NGINX (pronounced “engine-X”) is a very fast webserver for serving out static files, or for caching calls to a slower API.

Why use it?

File Transfer

Problem: You have a remote server from which you are repeatedly downloading the same files, over and over again, and it is obviously not only wasteful but slow.

Solution: Use a NGINX web server to cache some or all of the files locally so that when you browse to localhost, you get an identical copy of the remote file.

Slow API

Problem: A slow API is being called with the same arguments by many different computers, and he exact same value is being recomputed over and over again.

Solution: Use a NGINX web server as a proxy in front of the real API, and let NGINX handle all of the caching.


The first thing to do is turn off any other web servers that are running. In my case, apache2 happened to be installed and running, so I turned that off.

sudo service apache2 stop

Installing NGINX is straightforward on Ubuntu/Debian:

sudo apt-get install nginx
sudo service nginx start

In the /etc/nginx/nginx.conf file, I put the following in the http block. You may want to edit the path /home/ivar/nginx/cache to be another directory; that is just where I was testing. To make the cache hold data for 1 week, use this inside the http block:

# 10,080 minutes is 1 week
proxy_cache_path /home/ivar/nginx_cache levels=1:2 keys_zone=my_cache:10080m max_size=10g
                 inactive=10080m use_temp_path=off;

server {
   location ~* {
  # access_log off;
  proxy_cache_valid any 10080m;
      proxy_cache my_cache;
      proxy_pass http://potoroo:3003;

Finally, force the running server to reload the configuration:

sudo service nginx restart

You can now navigate to http://localhost/ and observe that it hosts a cached copy.

You can watch the nginx access log in real time using:

sudo tail -f /var/log/nginx/access.log

Speed Test

Let’s see how this improves the speed. The first call takes about 12 seconds:

time wget http://localhost/baphy/271/bbl086b-11-1

But the second time you run it, it takes about 52 milliseconds.

time wget http://localhost/baphy/271/bbl086b-11-1

How do I clear the cache?

When you want to clear the cache, simply delete the contents of the nginx_cache directory.


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