Part 6: NGINX: A Practical Overview for Web Developers

Last updated: September 4th 2023


In my most recent installment of the "Introduction to Web Server Setup & Management" series, I delved into the intricacies of the lifecycle of an HTTP request. This comprehensive series aims to thoroughly understand how a web server functions and interacts with its users. Upon completion, you can fine-tune your web server for optimal user experience and gain valuable insights into the reasoning behind our LAMP/LEMP stacks. The knowledge gained from this series is applicable across various programming languages and environments, making it a valuable addition to your skill set.

And today, we will delve into the world of NGINX web servers. We'll look closer at its roots, advantages, practical applications, and the elements contributing to its functionality. By the end of this article, you'll have a comprehensive understanding of this web server and its inner workings. So, without further ado, let's get started!

What Is NGINX?

NGINX (pronounced "engine-x") is a robust web server and reverse proxy that has gained a reputation for its dependability, expandability, and resourcefulness in the open-source community. It is a prevalent option for hosting static content, serving as a reverse proxy, and balancing loads.

The web server was initially crafted by Igor Sysoev in 2004 with the goal of boosting the performance of a bustling Russian website. It quickly garnered a following because of its superior performance and scalability. Today, NGINX is utilized by some of the most visited websites globally, including Netflix, Amazon, and Wikipedia.

NGINX is an event-driven web server that operates without threads. It does not spawn a new thread for each incoming request; instead, it uses a single thread to manage multiple requests. An event loop is used to multiplex requests between worker processes, making NGINX extremely effective at handling a large number of concurrent requests.

NGINX is a multifaceted web server that you can employ in numerous capacities. It can function as a web server, reverse proxy, load balancer, and media streaming server, among other things. Additionally, it boasts a plethora of features, including but not limited to HTTP/2, Gzip compression, and caching, that make it an invaluable tool for many organizations.

Benefits of using NGINX


NGINX has a small memory footprint, meaning it can handle more requests with less memory usage than other web servers. This makes it an excellent option for businesses that want to save money on hosting costs without sacrificing performance.

NGINX is an efficient and reliable web server that can easily handle heavy traffic demands. Its strong performance, small memory footprint, and event-driven architecture make it popular for businesses looking to create fast and reliable websites.


NGINX can be easily scaled horizontally to handle more traffic. This is a necessary feature for websites that experience high levels of traffic or unpredictable spikes, such as those in the e-commerce or media industry. With NGINX, you can add more servers to your infrastructure to distribute the incoming traffic among them, ensuring your website remains fast and responsive.


One of the reasons why NGINX is a stable web server is that it was designed to handle a large number of concurrent connections. Another reason why NGINX is a stable web server is that it is highly configurable. NGINX provides several features that allow administrators to customize the server to their specific needs. For example, NGINX has a robust set of load-balancing and caching tools that can help improve performance and reduce server load.

Additionally, NGINX supports a variety of authentication methods, SSL/TLS encryption, and other security features that can help protect against attacks and ensure data integrity. Its popularity and continued development also ensure that it will remain a stable and reliable web server for years to come.


NGINX can handle multiple types of content, including static and dynamic content, and it can serve as a reverse proxy, load balancer, and HTTP cache. It also supports SSL/TLS encryption, making it a secure option for websites that handle sensitive information.

NGINX also supports other features like HTTP/2, WebSocket, and FastCGI. This makes it a versatile tool that you can use to handle different types of web applications and services. For example, it can be used to serve static content, such as images and videos, and it can also be used to run dynamic web applications, such as APIs and microservices.

Use Cases for NGINX

Web Server

Static files like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript can be efficiently delivered using NGINX as a server, allowing optimized performance and reduced latency to enhance user experience.

Reverse Proxy

NGINX can optimize website performance by acting as a reverse proxy. This means it can cache static content and distribute requests between several web servers to ensure the website runs smoothly. As a result, NGINX can significantly enhance website speed and reliability, providing a seamless user experience.

Load Balancing

When a website experiences high traffic, it can strain the servers and cause slow response times. To alleviate this issue, NGINX provides a solution to distribute incoming requests across multiple servers. This balancing act can significantly enhance the website's performance and ensure users receive a seamless browsing experience.

Media Streaming

NGINX is a powerful tool to stream various media files, including audio and video.

Email Proxy

NGINX can serve as an effective email proxy that can enhance the performance of an email server. This is achieved by caching email messages and distributing requests across multiple servers, which results in improved efficiency and faster response times.

How to install NGINX on your server

Note: The below commands are for Ubuntu/Debian-based systems. For RHEL-based derivates, you can use yum/dnf to install NGINX.

The process of installing NGINX is relatively simple - just run the following commands:

$ sudo apt-get update

Followed by:

$ sudo apt-get install nginx -y

Once installed, start the NGINX service:

$ sudo systemctl start nginx

Check the status of the Nginx service:

$ sudo systemctl status nginx

After successful installation and activation of Nginx, you can reach it by launching a web browser and typing in your server's IP address or domain name.

Anatomy of NGINX

Upon installation of Nginx, various files and directories are generated within the system's file system. The directory of utmost significance is /etc/nginx, as it encompasses all configuration files related to Nginx.

Within the directory labeled /etc/nginx, you may locate an array of subdirectories:

  • sites-available: holds a collection of Nginx configuration files that are accessible but not activated by default. However, they can be linked to the "sites-enabled" directory to enable access to these files.
  • sites-enabled: serves as a repository for all the active Nginx configuration files. These files are pivotal in configuring the Nginx server to operate seamlessly.
  • conf.d: supplementary configuration files for Nginx. While these files are not included in the primary Nginx configuration, they serve to modify or supplement the settings in the direct configuration file.

Nginx operates according to the settings outlined in its primary configuration file, nginx.conf. This file is a comprehensive compilation of all the directives that dictate how Nginx performs. Navigate to the /etc/nginx directory to access this critical file.

Various configurations for Nginx are stored in the /etc/nginx directory. Among them, some files serve specific purposes. For instance, the "mime.types" file holds a record of file extensions and their respective MIME types during the proxy.conf file manages settings related to proxying requests to other servers.

Apart from the components in the /etc/nginx directory, Nginx installs an array of supplementary files and directories within the file system. These particular files and directories facilitate the storage of logs, cache files, and other pertinent data crucial for Nginx operations.

The location of these files and directories depends on the operating system and the Nginx configuration. Nevertheless, they can usually be found in the subsequent directories:

  • /var/log/nginx: This directory contains the Nginx log files.
  • /var/cache/nginx: This directory contains the Nginx cache files.
  • /usr/lib/nginx: This directory contains the Nginx binary and other shared libraries.

Properly managing Nginx's installed files and directories ensures seamless web server operations. Neglecting this aspect may hinder Nginx's functionality, thereby hampering website performance. Hence, paying close attention to managing these files and directories is imperative.


In conclusion, Nginx is a versatile web server that can be a great addition to any web developer's toolkit. It offers a wide range of features that can help optimize website performance, improve security, and enhance the user experience. While it may take some time to learn and fully utilize all of its capabilities, the benefits are well worth the effort. With its growing popularity and extensive community support, Nginx is a practical choice for web developers looking to take their projects to the next level.

Aayush Nair has been designing WordPress websites for eight years now. He is also a content writer, writing blogs on technology and related topics, and likes helping people in his free time.

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