Varnish vs Nginx – What’s the Difference? (Pros and Cons)

Varnish vs Nginx – What’s the Difference? (Pros and Cons). In this post, we will introduce both Varnish and Nginx then compare them both with their respective pros and cons.

Firstly, caching is important for fast loading of your website. But how can you choose the best page caching solution for your WordPress website? So, choosing WordPress caching plugins won’t deliver the best results compared to server based solutions like Varnish or Nginx.

In nutshell, both caching solutions can help you improve your speed. But it can be overwhelming to choose one. Don’t worry! We can help you understand the pros, cons, features and key differences between Varnish and Nginx server.

So, without further delay, let’s understand Varnish vs Nginx – What’s the Difference? and their the points of differentiation of the two best caching solutions available.

What is Varnish?

First of all, Varnish is a cache HTTP reverse proxy.  Also a front end accelerator. The accelerator enables dynamic and content heavy websites to handle the high traffic influx and deliver quality results for your website.

Remember, it’s not a stand alone solution, requiring a dedicated web server like Nginx or Apache. Secondly, Varnish caches static and dynamic content from the server. result is the improvement of the user’s experience. In addition, it effectively helps you boost the speed of your website.

According to your architecture, you can speed up delivery with a factor of 300 – 1000x. So, it enables developers to configure and set rules using the Varnish Configuration Language.

Additionally, A VCL program allows you to command Varnish on what it should do with your site traffic. Also, you can control what and how you want to cache your content.

With social media sites like Twitter, Facebook or Wikipedia, use Varnish to manage their content caching. next, let’s look at their top features, pros and cons for a more in depth understanding of Varnish.

Features of Varnish

Firstly, it offers excellent features to speed up your website. Here are a few of the top ones.

  • HTTP reverse proxy provides anonymization, SSL download, and GZIP compression, among other benefits.
  • Cache configuration flexibly via VCL (Varnish Configuration Language).
  • Supports ESI and HTTP/2.
  • Built in purging capabilities.

Pros of Varnish

Here the big advantage of Varnish is the speed boost to your server and website. Moreover, it allows you to book significant performance improvements. But that’s not all. Here are more benefits:

  • The cache server is faster than the origin server. That increases the peak resistance. So when delivering objects, the workload on the cache server is less intensive and varied.
  • Varnish delivers assets that don’t change, like CSS and JavaScript files. In turn, it minimizes the burden on the origin server. That results in faster page rendering. Because it doesn’t have to serve static content on every reload.
  • Time To First Byte (TTFB) shrinks because of the lower processing time for the backend server database.
  • You can use Varnish as a highly available environment to serve cached content. Even when the web server is experiencing downtimes, you can achieve the results.
  • Reduces the overall website operational costs.

Cons of Varnish

Besides many advantages, Varnish also has several disadvantages. Although, you can easily tackle the drawbacks, it’s important we address them:

  • Only compatible with Unix operating systems.
  • Does not provide standard SSL Support.
  • No real time update in the cache.

Next on our list of Varnish vs Nginx – What’s the Difference? is Nginx.

What is Nginx?

Next is Nginx. An open source software for load balancing, caching, reverse proxy, web serving, media streaming, and more. You can use Nginx as a proxy server, mail proxy, HTTP cache, and micro caching. In turn this reduces the website’s load time.

The caching solution helps you ‌improve the website’s performance and handle high traffic. Additionally, it is effective and efficient, if you explore its features to maximum potential.

As you know, Varnish is more of a front end accelerator, but conversely, Nginx is an open source web server. Importantly, Nginx offers low memory usage and high concurrency.

Rather than creating new processes for web requests, Nginx uses an asynchronous, event driven approach to handle requests using single thread.

Thanks to Nginx, one main process can control multiple worker processes. The master process maintains the worker processes, and the workers do the actual processing.

Features of Nginx

  • Supports SSL.
  • Easier learning curve.
  • FastCGI support with caching.
  • Handling of index files, static files and auto indexing.
  • TLS/SSL with SNI.

Pros of Nginx

The advantages of using Nginx are great. Here are a few.

  • The written code base is consistent compared to other alternatives.
  • Provides a great configuration format and has a more modern design.
  • Nginx is event based and enables you to handle multiple connections with no overhead because of context switching.
  • Uses less memory and resources.
  • Also, this web server makes your website faster and helps them to get a better Google ranking.
  • Transform dynamic content into static content and handle thousands of concurrent connections at the same time.

But that’s just one side of the story; look at its downsides.

Cons of Nginx

  • Comes with smaller community support than Apache or other web servers.
  • Nginx doesn’t offer you multiple modules and extensions.
  • People in the development community don’t choose Nginx because of the quality of web servers available.

Now you know both sides of the web servers. Using the information, we can assume that Varnish offers great configurations for caching. Whereas, Nginx also helps you improve the website speed and can satisfy the majority of user requirements.

Now, let’s compare the two web servers Varnish vs Nginx – What’s the Difference?  Hopefully this will help you with your decision making of which is better suited. 

Varnish vs Nginx - Key Differences

Drawing out a comparison between Varnish vs Nginx can be difficult. Both the caching solutions can be a reverse proxy and load balancer for your server. However, once you dive deeper into their technologies, you can filter differences which can help you make an informed decision. 

1. Flexibility

Firstly, flexibility is important to understand before investing in a caching solution for your WordPress website. Varnish has the edge over Nginx, as it offers flexibility with its configuration language.

The Varnish cache enables developers to use the Varnish Configuration Language and create a caching structure tailored to your website needs. Indeed, it makes Varnish customizable and helps you achieve your business outcomes with finesse.

Secondly, you can define guidelines on handling incoming requests, the source to use, and what content to extract and share. Additionally, Varnish also allows you to choose how to alter the user responses if needed.

Excellent flexibility and the complex caching structure help Varnish stand out from other reverse proxy solutions. Although Varnish is more flexible, Nginx is also versatile to meet most caching requirements.

3. Caching capabilities

You can witness purging and flexibility differences while caching static content using Varnish and Nginx.

As you know, Varnish enables you to create complex caching structures and offers flexibility. But it also has a built in mechanism enabling you to purge content.

On the other hand, Nginx doesn’t natively support purging. Being an open source server, Nginx has its limitations. The basic Nginx OSS doesn’t offer a content purging option. However, it offers the fastcgi_cache_purge module to handle the requirement. Also you can opt for the Nginx Plus plan to avail the Fast CGI Cache Purge feature.

3. Secure Sockets Layer Support

Since 2018, SSL Support for websites has become a vital feature for achieving higher search engine rankings.

According to the previous Google mandate, Google will mark websites as ‘not secure’ if there’s no migration to HTTPS. Markedly, it can negatively impact the site rankings and hinder your domain authority.

Nonetheless, SSL certification can encrypt vital information like important data, credit card details, passwords, etc. Moreover, it ensures you receive and share information and data from trusted sites.

That is why, Nginx offers website owners native SSL support for their websites. On the other hand, Varnish doesn’t come with integrated SSL support. But if you choose a hosting provider, it can help you avail the benefits of SSL Support while using Varnish.

4. Speed

Different test results favor both Varnish and Nginx. Some tests prove that Varnish is the faster option, while others conclude Nginx is faster.

Variables like concurrent user load, cache configurations, etc., can impact a test’s results. Recently, Delicious Brains performed different tests using Nginx and Varnish. Here are the results:

Nginx test results: The Nginx test shows that after 27,170 hits, the average response time was 82 ms.

Varnish test results: The Varnish test generated 26,440 hits, but the average response time was 100 ms.

Although, Nginx has a slight edge over Varnish, there’s no considerable difference in the speed of these caching solutions.

5. Static Content Management

Well, managing static content on the web server, Nginx offers great results compared to Varnish.

It performs better in content management. Also, the results enhance when the Nginx proxy and the static files coexist on the same server.

On the other hand, you need to add more functionalities to Varnish to manage similar content. It can be difficult for you to handle content management using Varnish.

We completed the key difference between both caching solutions, according to technical and general aspects. Now with all the knowledge combined, it’s decision time.

Thank you for reading Varnish vs Nginx – What’s the Difference? until the end. We shall summarize. 

Varnish vs Nginx - What's the Difference? (Pros and Cons) Conclusion

The summary of the differences between Varnish and Nginx states that both offer great features to help with caching solutions. on one hand, Varnish offers advanced features specific to the functionality of caching, whereas Nginx is ideal as a caching server.

Now it’s up to your website situations and scenarios to choose the benefits and suitability of one caching solution.

For reference, if you have an eCommerce website or a media website with high traffic and heavy content. Then you can opt for Varnish to achieve high end performance.

But on the contrary, if you operate a simple website with limited requirements, Nginx can work for you.

To read more Nginx content, please read here.

Avatar for Hitesh Jethva
Hitesh Jethva

I am a fan of open source technology and have more than 10 years of experience working with Linux and Open Source technologies. I am one of the Linux technical writers for Cloud Infrastructure Services.

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