The LAMP stack (open source development environment using Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP) has always been incredibly popular among developers, but in the past few years, that has started to change. What people are starting to use instead is called a LEMP stack, which replaces the Apache web server with a Russian little-engine-that-could competitor, Nginx (pronounced “Engine X” – hence the E in LEMP). Keep in mind that the code for Nginx is free, open-source, and is identified by the official site as both NGINX and nginx.

Nginx has accrued increasingly impressive market share in recent years. What’s its story?

In This Article

WordPress Developer Switches to LEMP

One of the biggest leaps forward for the credibility of Nginx came in 2008. The company behind WordPress, Automattic, wanted to switch the platform over to an open source web server. Since Apache has the largest share of web servers, it was the first place the company turned. However, when they went in and customized the code, Apache kept failing, particularly when there was a lot of traffic.

Automattic set aside Apache and turned toward Nginx. That web server showed greater stability with production traffic. WordPress is still using it to this day. Automattic is just one of many companies that have gone through a similar transition.

Nginx Is Not Slowing its Pace

Today, as has been the case for the last few years, the big-name web servers are in a steady decline. Meanwhile, Nginx is on the rise. A compact piece of software that can process huge amounts of requests simultaneously, Nginx has characteristics that are immediately intriguing to developers and business leaders, explains Robert McMillan of Wired.

“Apache is still the king of all web servers,” he says, “but use of Nginx … nearly doubled [between 2011 and 2013].” McMillan gets his statistics from  web server market-share analysis powerhouse Netcraft.

Actually, Nginx seems to be in an incredible state of growth currently. That is evident in June and October reports that are also from Netcraft.

In June, Netcraft reported that Nginx, Apache, and Microsoft approved themselves to be in a class of their own in terms of popular use, with Nginx joining the club only recently. Now, those three web servers are used on seven out of every eight web-connected computers globally. The thing that is particularly remarkable about Nginx, according to Netcraft, is that it is the only major server that is steadily increasing its market reach. While nginx grew 3% YOY through June 2015, both Microsoft and Apache saw their shares shrink.

The results continue to be impressive, per Netcraft’s October 2015 Web Server Survey.

“Nginx grew in all metrics this month – websites, active sites, web-facing computers, and its share of the top million sites,” Netcraft explains. “With a gain of 866,000 active sites, nginx has increased its market share in this metric beyond 15% for the first time.”

Along with Automattic, another huge Internet player using Nginx to handle a large amount of traffic is Netflix.

How the Web Is Being Won

Really the success of Nginx is exemplary of the possibilities, benefits, and broad access that open-source systems allow.

A Russian systems administrator, Igor Sysoev, had an idea. Sysoev started developing Nginx all the way back in 2002, when he was 32 years old. The first time that code was published for free download was October of that year.

As is the case with so many great inventions and business ideas, Sysoev was simply trying to solve his own problem.

“At the time, he worked for Rambler, a fast-growing Russian internet portal,” says McMillan, “and he needed a server that could handle more traffic than the open source alternatives.”

There were approximately 100 organizations that adopted Nginx by 2005. However, it was difficult at that point for English speakers to figure out the system because almost all of the instructions and forum posts were in Russian.

The server was bound to grow, though, because it had universal appeal, according to Nginx business development head Andrew Alexeev.

“The problem he was solving was really common. It wasn’t really a Russian problem,” he says. “Everything started to transition more and more to online services, and that meant a bigger number of users per server and more complex architectures.”

Growth of Nginx & LEMP to Fuel Your Own Project

Compliments come in many forms. One of them is a nice-sized check. Sysoev received just such a thumbs-up from Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg in 2013 – a check for $3500 and an appreciative note.

That’s when Sysoev says he knew Nginx had really arrived.

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