Different projects have different needs, but the open source web server department was more or less a monopoly. For a long time, Apache was the only options, and handling high loads was a pain in the backside. Thankfully, times have changed, and new solutions have emerged for specialized needs.
in this guide, we look at some of the best opensource web servers. So let’s have a look at some of the best and most popular open source web servers available today.
1. Apache HTTP Server
Apache HTTP Server, colloquially known as Apache or httpd in Red Hat distributions is a free and opensource web server developed by Apache Software Foundation under Apache License version 2. Released in 1995, Apache has grown in leaps and bounds to become one of the most popular and widely used web servers, powering over 37% of all the websites.
Apache is written in C language and is a highly customizable webserver thanks to its tons of modules that extend the web server’s functionality. These include mod_file_cache for caching, mod_ftp to provide FTP support for file uploads and downloads, and mod_ssl that allows support for SSL / TLS encryption protocols, and many more.
Additionally, given its rich set of modules, Apache provides multi-protocol support such as both IPv4 and IPv6 support and the commonly used HTTP, HTTP/2, and HTTPS protocols.
Apache also offers virtual hosting support that allows you to host multiple domains or websites. Be configuring virtual hosts, a single server can host multiple domains with ease and without any complexities. You can have example.com, example.edu, example.info and so on.
2. Nginx Web Server
if you like to drink from the “kool-aid” fountain (or to be politically correct, follow the “latest” developments), it’s likely that you’ve heard of Nginx (pronounced like “engine-x,” which was the idea behind the name). It was released as a project in 2002 by a Russian engineer who got fed up with the then-present solutions’ inability to beat the CK10 problem (basically, handling thousands of concurrent connections).
When Nginx came out, it made such a big splash that folks just moved away from Apache and never looked back. And the trend continues today. While Apache is arguably at par today, Nginx offered some stunning improvements that helped it win.
Nginx draws its prominence from its low resource utilization, scalability, and high concurrency. In fact, when properly tweaked, Nginx can handle up to 500,000 requests per second with low CPU utilization. For this reason, it’s the most ideal web server for hosting high-traffic websites and beats Apache hands down. Popular sites running on Nginx include LinkedIn, Adobe, Xerox, Facebook, and Twitter to mention a few.
Nginx is lean on configurations making it easy to make tweaks and Just like Apache, it supports multiple protocols, SSL/TLS support, basic HTTP authentication, virtual hosting, load balancing, and URL rewriting to mention a few. Currently, Nginx commands a market share of 31% of all the websites hosted.
3. Lighttpd Web Server
Lighttpd is a free and opensource web server that is specifically designed for speed-critical applications. Unlike Apache and Nginx, it has a very small footprint (less than 1 MB) and is very economical with the server’s resources such as CPU utilization.
Distributed under the BSD license, Lighttpd runs natively on Linux/Unix systems but can also be installed in Microsoft Windows. It’s popular for its simplicity, easy set-up, performance, and module support.
Lighttpd’s architecture is optimized to handle a large volume of parallel connections which is crucial for high-performance web applications. The web server supports FastCGI, CGI, and SCGI for interfacing programs with the webserver. It also supports web applications written in a myriad of programming languages with special attention given to PHP, Python, Perl, and Ruby.
Other features include SSL/TLS support, HTTP compression using the mod_compress module, virtual hosting, and support for various modules.
Written in Go, Caddy is a fast and powerful multiplatform web server that can also act as a reverse proxy, load balancer, and API gateway. Everything is built-in with no dependencies and this aspect makes Caddy easy to install and use.
By default, Caddy supports HTTPS and easily takes care of SSL/TLS certificate renewals. Lack of dependencies increases its portability across various distributions without any conflict in the libraries.
It’s an ideal web server for running applications written in GO and offers full support for IPv6 and HTTP/2 to enable fast HTTP requests. It also supports virtual hosting, advanced WebSockets technology, URL rewrites, and redirects, caching and static file serving with compression, and markdown rendering.
One of the hottest new frameworks making splashes in the open source community recent is Caddy. Think of Caddy as an Nginx-like web server (similar syntax and all) but everything simplified to a pleasant extreme. For instance, Let’s Encrypt integration for SSL can be done in a mere three lines of config.
If you crave simplicity and are put off by the obtuse configurations of the likes of Apache and Nginx, Caddy will feel like a breeze of fresh air. That said, it works best when you’re happy with the defaults. For instance, if you want to use your SSL provider, have a separate directory for static files (which is almost always the case), and so on, the advantages fade away.
5. OpenLiteSpeed Web Server
OpenLiteSpeed is an open-source web server designed for speed, simplicity, security, and optimization. It’s based on the LiteSpeed Enterprise Web server edition and provides all the essential features in the Enterprise edition.
OpenLiteSpeed web server rides on an event-driven, resource-friendly architecture and features a user-friendly WebAdmin GUI that helps you manage your domains/websites and monitor an array of metrics. It’s optimized to execute a wide spectrum of scripts such as Perl, Python, Ruby, and Java. OPenLiteSpeed supports both IPv4 and IPv6 with SSL/TLS support. IT provides support for TLS 1.0, 1.1, 1.2, and 1.3.
You also get to enjoy bandwidth throttling, intelligent-cache acceleration, HTTP request validation, and IP-based access control. Additionally, you will benefit from high-performance page caching, and the web server’s ability to handle thousands of concurrent connections.
Apart from acting as a web server, OpenLiteSpeed can serve a load balancer and reverse proxy. It’s free to download and is available under the GPLv3 license.
While we have covered some of the best opensource web servers, the list is by no means cast in stone. Life would have no meaning without web servers, and thankfully, we have quite a few to choose from now. What is your favorite open source web server? If you think I missed an essential entry in the list, please do let me know in the comments and I’ll be more than happy to add it!