Nginx passes Apache as Web server of choice among top sites

Biggest slice of the top 1,000 websites now uses Nginx over Apache's or Microsoft's Web servers, says W3Techs survey -- but Apache is still tops overall

W3Techs, which supplies research information about Web technologies, reports that Nginx is now the most popular Web server among the top 1,000 websites as ranked by Alexa.

According to W3Techs' figures, Nginx runs 38.8 percent of the top 1,000 sites, with Apache Httpd running 33.7 percent and Microsoft Internet Information Server (IIS) running 9.2 percent. The overall rankings still put Apache at the top, though, with 60.5 percent of all known sites running Apache and only 20.7 percent running Nginx. But the closer one gets to the top of Alexa's rankings, the greater the odds the site in question is running Nginx.

Nginx, a BSD-licensed open source Web server created by Igor Sysoev, has been serving a growing number of sites since its introduction in 2002. Most of its gains have come at the expense of Apache, the de facto standard for Web servers in the Linux and open source spaces. In April, Nginx released new revisions of its two major point versions: one mainline and one cutting-edge.

The reasons for Nginx's growing popularity aren't hard to figure out. For one, Apache has historically had trouble serving high-volume traffic and has been difficult to scale well. Nginx was written from the ground up to specifically address such issues as quickly serving static pages and performing automatic load balancing -- all features attractive in a Web server, especially if they come at no additional cost.

Another possible reason for Nginx's growth in the top tier is that it's now included as a standard (or semi-standard) component with many major Linux distributions. Both Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Ubuntu Server offer Nginx either as an inclusion with their repositories or as part of a maintained software collection.

Nginx's growth was strong enough for it to overtake IIS for the No. 2 spot in 2012, and the company released a commercially supported version, Nginx Plus, designed to replace hardware-based application delivery controllers or ADCs.

However, Nginx Plus is a proprietary product, which provoked InfoWorld's Simon Phipps to note that the product is now likely to have two disjointed user bases: one for the for-pay product and one for the open source product.

W3Techs' statistics don't specify whether sites are running the open source or commercial version of Nginx. That said, the name sites that have been identified as Nginx users in some form include Facebook, Hulu, Dropbox, WordPress, and Groupon.

Nginx's growth as a top-tier Web server brings greater risks of becoming an attack target. In May 2013, versions of the Linux/Cdorked malware, which normally attacks Apache's Web server, surfaced in an Nginx edition as well. Some 50 of the top 100,000 sites, as ranked by Alexa, were infected with some variety of Linux/Cdorked.

This article, "Nginx passes Apache as Web server of choice among top sites," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.