Mastering NGINX - Second Edition

4 (1 reviews total)
By Dimitri Aivaliotis
    What do you get with a Packt Subscription?

  • Instant access to this title and 7,500+ eBooks & Videos
  • Constantly updated with 100+ new titles each month
  • Breadth and depth in over 1,000+ technologies
  1. Free Chapter
    Installing NGINX and Third-Party Modules
About this book

NGINX is a high-performance HTTP server and mail proxy designed to use very few system resources. But despite its power it is often a challenge to properly configure NGINX to meet your expectations. Mastering Nginx is the solution – an insider’s guide that will clarify the murky waters of NGINX’s configuration. Tune NGINX for various situations, improve your NGINX experience with some of the more obscure configuration directives, and discover how to design and personalize a configuration to match your needs.

To begin with, quickly brush up on installing and setting up the NGINX server on the OS and its integration with third-party modules. From here, move on to explain NGINX's mail proxy module and its authentication, and reverse proxy to solve scaling issues. Then see how to integrate NGINX with your applications to perform tasks.

The latter part of the book focuses on working through techniques to solve common web issues and the know-hows using NGINX modules. Finally, we will also explore different configurations that will help you troubleshoot NGINX server and assist with performance tuning.

Publication date:
July 2016


Chapter 1. Installing NGINX and Third-Party Modules

NGINX was first conceived to be an HTTP server. It was created to solve the C10K problem, described by Daniel Kegel on, in designing a web server to handle 10,000 simultaneous connections. NGINX can do this through its event-based connection-handling mechanism and will use the OS-appropriate event mechanism in order to achieve this goal.

Before we begin exploring how to configure NGINX, we will first install it. This chapter details how to install NGINX and how to get the correct modules installed and configured. NGINX is modular by design and there is a rich community of third-party module developers who have added functionality to the core NGINX server by creating modules that can be compiled into the server and installed along with it.

In this chapter, we will cover the following topics:

  • Installing NGINX using a package manager

  • Installing NGINX from source

  • Configuring for a web or mail service

  • Configuring SSL support

  • Enabling various modules

  • Finding and installing third-party modules

  • Adding support for Lua

  • Putting it all together


Installing NGINX using a package manager

Chances are that your operating system of choice already provides nginx as a package. Installing it is as simple as using your package manager's commands:

  • Linux (deb-based)

    sudo apt-get install nginx
  • Linux (rpm-based)

    sudo yum install nginx
  • FreeBSD

    sudo pkg_install -r nginx


The sudo command is representative of what you need to execute on your operating system to achieve superuser (root) privileges. If your operating system supports role-based access control (RBAC), then you would use a different command, such as pfexec, to achieve the same goal.

These commands will install NGINX into standard locations, specific to your operating system. This is the preferred installation method if you need to use your operating system's packages.

The NGINX core team also provides binaries of the stable version, available from Users of distributions without an nginx package (such as CentOS) can use the following instructions to install pre-tested and pre-compiled binaries.

Installing NGINX on CentOS

Add the NGINX repository to your yum configuration by creating the following file:

sudo vi /etc/yum.repos.d/nginx.repo
name=nginx repo

Then install nginx by executing the following command:

sudo yum install nginx

Alternative instructions for installing an nginx-release package are available at the preceding URL.

Installing NGINX on Debian

Let's install NGINX on Debian using the following steps:

  1. Install the NGINX signing key by downloading it from and adding it to the apt keyring:

    sudo apt-key add nginx_signing.key
  2. Append the repository to the end of /etc/apt/sources.list:

    vi /etc/apt/sources.list
    deb jessie nginx
    deb-src jessie nginx
  3. Then install nginx by executing the following command:

    sudo apt-get update
    sudo apt-get install nginx

If your operating system does not include nginx in its list of available packages, the version is too old for what you would like to do, the packages at don't serve your needs, you would like to use the development release of NGINX, or if you want to enable/disable specific modules, then compiling NGINX from source is the only other option.


Installing NGINX from source

NGINX downloads are available for two separate branches of NGINX code—mainline and stable. The mainline branch is the one in which active development is taking place. Here is where new features will be found and integrated before finding their way into the stable branch. When a mainline version is released, it has undergone the same QA and a similar set of functional tests as the stable branch, so either branch may be used on production systems. The major difference between the two branches lies in the support of third-party modules. The internal API may change in the mainline release, whereas it stays the same on the stable branch, so backward compatibility for third-party modules is only available for stable releases.

Preparing a build environment

In order to compile NGINX from source, certain requirements need to be met on your system. Besides a compiler, you also need the OpenSSL and Perl Compatible Regular Expressions (PCRE) libraries and development headers if you want to enable SSL support and be able to use the rewrite module, respectively. The rewrite module is enabled by default, so if you don't have PCRE libraries and headers, you'll need to disable the rewrite module during the configuration phase. Depending on your system, these requirements may already be met in the default installation. If not, you will need to both locate the appropriate package and install it, or download the source, unpack it, and point NGINX's configure script to this location.

NGINX will attempt to build a dependent library statically if you include a --with-<library>=<path> option to configure. You might do this if you want to ensure that NGINX is not dependent on any other part of the system and/or would like to squeeze that extra bit of performance out of your nginx binary. If you are using features of external libraries that are only available from a certain version onwards (for example, the next protocol negotiation TLS extension available from OpenSSL Version 1.0.1), then you have to specify the path to the unpacked sources of that particular version.

There are other, optional, packages that you can provide support for, if you like. These include MD5 and SHA-1 hashing algorithm support, zlib compression, and libatomic library support. The hashing algorithms are used in many places in NGINX, for example, to compute the hash of a URI to determine a cache key. The zlib compression library is used for delivering gzipped content. If the atomic_ops library is available, NGINX will use its atomic memory update operations to implement high-performance memory-locking code.

Compiling from source

NGINX can be downloaded from Here you will find the source of either branch in .tar.gz, or .zip format. Unpack the archive into a temporary directory as follows:

$ mkdir $HOME/build
$ cd $HOME/build && tar xzf nginx-<version-number>.tar.gz

Configure it using the following command:

$ cd $HOME/build/nginx-<version-number> && ./configure

And compile it as follows:

$ make && sudo make install

When compiling your own nginx binary, you are much more free to include only what you need. Can you already say under which user NGINX should run? Do you want to specify the default log file locations so that they don't need to be explicitly set in the configuration? The following table of configure options will help you design your own binary. These are options that are valid for NGINX, independent of which module is activated.

Table – Common configure options




The root of the installation. All other installation paths are relative to this one.


The path to the nginx binary. If not specified, this will be relative to the prefix.


The path to where nginx will look for its configuration file, if not specified on the command line.


This is where nginx will write its error logfile, unless configured otherwise.


This is where nginx will write the pid file of the master process, usually under /var/run.


The path to the shared memory mutex lock file.


The user under which the worker processes should run.


The group under which the worker processes should run.


Enables asynchronous I/O for FreeBSD 4.3+ and Linux 2.6.22+.


This option will enable debug logging. Not recommended for production systems.

You are also able to compile with optimizations that you may not get in a packaged installation. This is where the following options can be especially useful:

Table – Configure options for optimization




If you would like to set a C compiler that is not in your default PATH.


This is the corresponding path to the C preprocessor.


Here is where the path to the necessary include files may be indicated (-I<path>), as well as optimizations (-O4) and specifying a 64-bit build.


The options to the linker include library path (-L<path>) and run path (-R<path>).


A build specific to a particular CPU family may be specified with this option.

Configuring for web or mail service

NGINX is unique among high-performing web servers in that it was also designed to be a mail proxy server. Depending on your goals in building NGINX, you can configure it for web acceleration, a web server, a mail proxy, or all three. It may be beneficial to have one package that you can install on any server in your infrastructure and be able to set NGINX's role through configuration, or it may serve your needs better to have a slimmed-down binary to use in high-performance environments where every extra KB counts.

Configure options for a mail proxy

The following table specifies configuration options that are unique to the mail module.

Table: Mail configure options




This will enable the mail module, which is not activated by default.


In order to proxy any kind of mail transaction that uses SSL/TLS, this module will need to be activated.


When enabling the mail module, the POP3 module may be disabled separately.


When enabling the mail module, the IMAP module may be disabled separately.


When enabling the mail module, the SMTP module may be disabled separately.


This option will completely disable the http module; use it if you know you only want to compile in mail support.

For a typical mail proxy, I would recommend configuring NGINX as follows:

$ ./configure --with-mail --with-mail_ssl_module --with-openssl=${BUILD_DIR}/openssl-1.0.1p

SSL/TLS is needed nowadays on almost every mail installation and not having it enabled on a mail proxy robs users of expected functionality. I've recommended compiling OpenSSL statically so that there are no dependencies on the operating system's OpenSSL library. This does mean, though, that you will have to be vigilant and ensure that your statically-compiled OpenSSL is kept up-to-date and rebuild your binary when necessary. The BUILD_DIR variable referenced in the preceding command would of course have to be set beforehand.

Configure options to specify paths

The following table shows what configuration options are available to the http module, from activating the Perl module to specifying the location of temporary directories.

Table – HTTP configuration options




When using the upstream module, NGINX can be configured to cache the contents locally. This option disables that cache.


NGINX configuration can be extended by using Perl code. This option activates that module. (Use of this module, however, degrades performance when blocking I/O is done.)


This option specifies the path to additional Perl modules needed for using the embedded Perl interpreter. It may also be specified as a configuration option.


The path to Perl (Version 5.6.1 and higher), if not found on the default path.


The default path to the HTTP access log.


When receiving the request from the client, this is the directory used as a temporary location for the body of that request. If the WebDAV module is enabled, it is recommended to set this path to be on the same filesystem as the final destination.


When proxying, this is the directory used as a location to store temporary files.


The location for FastCGI temporary files.


The location for uWSGI temporary files.


The location for SCGI temporary files.


Configuring SSL support

NGINX uses the OpenSSL Project for TLS/SSL protocols. More information about this Open Source toolkit can be found at Support for SSL can be had from either the OS or directly from a separate copy of the toolkit. If you use either --with-http_ssl_module or --with-mail_ssl_module without --with-ssl, you're using the OpenSSL library that is installed on the machine where you executed the configure command. If you'd like to compile against a specific version of OpenSSL, download the distribution, unpack it in a directory, and then specify the path to that directory as the argument to --with-openssl. Use the --with-openssl-opt option to specify additional build options for OpenSSL itself.

For example, to build NGINX with an OpenSSL that has optimized elliptic curves, you would use a command such as the following:

$ ./configure --with-http_ssl_module --with-openssl=${BUILD_DIR}/openssl-1.0.1p --with-openssl-opt=enable-ec_nistp_64_gcc_128

Enabling various modules

Besides the http and mail modules, there are a number of other modules included in the NGINX distribution. These modules are not activated by default, but may be enabled by setting the appropriate configuration option:


Table – HTTP module configure options




If you need to encrypt web traffic, you will need this option to be able to use URLs beginning with https. (Requires the OpenSSL library.)


If your NGINX is behind an L7 load balancer or other device that passes the client's IP address in an HTTP header, you will need to enable this module. For use in situations where multiple clients appear to come from one IP address.


This module works as an output filter, enabling you to add content of a different location before or after that of the location itself.


This module will handle transformations of XML responses, based on one or more XSLT stylesheets. (Requires the libxml2 and libxslt libraries.)


This module is able to act as a filter on images, processing them before handing them over to the client. (Requires the libgd library.)


With this module, you are able to set various variables to use in configuration blocks to make decisions based on the geographic location found for a client's IP address. (Requires the MaxMind GeoIP library and the corresponding precompiled database files.)


This module implements a substitution filter, replacing one string in the response with another. (A word of caution: using this module implicitly disables the caching of headers.)


Enabling this module will activate the configuration directives for using WebDAV. Note that this module should only be enabled on a need-to-use basis, as it could present security problems if configured incorrectly.


If you need to be able to stream Flash video files, this module will provide pseudo-streaming.


This module supports pseudo-streaming for H.264/AAC files.


Use this module if you would like to support sending pre-compressed versions of static files when the resource is called without the .gz ending.


This module will decompress pre-compressed content for clients that do not support gzip encoding.


If you would like to serve an index file chosen at random from the files in a directory, then this module needs to be enabled.


This module provides a mechanism to hash a link to a URL, so that only those with the proper password would be able to calculate the link.


Enabling this module will help you gather statistics from NGINX itself. The output can be graphed using RRDtool or something similar.

As you can see, these are all modules that build upon the http module, providing extra functionality. Enabling the modules at compile time should not affect runtime performance at all. Using the modules later in the configuration is where performance may be impacted.

I would therefore recommend the following configure options for a web accelerator/proxy:

$ ./configure --with-http_ssl_module --with-http_realip_module --with-http_geoip_module --with-http_stub_status_module --with-openssl=${BUILD_DIR}/openssl-1.0.1p

And the following for a web server:

$ ./configure --with-http_stub_status_module

The difference lies in where NGINX will be faced with clients. The web acceleration role takes care of terminating SSL requests as well as dealing with proxied clients and making decisions based on where a client came from. The web server role only needs to provide default file serving capability.

I would recommend always enabling the stub_status module, as it provides a means of gathering metrics on how your NGINX is performing.

Disabling unused modules

There are also a number of http modules that are normally activated, but may be disabled by setting the appropriate configuration option --without-<module-name>_module. If you have no use for these modules in your configuration, you can safely disable them.

Table – Disable configure options




The charset module is responsible for setting the Content-Type response header, as well as converting from one charset to another.


The gzip module works as an output filter, compressing content as it's delivered to the client.


This module is a filter that processes Server Side Includes. If the Perl module is enabled, an additional SSI command (perl) is available.


The userid module enables NGINX to set cookies that can be used for client identification. The variables $uid_set and $uid_got can then be logged for user tracking.


The access module controls access to a location based on IP address.


This module limits access via HTTP Basic Authentication.


The autoindex module enables NGINX to generate a directory listing for directories that have no index file.


This module enables you to set up configuration variables based on a client's IP address and then take action on the value of those variables.


The map module enables you to map one variable to another.


This module creates variables that can be used for A/B testing.


This module enables NGINX to block requests based on the Referer HTTP header.


The rewrite module allows you to change URIs based on various conditions.


The proxy module allows NGINX to pass requests onto another server or group of servers.


The FastCGI module enables NGINX to pass requests to a FastCGI server.


This module enables NGINX to pass requests to a uWSGI server.


The SCGI module enables NGINX to pass requests to an SCGI server.


This module enables NGINX to interact with a memcached server, placing responses to queries into a variable.


This module enables NGINX to set connection limits based on certain keys, usually an IP address.


With this module, NGINX can limit the request rate per key.


The empty GIF module produces a 1 x 1-pixel in-memory transparent GIF.


The browser module allows for configurations based on the User-Agent HTTP request header. Variables are set based on the version found in this header.


This module defines a set of servers that may be used in conjunction with the various proxy modules.


Finding and installing third-party modules

As with many open source projects, there is an active developer community surrounding NGINX. Thanks to NGINX's modular nature, this community is able to develop and publish modules to provide additional functionality. They cover a wide range of applications, so it pays to take a look at what is available before embarking on developing your own module.

The procedure for installing a third-party module is fairly straightforward:

  1. Locate the module you would like to use (either search on or see

  2. Download the module.

  3. Unpack the source.

  4. Read the README file, if included. See if there are any dependencies that you will need to install.

  5. Configure NGINX to use the module as follows:

    ./configure --add-module=<path>

This procedure will give you an nginx binary with the additional functionality of that module.

Keep in mind that many third-party modules are of an experimental nature. Test using a module first before rolling it out on production systems and remember that the mainline releases of NGINX may have API changes that can cause problems with third-party modules.


Adding support for Lua

Special mention should be made here of the ngx_lua third-party module. The ngx_lua module serves to enable Lua instead of Perl as a configuration time embedded scripting language. The great advantage this module has over the perl module is its non-blocking nature and tight integration with other third-party modules. The installation instructions are fully described at We will be using this module as an example of installing a third-party module in the next section.


Putting it all together

Now that you have gotten a glimpse at what all the various configuration options are for, you can design a binary that precisely fits your needs. The following example specifies the prefix, user, group, paths, disables some modules, enables some others, and includes a couple of third-party modules:

$ export BUILD_DIR=`pwd`
$ export NGINX_INSTALLDIR=/opt/nginx
$ export VAR_DIR=/home/www/tmp
$ export LUAJIT_LIB=/opt/luajit/lib
$ export LUAJIT_INC=/opt/luajit/include/luajit-2.0

$ ./configure \
        --prefix=${NGINX_INSTALLDIR} \
        --user=www \
        --group=www \
        --http-client-body-temp-path=${VAR_DIR}/client_body_temp \
R_DIR}/proxy_temp \
        --http-fastcgi-temp-path=${VAR_DIR}/fastcgi_temp \
        --without-http_uwsgi_module \
        --without-http_scgi_module \
        --without-http_browser_module \
        --with-openssl=${BUILD_DIR}/../openssl-1.0.1p \
        --with-pcre=${BUILD_DIR}/../pcre-8.32 \
        --with-http_ssl_module \
        --with-http_realip_module \
        --with-http_sub_module \
        --with-http_flv_module \
        --with-http_gzip_static_module \
        --with-http_gunzip_module \
        --with-http_secure_link_module \
        --with-http_stub_status_module \
        --add-module=${BUILD_DIR}/ngx_devel_kit-0.2.17 \

Following a lot of output showing what configure was able to find on your system, a summary is printed out as follows:

Configuration summary
  + using PCRE library: /home/builder/build/pcre-8.32
  + using OpenSSL library: /home/builder/build/openssl-1.0.1p
  + md5: using OpenSSL library
  + sha1: using OpenSSL library
  + using system zlib library

  nginx path prefix: "/opt/nginx"
  nginx binary file: "/opt/nginx/sbin/nginx"
  nginx configuration prefix: "/opt/nginx/conf"
  nginx configuration file: "/opt/nginx/conf/nginx.conf"
  nginx pid file: "/opt/nginx/logs/"
  nginx error log file: "/opt/nginx/logs/error.log"
  nginx http access log file: "/opt/nginx/logs/access.log"
  nginx http client request body temporary files: "/home/www/tmp/  client_body_temp"
  nginx http proxy temporary files: "/home/www/tmp/proxy_temp"
  nginx http fastcgi temporary files: "/home/www/tmp/fastcgi_temp"

As you can see, configure found all the items we were looking for, and acknowledged our preferences for certain paths. Now you can build your nginx and install it, as mentioned at the beginning of the chapter.



This chapter has introduced you to the various modules available for NGINX. By compiling your own binary, you are able to tailor what functionality your nginx will provide. Building and installing software will not be new to you, so not a lot of time was spent on creating a build environment or making sure that all dependencies were present. An NGINX installation should be one that fits your needs, so feel free to enable or disable modules as you see fit.

Next up, we will present an overview of basic NGINX configuration, to get a feel for how to configure NGINX in general.

About the Author
  • Dimitri Aivaliotis

    Dimitri Aivaliotis is a production engineer in Silicon Valley. His career has taken him from building a Linux-based computer network for a school up through multi-datacenter, high-availability infrastructures for banks and popular websites. He has spent over a decade solving his customers' problems and learned NGINX along the way.

    Dimitri graduated summa cum laude with a BS in Physics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and received an MS in Management Information Systems at Florida State University.

    Browse publications by this author
Latest Reviews (1 reviews total)
Recommended For You
Mastering NGINX - Second Edition
Unlock this book and the full library FREE for 7 days
Start now