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What is NGINX, and What Does it Do?

Posted on by Mohammed Noufal | Updated:
Reading Time: 6 minutes

The web server is one of the core components of the internet. They deliver the requested webpage. Each web server has an IP address as well as a domain name. To turn your server into a web server, you must install web server software such as NGINX, Apache, and others.

This article will assist you in comprehending what NGINX is and how it differs from other web servers. Additionally, discover what NGINX is used for and how you use NGINX to improve the performance and security of your website.

What is NGINX?

NGINX is a well-known open source web server software used for reverse proxy, load balancing, and caching. It supports HTTPS servers and is primarily intended for maximum performance and stability. It also serves as a proxy server for email protocols such as IMAP, POP3, and SMTP.

What is NGINX Used For?

NGINX has various uses, some listed below:

  • Performance:WordPress hosting uses either Apache or NGINX. For some, however, NGINX may be a better choice for improved performance.
  • Security: NGINX provides a single entry point for users to access services within a containerized environment. You can use the NGINX servers that are available to you to load balance and route traffic with a reliable public IP address. The server receives the user's request, which then forwards it to the appropriate container.
  • Reduce DDoS Attacks: Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks are a pain. NGINX can assist you in handling a large volume of incoming HTTP requests or traffic, guaranteeing application security under heavy load, enabling common cache responses, and efficiently delivering requests. It regulates traffic to prevent vulnerable APIs and URLs from overloading requests. This feature can be accomplished by setting a concurrency limit and queuing requests to avoid server overload.
  • Caching: The NGINX server offers a static and dynamic content cache for improved performance. You must pay to direct each data request to the microservice that creates it. Microcaching briefly caches the data and lessens the load on the back-end infrastructure.
  • Scalability and Fault Tolerance: With the help of NGINX, you can scale your back-end infrastructure so that the addition or deletion of any microservice won't affect the user's experience. NGINX will not direct traffic to a failed instance until it has recovered. You only need to inform the server that you have added a new instance to the load-balanced pool if you want to deploy more microservices.
  • Downtime Prevention: NGINX keeps the webserver running smoothly. You can seamlessly update or upgrade the system software to avoid application downtime.

How is NGINX Different From Other Web Servers?

  • NGINX's single-threaded architecture enables it to handle multiple client requests. Depending on the multi-processing module (MPM) Apache uses, its multi-threaded architecture creates a separate process for each request. The most common MPM used in Apache is Event MPM. In Apache Tomcat, a single thread can only process a single connection. 
  • NGINX is quicker and better suited to handle static content than Apache and Apache Tomcat. NGINX cannot process dynamic content internally and must rely on external processes for execution, unlike Apache, which can process dynamic content natively within the web server. Although Apache Tomcat can handle Java servlets, its performance when dealing with static content could be better than NGINX.
  • NGINX has a smaller codebase and is more secure than other web servers.
  • NGINX is made to function as both a web server and a reverse proxy server. The purpose of Apache is to serve as a web server. The Apache Tomcat HTTP web server is primarily made to manage Java servlets.
  • Compared to Apache and Apache Tomcat, NGINX performs much better. NGINX can handle multiple concurrent client requests while using minimal hardware resources. Apache can only manage several requests at a time when there is a lot of web traffic. Apache Tomcat uses multiple CPU request management to manage requests because it cannot handle multiple requests simultaneously.

NGINX is popular among Web Hosting Providers due to its responsiveness and resource efficiency. NGINX's easy scalability, even with sparse hardware, and resource-lightweight resource usage are two main factors in its continued popularity. NGINX does an excellent job of serving static content quickly and smoothly, as it routes dynamic requests to appropriate software. NGINX is particularly popular due to its ability to grow and increase traffic while remaining easy to scale on low-cost hardware. NGINX is also be used as a load balancer to increase a server's availability and resource efficiency. Furthermore, it can act as a reverse proxy, ensuring traffic between servers and clients flows smoothly. 

NGINX Features

The following are some of NGINX's features:

  • Reverse proxy with caching.
  • Load balancing.
  • Mail Proxy Server.
  • Static file management, index file management, and auto-indexing.
  • Support for FastCGI with caching.
  • URL rewriting and redirection.
  • WebSockets.
  • TLS/SSL with SNI.
  • IPv6.

What Makes NGINX a Good Choice For Website Owners?

NGINX offers better performance, stability, and scalability than other web servers. As a result, NGINX is designed to handle many requests concurrently. NGINX is an excellent choice for website owners because of this. NGINX is used by the majority of the world's most popular websites. Most hosting companies use NGINX to provide customers with a dependable and quick hosting service. It has also made it possible for website owners to explore new markets.

How Can You Use NGINX to Improve Your Website’s Performance and Security?

Although NGINX is already among the fastest web servers, there are still ways to make it faster. By adjusting a few settings, you can make NGINX an even more efficient web server that can handle high-traffic loads without consuming too many resources. The stability and security of NGINX are built-in, but its security depends on the user who configures it. Once NGINX has been built and installed, configure the server as simple as possible. Some security measures in this section that you can use to improve the performance and security of your website. 

Enable Gzip Compression

Site speed test tools to prioritize Gzip compression as a recommendation if you want to speed up your website. Web browser requests for files are compressed using gzip to reduce their size. As a result, the time needed to transfer a resource from a server to a browser will be shorter. It makes better use of limited network resources, speeds up page load times on sluggish connections, and can cut your file size by up to 70%. Additionally, you can set up NGINX to only compress large files while ignoring smaller files.

Include the following directives in your NGINX configuration file to enable Gzip compression in NGINX.

gzip on; 
gzip_vary on; 
gzip_min_length 1024; 
gzip_proxied expired no-cache no-store private auth; 
gzip_types text/plain text/css text/xml text/javascript application/x-javascript application/xml; 
gzip_disable "MSIE [1-6]\.";

Enable HTTP/2 Support

NGINX is set up by default to use the HTTP/1 protocol. HTTP/2 offers many advantages over HTTP/1, including the ability for a web browser to download files concurrently and for the server to push resources. HTTP/2 is currently popular due to its high performance. Improve the speed of your NGINX website by enabling this. Since almost every browser only supports HTTP/2 over HTTPS, enabling HTTPS on your server before enabling HTTP/2 on NGINX is necessary.

Add the following line to your NGINX configuration file to enable HTTP/2.

listen 443 ssl http2;

Configure Worker Processes

NGINX has one or more worker processes, each capable of handling numerous connections simultaneously. The worker process value in the NGINX default configuration is set to auto by default. It is advised to select one worker process for each CPU core. Increasing the number of worker processes will continuously improve the speed of your website.

Note:
This mostly applies to servers dealing with multiple concurrent visitors simultaneously. Best practices advise not to increase this limit too high so that NGINX is not configured to take on more requests than the hardware allows.

Add the following line to your NGINX configuration file to configure the worker process.

worker_processes 1;

Configure Worker Connections

The value of Worker Connections is set to 768 by default. It is advised to set this value to 1024, the number of open file descriptors. Add the line below to your NGINX configuration file to configure the worker connections.

events {
worker_connections 1024;
}

Implement SSL Certificate

The most crucial step in enhancing your NGINX server's security is adding a protection layer using an SSL certificate. It forces your website to use the secure HTTPS protocol over HTTP, which transmits traffic in plain text. You can use the free Let's Encrypt SSL certificate or any other certificate that meets your needs.

Disable Weak SSL/TLS Protocols

Using SSL does not guarantee that your website is secure. TLS 1.0 and 1.1 are two deprecated SSL versions considered weak and susceptible to the TLS, BEAST, POODLE, and CRIME SSL vulnerabilities. TLS 1.0 and TLS 1.1 are not supported by the most popular web browsers, including Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge.

To implement TLS 1.2 and TLS 1.3, you will need to remove TLS 1 and TLS 1.1 from the ssl_protocols line and add TLS 1.3 to the ssl_protocols line in your Main NGINX configuration file /etc/nginx/nginx.conf and your block configuration file in the directory /etc/nginx/sites-available/.

ssl_protocols TLSv1.2 TLSv1.3;

Disable Weak Cipher Suites

We must ensure that only strong ciphers are permitted as a matter of security because weak cipher suites may result in vulnerabilities. To disable weak cipher suites, add the following line to the server block in the ssl.conf file.

ssl_ciphers "EECDH+ECDSA+AESGCM EECDH+aRSA+AESGCM EECDH+ECDSA+SHA384 EECDH+ECDSA+SHA256 EECDH+aRSA+SHA384 EECDH+aRSA+SHA256 EECDH+aRSA+RC4 EECDH EDH+aRSA HIGH !RC4 !aNULL !eNULL !LOW !3DES !MD5 !EXP !PSK !SRP !DSS";

Configure Security Headers

Adding specific headers to the server response header can fix most security flaws. HTTP security headers add another layer of protection by assisting in reducing intrusions and security vulnerabilities. NGINX can be made more secure by adding a variety of HTTP security headers to the server. These HTTP security headers instruct the browser on handling the website content.

Conclusion

Hosting providers use the effective web server software NGINX. It was built to handle a large number of requests at the same time. It performs better than most other web servers, offering quicker loading times. Compared to other server software, NGINX uses less hardware and resources. It is a cost-effective solution because of this quality.

Liquid Web provides VPS Hosting, Cloud Dedicated Servers, and Dedicated Servers with cPanel. You can install NGINX via cPanel EA NGINX on your Linux server with cPanel. Liquid Web also provides full management for cPanel servers. Contact our sales team to set up your server today.

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About the Author: Mohammed Noufal

Mohammed Noufal is a B.Tech graduate with a decade of experience in server administration and web hosting. He is a father to two daughters and finds fulfillment in their growth. In his free time, he enjoys blogging, sharing experiences, and listening to music. With a strong technical background, family commitment, and creative outlets, he represents a well-rounded life journey.

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