The web server market has been stable for ages. Year after year, open source darling Apache HTTP server takes first place by an impressive margin and Microsoft’s Internet Information Server (IIS) takes the silver. Well, it looks like things are changing.

So Long IIS

Data from statistics provider Netcraft show that the number active sites hosted open source web server nginx (pronounced Engine X) has exceeded the number hosted on IIS. 


IIS still hosts more domains, but many domains are just place holders, so active sites is a considered a better measure of which web servers are actually being utilized.


Although the name nginx may not be as widely known to some as Apache and IIS, the server has been available for seven years -- since October 2004. It was originally created to provide a fast and low latency alternative to existing web servers on the market. It seems nginx has succeeded. nginx is capable of handling heavier loads with fewer resources than required by Apache or IIS. In addition, nginx can be used as a reverse proxy, which distributes traffic across multiple servers to make a site more fault tolerant and responsive. 

Over the last few months, nginx appears to be the only web server gaining active sites. nginx was used on 11.6 percent of active sites in December 2011 and experienced 0.57 percent growth. Microsoft IIS, by contrast, experienced 0.17 percent decrease since last year. Active sites on Apache also declined to 57.93% from 58.2% last year.

Metrics from indicate that nginx was the only load balancer that it was able to get to handle over 8,000 requests per second. isn’t the only site that has made the jump to nginx. Facebook, Zappos, Groupon, Hulu, Dropbox, and, a Chinese portal that ranks as one of the top 10 in the world, and hundreds of other sites have adopted nginx because of simple configuration and speedy performance.

Looking Forward

nginx’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. In October, nginx received US$ 3 million in funding from a number of venture capital firms, including the private investment firm for Dell CEO Michael Dell, which nginx plans to use to open an office in San Francisco by the end of 2012. It is unlikely that nginx will unseat market leader Apache any time soon, but by this time next year, the server will likely have a solid lead over IIS, something that was unfathomable just a few years ago. What web server are you using? Have you considered nginx? We would love to hear your thoughts.