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Using nginx as HTTP load balancer
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Load balancing across multiple application instances is a commonly used technique for optimizing resource utilization, maximizing throughput, reducing latency, and ensuring fault-tolerant configurations.

It is possible to use nginx as a very efficient HTTP load balancer to distribute traffic to several application servers and to improve performance, scalability and reliability of web applications with nginx.

Load balancing methods

The following load balancing mechanisms (or methods) are supported in nginx:

  • round-robin — requests to the application servers are distributed in a round-robin fashion,
  • least-connected — next request is assigned to the server with the least number of active connections,
  • ip-hash — a hash-function is used to determine what server should be selected for the next request (based on the client’s IP address).

Default load balancing configuration

The simplest configuration for load balancing with nginx may look like the following:

http { upstream myapp1 { server srv1.example.com; server srv2.example.com; server srv3.example.com; } server { listen 80; location / { proxy_pass } } }

In the example above, there are 3 instances of the same application running on srv1-srv3. When the load balancing method is not specifically configured, it defaults to round-robin. All requests are proxied to the server group myapp1, and nginx applies HTTP load balancing to distribute the requests.

Reverse proxy implementation in nginx includes load balancing for HTTP, HTTPS, FastCGI, uwsgi, SCGI, and memcached.

To configure load balancing for HTTPS instead of HTTP, just use “https” as the protocol.

When setting up load balancing for FastCGI, uwsgi, SCGI, or memcached, use fastcgi_pass, uwsgi_pass, scgi_pass, and memcached_pass directives respectively.

Least connected load balancing

Another load balancing discipline is least-connected. Least-connected allows controlling the load on application instances more fairly in a situation when some of the requests take longer to complete.

With the least-connected load balancing, nginx will try not to overload a busy application server with excessive requests, distributing the new requests to a less busy server instead.

upstream myapp1 { least_conn; server srv1.example.com; server srv2.example.com; server srv3.example.com; }

Session persistence

Please note that with round-robin or least-connected load balancing, each subsequent client’s request can be potentially distributed to a different server. There is no guarantee that the same client will be always directed to the same server.

If there is the need to tie a client to a particular application server — in other words, make the client’s session “sticky” or “persistent” in terms of always trying to select a particular server — the ip-hash load balancing mechanism can be used.

With ip-hash, the client’s IP address is used as a hashing key to determine what server in a server group should be selected for the client’s requests. This method ensures that the requests from the same client will always be directed to the same server except when this server is unavailable.

upstream myapp1 { ip_hash; server srv1.example.com; server srv2.example.com; server srv3.example.com; }

Weighted load balancing

It is also possible to influence nginx load balancing algorithms even further by using server weights.

In the examples above, the server weights are not configured which means that all specified servers are treated as equally qualified for a particular load balancing method.

With the round-robin in particular it also means a more or less equal distribution of requests across the servers — provided there are enough requests, and when the requests are processed in a uniform manner and completed fast enough.

upstream myapp1 { server srv1.example.com weight=3; server srv2.example.com; server srv3.example.com; }

Source: nginx.org

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