Deploying web applications with NGINX HTTP Server

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If you're running a website and notice that it's slow, doesn't load your content, or is prone to crashing, then you may have a problem. If the server is trying to maximize its performance but can't, the its architecture may be to blame. If you're interested in website development, then you may already be aware of this common problem.

When a website can't maintain incoming connections, it experiences performance issues, and it can possibly ruin your customer's experience. In this article, we'll discuss how deploying web applications with NGINX can solve your lagging web server problems and improve your user experience.

Main takeaways

This post will provide the reader with the following knowledge:

  • Defining what is a NGINX HTTP Server is
  • Learning why NGINX is a good web server
  • Understanding the benefits of using NGINX HTTP Servers
  • Describing other uses for NGINX
  • Knowing how to use NGINX HTTP Server to deploy web applications for Linux and Windows OSs
  • Contrasting NGINX HTTP Server versus Apache HTTP Server
  • Exploring why you may want to use NGINX

What is NGINX HTTP Server?

In 2004, Igor Sysoev developed NGINX to overcome the limitations of traditional web servers which had difficulty managing a high volume of simultaneous connections. Back in 1999, web servers faced what was known as the "C10K problem" and due to it, they struggled to handle 10,000 simultaneous connections, indicating the need for a new, more capable alternative.

With its asynchronous framework, NGINX web servers are the standard for web applications that require consistent high-performance features. However, there are other web servers available that are asynchronous, so what makes NGINX so excellent compared to the others? Let's take a deeper look.

More about the benefits of using NGINX HTTP Server

Across the internet, many websites use NGINX, Apache Web Server, and LiteSpeed Web Server, especially those that require more bandwidth when visitor traffic is heavy. Part of NGINX's appeal is that it is less complex compared to others and has a small code base structure. NGINX servers are often considered to be better than its competitors, so many companies prefer NGINX — and for specific reasons. Below are some of the benefits of using NGINX for your web server.

  • It's a cost-effective alternative to other server choices.
  • Compared to many traditional web servers, NGINX often requires less memory due to its event-driven architecture.
  • Website owners get to enjoy faster loading times, which, as a business, is imperative for Google rankings.
  • NGINX is an open-source web server, which is often preferred.

Many high-traffic companies such as Netflix, WordPress.com, Pinterest, and Hulu incorporate NGINX into their infrastructure, benefiting from its stability and high performance.

Why does NGINX make a good web server?

Since NGINX has some of the best performance capabilities of any web server, many companies have opted to use NGINX as their preferred web server platform. Using NGINX for your web application allows you to be prepared for a variety of situations and helps to optimize performance. NGINX is also attractive due to its low resource requirement and ability to handle many use cases.

NGINX HTTP Server can handle thousands of connections at one time, which reduces your server downtime and loads your content faster. NGINX is useful when you need to scale your application due to business expansion or to meet customer demands. If you've used NGINX before, then you know it's not just a solid web server. Your company can also use NGINX for other things, too. Those other uses are covered in the next section.

What are some other uses for NGINX?

It didn't take long for users to realize that NGINX could do other things. So, Igor Sysoev designed NGINX to be a faster server, but after supporting the technology and continuing to develop it, he realized its potential. NGINX evolved just as the internet had, and it moved beyond serving as just a reliable web server. As a result of Sysoev's contribution, NGINX has become an application capable of supporting many components of the modern web experience.

One valuable feature that is worth highlighting is that just as an Apache virtual host can, a NGINX virtual host (server block) allows you to serve multiple domains or websites from a single web server. Some of the other most prominent features of NGINX include those in the next sections.

NGINX can be a reverse proxy server

NGINX isn't the only open-source application that can serve as a reverse proxy server, but it has a unique ability to improve your website's performance. Reverse proxy servers are used to direct server requests efficiently while providing additional security for sensitive data. NGINX acts as a reverse proxy server since it improves your application's performance by caching the static content. NGINX's ability to cache content this way reduces the impact of the server requests and enhances functionality.

NGINX works as an email proxy server

NGINX can also function as an email proxy server, offering compatibility with mail transfer protocols like IMAP, POP3, and SMTP. Let's say your business needs to start email marketing, and you want a reliable proxy server. NGINX is a flexible solution for your email marketing and can serve as the singular endpoint for your system. Here are a couple more reasons NGINX works well for email lists:

  • It can choose a server close to your customer's IP address, which makes sending your messages more efficient and improves the deliverability of your content.
  • If your business is expanding quickly, NGINX works as a scaling solution to add mail servers.

NGINX works as a load balancer

Due to NGINX's open-source structure, it works as a decent load balancer for your web server. NGINX can do this because it can handle more server connections simultaneously. As a load balancer, NGINX can distribute and manage traffic easily by forwarding multiple requests to other compatible servers.
With a higher load capacity, NGINX is a good alternative for dynamic websites. The technology is also ideal for cloud-based applications, which means your business can modernize with current technology much faster and with fewer complications.

Using NGINX HTTP Server to deploy web applications

As we mentioned, NGINX is adaptable and can create applications with many features, all with simple configuration settings. Deploying with NGINX can be easier than using other apps. Let's look at a scenario where you're deploying your NGINX web application on your Linux machine. With NGINX already installed, let's see how straightforward the process is with the steps listed below, broken out by operating system type.

Linux OSs

  1. How you start your NGINX HTTP Server depends on the Linux distribution you are running on your machine. With newer Linux distribution versions, start your NGINX server in the command prompt by typing sudo systemctl start nginx and then check the status with the sudo systemctl status nginx command.
  2. After starting the server, confirm if it worked by entering the IP address of your Linux server or http://localhost in a web browser. You should see the test page for the NGINX HTTP Web Server​.
  3. Next, you'll need to access the default website root. On Ubuntu and Debian-related distributions, use the command cd /var/www/html. On Red Hat and related distributions, use the cd /usr/share/nginx/html command.
  4. Then, from the default website root, run the sudo mv index.html index.html.bk command to rename any existing index.html file. Next, run the command sudo nano index.html to create your own index.html file.
  5. Add your web content to the index.html file that was just created in the step prior to this one​.
  6. Once you've done that, refresh your web browser to see your new website.

If you need to edit the main NGINX configuration or the default server configuration, these files are located under /etc/nginx/nginx.conf and /etc/nginx/sites-enabled/default respectively. The command to edit these files is sudo nano followed by the file path and name — for example, sudo nano /etc/nginx/nginx.conf or sudo nano /etc/nginx/sites-enabled/default.

Windows OSs

Here are the instructions for deploying NGINX on a Windows machine:

  1. Download the NGINX Windows version from the official website found at nginx.org and extract the files to a directory of your choice.
  2. Bring up the command prompt and go to the directory where you extracted the NGINX files. Type cd <path_to_your_directory> to do this, replacing <path_to_your_directory> with the path to your NGINX directory.
  3. To start the NGINX server, type nginx.exe and press the Enter key. If no error messages appear, it's likely the server has started correctly.
  4. Confirm that NGINX is running by opening a web browser session and typing localhost in the URL navigational field. If everything was configured correctly, you should see a "Welcome to NGINX!" page.
  5. To make changes to the NGINX configuration file, navigate to the conf directory within the NGINX directory and open the nginx.conf file in a text editor. On Windows, you may need to specify the full path to your configuration files.
  6. Make any necessary changes to the configuration file and save your changes.
  7. To apply the changes and restart the NGINX server, go back to the command prompt window and type nginx.exe -s reload and press the Enter key.
  8. To verify that your changes were applied correctly, open a web browser and type localhost in the address bar. If everything was configured correctly, you should see the updated NGINX page.

Remember to always save your changes after editing the nginx.conf file and use the nginx.exe -s reload command to apply them. If NGINX is not behaving as expected, the nginx.conf file is the first place you should look for potential issues.

Caveats

Note that the steps necessary may vary depending on the specific details involved with your use case, the exact Linux distribution you're using, and your system and configuration setup. The official NGINX documentation can be found on the nginx.org/en/docs and docs.nginx.com websites, which you'll need to consult for both the Linux and Windows instructions outlined above.

Also of note, the steps in this article are only meant to provide an introductory overview of NGINX. Our "Using NGINX HTTP Server to deploy web applications" section and the steps provided in it merely walk the reader through modifying the default NGINX document root to replace the default NGINX index.html file with new content. Additional documentation should be consulted for how would the reader is able to create a second or third site, if desired.

Is NGINX HTTP Server better than Apache HTTP Server?

We could compare NGINX to other types of web servers, but Apache is a common, open-source server that's still useful today. Before NGINX, Apache ran approximately 60% of the world's websites. Both server options have advantages and disadvantages, and your choice largely depends on your needs.

Apache HTTP Server played a key role in the early development of the internet, which might lead some to perceive it as outdated. Yet, it's still highly adaptable to the evolving technologies in web development. However, NGINX was developed as a replacement for Apache's lack of features. Due to better performance demands and richer page content, this forced developers to use something else other than Apache.

Why you may want to use NGINX

If you're already a web developer then you know that Apache HTTP Server and NGINX HTTP Server work well together, but companies usually want one or the other. If you want performance, nine times out of ten, NGINX HTTP Server will perform better than Apache. Developers will note higher performance on sites that have more static content.

NGINX's event-driven architecture, which is efficient yet different from the conventional models, allows it to handle many connections with less memory. This complex structure could make developing your server more complicated. As a result, adding improvements or innovations could be more frustrating. Apache servers follow a more straightforward model and can sometimes make enhancements or modifications less complex.

Despite its advantages, NGINX does have its challenges when it comes to certain functionality and features. While NGINX has made significant strides in compatibility and support, some users may still find Apache to be more stable across a broader range of operating systems. While both servers can handle dynamic content, NGINX doesn't process it natively and typically relies on external software like PHP-FPM, which might be a consideration for your specific use case. Developing a NGINX HTTP Server has its ups and downs, but it deploys well as a standalone service for delivering your applications.

Conclusion

NGINX is a multi-functional server businesses use to develop reliable and high-performing applications. With an NGINX framework behind your application, you can deploy load balancers, reverse proxies, and even cache content, improving the performance of your website. Consumers enjoy visiting a high-performance website as it allows them to focus on the content. They don't have to worry about the server slowing down or having to constantly refresh their browser.

At Liquid Web, we utilize NGINX's potential for web servers and other applications due to its ability to adapt to changing technology. Our services involve offering customizable web solutions that work for your business needs. A server solution is no good if it doesn't remain flexible and give you the features you need to provide a secure and stable experience.

For over 25 years, our team has served our customers with new and evolving technologies to offer the best web hosting services available for small- and medium-sized online stores. If you want to explore the possibilities of high-performance applications with NGINX, our technical staff will be happily help answer your questions. Visit our website or contact us today to learn more about how to partner with Liquid Web.

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