web server solution for many developers and admins. NGINX has shown to be a strong, high-performance, and adaptable solution for serving online content as the backbone of many high-traffic websites.

You may have heard of NGINX, but you may have to understand what it is and how it works. Fortunately, MarsDevs has brought the ultimate beginner’s cheat sheet for beginners like you to know about NGINX!

So, let’s dive in!

Introduction to NGINX

Introduction to NGINX

It’s a free and open-source web server that serves as a reverse proxy, HTTP cache, mail proxy & load balancer. It was initially created to solve the C10K problem, which relates to optimizing network sockets to accommodate a large number of customers concurrently. NGINX's event-based model allows it to monitor thousands of frequent connections using small memory, turning it ideal for high-traffic sites.

NGINX's strength resides in its adaptability. It can quickly provide static material, handle dynamic content via reverse proxying & even balance load across multiple back-end servers. NGINX is a favorite among many web professionals due to its versatility, excellent performance & rich feature set. NGINX implements event-driven, asynchronous, and non-blocking models using master-slave architecture.

Many operating systems additionally use an enhanced event-based approach. NGINX also employs multiplexing and event alerts and delegating particular duties to different processes.

NGINX vs. other web servers 

Choosing the best web server software can be difficult because it depends on your demands and circumstances. How do you know which is the best? Let’s compare them.

1. NGINX vs. Apache

While NGINX & Apache are popular and capable web servers, they offer advantages & disadvantages. The massive difference between NGINX & Apache web servers is that NGINX uses an event-based model that handles multiple requests within one thread. In contrast, Apache uses a process-driven architecture that creates a thread for each request. 

As a result, NGINX has increased overall performance. NGINX leverages the underlying capabilities of modern operating systems such as Linux to optimize memory, CPU, and network utilization and extract maximum performance from a physical or virtual server. 

As a result, NGINX can frequently serve at least 10x more (and frequently 100-1000x more) requests per server than Apache. It equates to more connected users per server, greater bandwidth efficiency, less CPU and RAM consumption, and a greener environment!

2. NGINX vs. IIS and LiteSpeed

Compared to other web servers, such as Microsoft's Internet Information Services (IIS) or LiteSpeed, NGINX frequently outperforms them in terms of efficiency, performance, and flexibility. IIS is tightly integrated with the Windows environment, which makes managing it in a Windows context easier. 

However, it is less efficient than NGINX at processing multiple concurrent connections and needs NGINX's adaptability when functioning as a reverse proxy or load balancer. LiteSpeed is a commercial web server that works with the capabilities and settings of Apache. It's quicker than Apache & can monitor concurrent connections, but it's not free. 

Also, it requires NGINX's degree in community assistance & a vast selection of modules. As Dimitri Nek puts it, “While every website server has its strengths & is better suited to specific scenarios, NGINX often gets highlighted for its exceptional performance, versatility & efficiency.”

How Does NGINX Work?

Now that we have cleared the basics, let’s understand how NGINX works.

NGINX's architecture is asynchronous and event-driven. Unlike traditional servers, which create new processes or threads for each connection, NGINX employs a small number of single-threaded processes known as workers. 

Each worker may manage thousands of connections simultaneously by indefinitely cycling through & processing a list of active connections. When a client submits a request, the worker accepts & adds it to the list. The worker then executes the request, responds to the client & closes the connection. 

If the client sends another request, the connection is maintained alive, and the connection is returned to the active list for further processing. This architecture enables NGINX to handle many concurrent connections while consuming little memory.

Benefits of NGINX

The NGINX website writes, “NGINX has become a de‑facto standard for high‑performance, scalable websites. 10 of millions of active websites use NGINX, including 1 million busiest websites in the world.“

Benefits of NGINX

But why is it so popular? Let’s take a look.

  • Better UX - It reduces the time taken for a website to load. You won't have to worry about high latency on your websites, which means a better user experience. 
  • More Pleasant Surfing - It increases overall performance by routing traffic to web servers in an efficient manner. This feature gives your consumers a pleasant surfing experience.
  • App Compatibility - NGINX serves various popular software such as WordPress, Ruby, Python, Joomla, Drupal, and others.
  • Robust Load Balancer - It is a low-cost, high-performance load balancer.
  • Scalable - NGINX is synonymous with scalability. It offers scalability and the capacity to handle concurrent queries.
  • Regular Upgrades - The best part? NGINX allows for real-time upgrades with no downtime.

Community Support - The NGINX assist staff is always ready to provide enterprise assistance to NGINX users.

Use Cases of NGINX

Use Cases of NGINX

So, where is NGINX used? Here are some use cases.

  • As a Web Server-NGINX is one of the best web servers available, outperforming Apache and others in performance benchmarking tools. 
  • As a Load Balancer - NGINX can serve as an effective load balancer, distributing traffic across all nodes in a cluster. It has built-in load-balancing functions, with various approaches and algorithms available to the user.
  • As a Reverse Proxy - NGINX is a popular reverse proxy server because of its built-in ability to simply transmit a request to another server, server group, or application over a range of protocols.
  • As an API Gateway - NGINX provides the capabilities required to specify numerous endpoints and route requests to those backend services while also load balancing for all those servers. NGINX can work as an API gateway & it's simple. 
  • As a Cache - NGINX serves as a cache, storing data for future requests.
  • In Resource Compression - NGINX also offers resource compression and decompression, a fantastic feature for web acceleration.

Installing NGINX

Let's know a few things before we tell you how to install NGINX. Its fundamental settings are mostly configured in the NGINX.conf file. It is divided into two main contexts: the event context and the HTTP context. The configuration file includes the following:

Worker_ processes: This specifies the number of worker processes that NGINX will employ.Worker_ connections: This is the maximum number of concurrent connections allowed for each worker process. It informs NGINX of the maximum number of people it can serve. Access_logand error_log: These files keep track of problems and attempted accesses.Gzip: These are the gzip compression settings for NGINX responses.

Now let’s install it. The first step is to run an update using the following command on your Linux machine.

sudo apt-get update

Next, run the next command -

sudo apt-get install nginx

In the next step, you have to enable your firewall. To accomplish that, run the below command -

sudo ufw enable

To check whether NGINX is installed and running, use the following commands.

nginx -v

sudo ufw status

Once executing this command, the following result appears:

status: active

If you want to check further whether your NGINX works fine, run this command.

sudo systemctl status nginx

If all works fine, you’ll be shown a success message. 

Et voilà! Your NGINX is installed & you can enjoy it!

NGINX Features

As the website rating puts it, “NGINX is a software that assists websites run faster & handle more visitors simultaneously. It’s like a traffic cop for the internet, directing visitors to the desired places & ensuring things run smoothly.”

Yet we haven’t talked about the different features of NGINX. So, let’s explore them!

  • Modules

Modules can be used to extend NGINX's functionality. There are core modules that are compiled into the server by default and optional modules that can be included during the compilation process.

  • Caching

NGINX caching is a well-known function that improves website performance by storing frequently visited material in cache memory. It minimizes the number of requests to the server, leading to faster response times and lower server stress.

  • Load Balancing

Another useful feature is NGINX load balancing, which helps to distribute incoming traffic over different servers, boosting website performance and reliability. NGINX can handle thousands of concurrent connections and may be set to use various load-balancing techniques such as round-robin, IP hash, and least connections.

  • Reverse Proxy

NGINX can function as a reverse proxy, handling requests on behalf of another server. It is advantageous for load balancing, caching, and boosting security by concealing the identity of the backend server. 

  • HTTP Server

NGINX is a high-performance HTTP server that can handle massive concurrent requests while consuming little CPU and memory. It supports HTTP features like HTTP/2, WebSockets, and FastCGI. 

  • Performance

NGINX is a powerful web server that can manage concurrent connections while consuming a few resources.

  • Asynchronous Architecture

To manage requests, NGINX employs an asynchronous, event-driven method. Instead of starting a new process for each request, NGINX handles numerous requests with a single thread. This method enables NGINX to handle many requests while incurring minimal overhead.

  • Memory Usage

NGINX is designed to utilize as little memory as possible. NGINX allocates a fixed amount of RAM to each worker process by default. This amount is adjustable based on the hardware configuration of the server.

NGINX in Different Environments

NGINX is extremely adaptable and can run on various operating systems, notably Linux and Windows.

  • Linux - NGINX was initially built for Unix-like computers, yet it performs admirably on Linux. Because of its performance, stability, and minimal resource utilization, it is frequently used as the default choice for Linux-based web servers. 
  • Windows - NGINX can also be run on Windows systems, albeit this is less frequent. While NGINX on Windows includes the majority of the functionality of its Linux equivalent, there are certain limitations owing to operating system differences. 

Cloud Computing - NGINX also works well in cloud computing settings. Because of its ability to handle huge traffic loads while using little memory, it is perfect for scalable, distributed applications.

Looking Ahead

NGINX has established itself as a robust and adaptable web server that can handle various jobs efficiently and dependably. It is popular among developers and system administrators due to its event-driven architecture, extensive capabilities, and robust security.

NGINX has the power and versatility to satisfy your needs, whether providing static content, functioning as a reverse proxy, or balancing loads across numerous servers. Its widespread use and popularity attest to its capabilities and performance.

As the product head at NGINX says - “The modern web needs the latest way to app delivery. It’s a journey we’re taking & this is a journey that we want to take part with you.”

However, as with any technology, understanding NGINX's advantages and drawbacks is critical, as is selecting the proper tool for your use case. Although we have offered a beginner's overview of NGINX, there is always more to learn. The more you know, the better you’ll become in creative, innovative web applications.

Need help with your journey with NGINX? MarsDevs can help. Let us help you learn how people are using NGINX and help your leverage the same.

Reach out to us for your tech needs anytime. We are the top tech partners you’ll ever find!


  1. Can NGINX be used as a load balancer?

NGINX's ability to operate as a load balancer is one of its primary characteristics. It can split incoming traffic among many backend servers, improving application performance and dependability.

  1. Can you optimize NGINX for better performance?

There are various techniques to improve NGINX performance. Enabling gzip compression to minimize the size of HTTP responses, configuring caching to enhance response times, and adjusting NGINX's worker processes and connections to best use your server's resources are examples.

  1. Does NGINX offer any security features?

NGINX has several security mechanisms by default & assists in SSL/TLS for encrypted connections, price restriction to prevent DDoS assaults & access control based on an IP address, or HTTP basic authentication is among them.

  1. What is NGINX used for?

It’s a free and open-source website server that serves as a reverse proxy, HTTP cache, mail proxy & load balancer. NGINX helps in HTTPS servers & is primarily intended for optimal performance & stability.

  1. Which is faster - Apache or NGINX?

NGINX outperforms Apache in terms of performance. NGINX is 2.5 times quicker than Apache and consumes less memory.

Similar Posts