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Nginx Adds Support for HTTP/2

Nginx Inc., the commercial provider of one of the most popular open-source Web servers, has released a new version of its namesake product with a fully supported implementation of the new HTTP/2 standard. Nginx Plus R7, available now, comes with the promise of an easier transition to the new standard, along with new performance and security enhancements.

This release actually comes with a bunch of improvements -- things like support for thread pools and asynchronous I/O; support for socket sharding optimizations to increase performance on multicore servers; new access controls and connection limits for TCP services; and a new "live activity monitoring" dashboard. But it's the HTTP/2 support that'll be getting the most attention.

HTTP/2 is the second major version the Hypertext Transfer Protocol Web standard -- the mechanism used by Web browsers to request information from a server and display Web pages on a screen -- and the first since HTTP/1.1 was approved in 1999. It's based on Google's SPDY (pronounced "speedy") open networking protocol. Nginx has been leading the effort to develop the updated standard over the past two years, and Google has said that it will deprecate SPDY in favor of HTTP/2 in its Chrome browser this year.

HTTP/2 is going to provide big performance and security improvements with things like multiplexing, header compression, prioritization, and protocol negotiation, but it's still a challenge for many Web sites to support the standard. What the company has created with Nginx Plus R7 is a kind of front-end HTTP/2 gateway and accelerator for new and existing Web services, Owen Garrett, the head of products, told me.

"This is a way you can deploy Nginx Plus in front of your applications and publish those applications using HTTP/2," he said. "It's an easy and powerful way to adopt this new Web standard."

This is all about making it possible for Web sites to operate at scale, Garrett said. "You can deploy a Web site on standard hardware and software and it can handle a handful of users, but in order for that Web site to be successful, it's got to be able to handle hundreds, thousands, even millions of users. And that's what we're doing. We transform a simple but rich Web site into something that can handle phenomenal amounts of traffic."

The popularity of Nginx has exploded in recent years. There's a reason Garrett and his colleague, Peter Guagenti, vice president of marketing, called it "the heart of the modern Web." The Apache Web server has been around since the mid-90s and it's probably more widely deployed than Nginx. But in a recent breakdown of Web server usage by analysts at W3Techs, Apache was used by 56.5 percent of all Web sites (with a known server) and 26.8 percent of the most heavily trafficked 1,000 sites; while Nginx was used in 25.4 percent of all Web sites and in 44.4 percent of the top 1,000. (W3Techs uses data from Web traffic tracker Alexa for its Web site ranking.)

"It all depends on how you slice the data," Guagenti said. "Nginx has been the only Web server on the market that has been growing in the last two years. We've been gaining a basis point every week or so, and we expect to surpass Apache in the top 100,000 sometime this week."

The modern Web is all about performance, Guagenti said, and that's why Nginx has become so popular.

"There has never been a focus on performance like we've seen in the past few years," he said. "Performance is everything. Milliseconds of latency costs thousands to millions of dollars in e-commerce. Milliseconds of latency mean you use one app over another on your phone, that you switch to a different media site to read the same article."

Guagenti also argued that the rise of Nginx has been driven, at least in part, by the DevOps movement. "People now expect a certain level of control and configurability over their entire stack," he said, "which they get from Nginx, but not so much from other tool chains."

The list of Web sites currently using Nginx offers a peak into Nginx's future: Airbnb, Box, Instagram, Netflix, Pinterest, SoundCloud and Zappos, among others.

"We call ourselves 'the secret heart of the modern Web,'" said Garrett, "but we're not a secret to developers. We're growing this fast because of the grass roots movement among our open source and commercial users."

Nginx is sponsoring a three-day conference in San Francisco this week. Looks like a lot of hands-on training, strategic sessions, and some rock-star speakers.

Posted by John K. Waters on 09/21/2015 at 10:40 AM


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