Varnish Cache vs. NGINX Cache: Best Performance Comparison

        Feb 25, 2019

VIf there is one common thing that every website owner tries to achieve today, it is essentially a fast loading website. Varnish Cache vs. NGINX Cache, Needless to say, the loading time largely contributes to retaining your site visitors, as well as, better search engine rankings. By adopting various techniques like optimizing images, integrating a Content Delivery Network (CDN), using the right caching server etc. site owners constantly endeavour to boost the page loading times of their sites. While all these measures are collectively beneficial, the point of discussion of this blog article is to particularly look at caching. Varnish Cache and NGINX Cache are two important and popular caching solutions that can help improve the speed of your business website.

While both have their respective benefits, a detailed study of each and comparison of their features might help you decide which one you should choose.

What is Varnish Cache?

Varnish Cache vs. NGINX Cache

Varnish Cache is a front-end web accelerator that allows dynamic and content-heavy websites to handle high traffic influx. It is a reverse caching HTTP proxy that caches both static and dynamic content from the server and improves the site visitor’s experience. This boosts the speed of your website considerably.

Varnish Cache also allows developers to configure rules and set policies by using the Varnish Configuration Language, commonly called VCL. In simpler words, a VCL is a program that lets you (the site owner/developer) direct Varnish as to what it should do with your site traffic. Thus it allows you complete control over what you want to be cached and how. Leading social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, or content-rich sites like Wikipedia, among similar others, use Varnish Cache to manage their content caching.

This, in short, is what Varnish Cache is all about. Now, let us understand the workings of NGINX Caching.

What is NGINX?

Released in 2004, NGINX is an open source web server and can be used as a proxy server. It often uses a mail proxy, a reverse proxy, load balancer, and HTTP cache, micro-caching etc. which helps reduce the load time and improves the performance of your website. Most high-traffic websites, especially with multi-application environments, are known to use NGINX caching. NGINX is known to be efficient and effective in handling concurrent connections.

With the basic understanding of each of these caching solutions out of the way, it is time to make an in-depth assessment of which one works for your site.

Varnish Cache vs. NGINX Cache

In practicality, it is difficult to draw a comparison of Varnish vs. NGINX. Because the basics of Varnish and NGINX are quite similar; both can be used as a reverse proxy and load balancer for your server. However, if we go deeper into their technologies, there are few specific aspects of Varnish vs. NGINX Cache performance that can be placed against each other.  


The most important thing that anyone looks at when using a certain technology solution is its flexibility. One of the key features that give Varnish Cache an advantage over NGINX, is the flexibility that it offers with its configuration language. As we mentioned before, Varnish allows developers to use the Varnish Configuration Language to create a caching structure that is tailored to the needs of the website, thus making it customizable. You can set guidelines on how to handle incoming requests, what content to extract from the server and share with the end-user, which source to use, and how to alter the user responses, if the need be. In short, Varnish Cache allows greater flexibility and creates more complex caching structure, as compared to NGINX reverse proxy.

SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) Support

From 2018, SSL Support for websites has become an essential feature that site owners need to look at. In July 2018, Google rolled out a mandate that states that all website that has not migrated to HTTPS will be marked as ‘not secure’. This eventually will also affect the site rankings on the search results.

SSL certificate helps encrypt sensitive information like important data, passwords, credit card details, etc. It also ensures that you are sharing and receiving information and data to and from trusted sites. This will make your site visitors and user to trust your site more and consider it to be authentic.

As such, owners need to look at servers which offer SSL Support. This is one of the features where NGINX wins over Varnish Cache by offering native SSL support for your site. Varnish Cache, on the other hand, does not come with an integrated SSL Support. However, if you have a good hosting provider, you can avail the benefits of SSL Support while using Varnish Cache.

Static Content Management

When it comes to managing static content on the web server, NGINX performs better in content management, especially if NGINX proxy and the static files coexist on the same server. While using Varnish Cache, on the other hand, you might need to add more functionalities to be able to manage similar content. But when it comes to the purging of content, the roles of each of these caching solutions are reversed. NGINX, being an open source server, has its own limitations. That is why the basic NGINX- OSS does not offer content purging option. You can always opt for the NGINX Plus plan and avail the Fast CGI Cache Purge feature. In comparison, Varnish Cache is integrated with an inbuilt mechanism that allows you to purge static content as, when, and however, you need.


Looking at the above detailing on Varnish vs. NGINX, it becomes quite clear that Varnish offers more advanced features that are specific to the functionality of caching, while NGINX can be used as a caching server. However, each of these caching solutions has their own benefits and suitability in specific situations and scenarios. For instance, if you are an e-commerce website or a media website, which runs on heavy content, high traffic, and are seeking high-end performance, then you might need to opt for Varnish Cache. Otherwise, an open-source web server like NGINX works for you.

We, at CloudRocket, provide Cloud Hosting plans that are integrated with Varnish Cache so that the speed of your website increases by 1000%. Every website’s requirement is unique and different and you should always run your own trial and error to see what works the best for you. After all, whatever you choose to do with your website will eventually affect your site performance, the experience of your users, and of course, the business. If you have any comments or suggestions please leave them in the box below!

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