Exploring NGiNX for Backend Engineering

Exploring NGINX and it's importance in building scalable backend systems

Hello “👋”

Welcome to another week, another opportunity to become a Great Backend Engineer.

Today’s issue is brought to you by MasteringBackend—a great resource for backend engineers: Next-level Backend Engineering training and Exclusive resources.

Before we get down to the business of today. Exploring NGINX for Backend Engineers.

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Now, back to the business of today.

In the previous edition, we discussed Web Servers and the importance of web servers in backend engineering. It’s one of the fundamental things to learn properly in backend engineering.

We will move further to discuss individual web servers, starting with NGINX.

Ngnix is a web server used by the world’s most innovative companies and largest enterprises.

Igor Sysoev originally wrote it to solve the C10K problem — The C10k problem is the problem of optimizing network sockets to handle a large number of clients simultaneously.

What is NGINX?

Nginx is an open-source web server that can also be used as a reverse proxy, load balancer, mail proxy, and HTTP cache. It started as a web server designed for maximum performance, scalability, and stability before including a load balancer, reverse proxy, and API gateway for high performance.

Nginx was open-sourced in 2004, and it has grown exponentially since then with its event-driven, asynchronous architecture. It revolutionized how servers operate in high-performance contexts and became the fastest web server.

These additions make NGINX the fastest web server by consistently beating Apache and other web servers according to these benchmarks measuring web server performance. They are currently serving more than 300+ million websites as of the time of writing.

Alright, that’s enough of the good stuff about NGINX. The main question you should ask now is: Why should I learn it?

  • Nginx is a complete package for what an enterprise web server needs. It gives you a complete package for serving and handling millions of web traffic.

  • Nginx supports many modern web engineering components, including tools such as gRPC, WebSocket, streaming multiple video formats such as HDS, HLS, RTMP, and others), and HTTP/2.

  • Building microservices shines with Nginx. It’s commonly used as a reverse proxy and load balancer to manage incoming traffic and distribute it to slower upstream servers.

  • Nginx is an all-in-one software-only web server with modern web components such as a load balancer, reverse proxy, and API gateway designed for cloud-native architectures to accelerate your IT infrastructure and application modernization.

How Nginx Works

Here's a high-level overview of how Nginx works:

  1. Nginx listens on specified network ports (e.g., port 80 for HTTP) and accepts incoming client requests. It uses an event-driven, asynchronous architecture to handle numerous connections concurrently with low resource usage.

  2. A configuration file controls Nginx's behavior. It defines various aspects, such as server blocks, which specify the domains and IP addresses it should listen to, along with other settings like SSL certificates, caching, and load balancing.

  3. When a request arrives, Nginx determines how to handle it based on the configuration file. It can serve static content directly from the file system without invoking other application servers. It acts as a reverse proxy for dynamic content, forwarding the request to the appropriate backend server (e.g., an application server like Node.js, PHP-FPM, or Apache) based on predefined rules.

  4. Nginx can distribute client requests across multiple backend servers to balance the load and improve overall performance.

It's important to note that Nginx is highly customizable and can be extended through modules and plugins to add additional functionality.

Nginx Components

Nginx is a web server with enhanced components for building high-performing and scalable web applications. Below, I will discuss some components and show you how these components help make Nginx faster and an all-in-one web server package.

  • Web Server: Nginx is a web server that supports other components of modern web development for scalability and high-performing applications.

  • Load Balancer: Nginx supports a load balancer to distribute HTTP traffic across web or application server groups.

  • Reverse Proxy: You can also configure Nginx as a reverse proxy for HTTP and other protocols with support for modifying request headers and fine-turning responses.

  • Content Cache: To speed the delivery of your content, you can cache static and dynamic content from proxied web and application servers to speed delivery to clients and reduce the server load.

  • API Gateway: Nginx can be used as an API Gateway to secure and orchestrate traffic between backend services and API consumers.

Now that you have clean knowledge of Nginx and its numerous features, aside from just being a web server. Let’s compare it with other web servers to see the differences and advantages you gain from using Nginx. The comparison will be split into different categories to gain a comprehensive insight.

  • Security

  • Speed/Performance

  • Handling Requests

  • Platform Support

  • Modules

  • Configuration



  • Nginx is known for its strong security features and reputation for being highly secure.

  • It is designed to handle many concurrent connections efficiently and has a low memory footprint, making it less prone to attacks.

  • Nginx has built-in security mechanisms such as rate limiting, access controls, and SSL/TLS encryption support.

  • Since it can also be used as a reverse proxy server, it provides an additional layer of security by hiding the backend server's details.


  • Apache is also considered secure but has a larger attack surface than Nginx due to its modular architecture.

  • It has a long history and a large user base, so vulnerabilities are more likely to be discovered and patched quickly.

  • Apache provides various security modules and features, such as mod_security for web application firewall capabilities and mod_ssl SSL/TLS support.



  • Nginx is known for its excellent performance and scalability.

  • It uses an event-driven, asynchronous architecture to handle many simultaneous connections efficiently.

  • It has a small memory footprint and is optimized for handling static content and serving as a reverse proxy.

  • Nginx is highly efficient in CPU and memory usage, making it ideal for high-traffic websites and resource-constrained environments.


  • Apache has a more traditional multi-process, multi-threaded architecture.

  • It performs well for serving dynamic content and has extensive module support.

  • However, Apache's process-based model can lead to higher memory usage than Nginx, especially when handling many concurrent connections.

  • Apache's performance can be improved using additional modules, such as mod_cache for caching or mod_proxy for proxying requests to backend servers.

Handling Requests


  • Nginx is known for its efficient and non-blocking event-driven architecture, making it highly capable of handling many concurrent requests.

  • It excels at serving static content and performing load balancing and reverse proxying tasks.

  • Nginx's handling of requests is optimized for speed and efficiency, with minimal resource consumption.


  • Apache uses a process-based model where a separate process or thread handles each request.

  • While this model allows Apache to handle complex scenarios and dynamic content effectively, it can be less efficient for handling many concurrent connections.

  • Apache's performance can be improved by fine-tuning its configuration, such as adjusting the number of processes or threads, but it may require more system resources than Nginx.

Platform Support


  • Nginx is cross-platform and runs on various operating systems, including Linux, BSD variants, macOS, and Windows.

  • It is widely used on Linux distributions and has extensive support and documentation for different platforms.


  • Apache is cross-platform and supports various operating systems, including Linux, BSD variants, macOS, and Windows.

  • It has been the most popular web server for years and is bundled with most Linux distributions.

  • Apache has extensive documentation and a large community, making finding support for different platforms easier.



  • Nginx has a modular architecture, but the number of available modules is smaller than Apache.

  • It provides essential modules for core functionality, such as HTTP proxying, load balancing, and SSL/TLS support.

  • Additional modules can be added through third-party extensions, but the ecosystem is less vast than Apache's.


  • Apache has a rich ecosystem of modules, allowing users to extend its functionality in numerous ways.

  • It provides modules for various purposes, including authentication, caching, compression, scripting languages, and database connectivity.

  • The extensive module support makes Apache highly versatile, adaptable, and suitable for various use cases.



  • Nginx's configuration syntax is concise and straightforward, using a declarative approach.

  • It uses a hierarchical structure with directives grouped in blocks, making it easy to understand and maintain.

  • Nginx's configuration file is typically organized separately for different purposes (e.g., server blocks), providing better organization and manageability.


  • Apache's configuration syntax is more complex than Nginx, using an Apache-specific format known as Apache Configuration Language (ACL) or htaccess files.

  • The configuration file can become more cluttered and harder to manage, especially in complex setups.

  • Apache's configuration offers more flexibility and fine-grained control, allowing users to customize almost every aspect of the server's behavior.

Both Nginx and Apache are powerful web servers with their strengths and areas of expertise.

Nginx excels in performance, scalability, and security, making it ideal for serving static content, handling many concurrent connections, and acting as a reverse proxy.

However, Apache has a larger module ecosystem, making it more versatile and suitable for complex dynamic content scenarios.

The choice between Nginx and Apache ultimately depends on the specific requirements and priorities of the project or application.

I have already created an article exploring NGNIX and how to install, configure, and use a web server, which will aid you in building scalable backend systems. Click here to read how to install, configure, and use a web server.

That will be all for this one. See you on Saturday.

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