Second Guessing: Apache vs. Lighttpd

Stephen Yagielowicz

One increasingly popular application for cloud computing is personal and business data storage for archiving and backups, as well as file-serving for websites and items such as images used for message board posts or other transient purposes, and much more global network of websites.”

Perhaps powering more adult websites than all other server software types combined, the time-honored Apache HTTP Server ( is considered to be the most popular and widely used server on the Internet, having celebrated its 15th anniversary earlier this year.

While both Apache and lighttpd servers perform most of the same tasks, lighttpd is an asynchronous server, while Apache is a process-based server.

A project of The Apache Software Foundation, the Open Source software is now in version 2.2.21, and according to the Foundation, represents “an effort to develop and maintain an open-source HTTP server for modern operating systems including UNIX and Windows NT,” while promoting “a secure, efficient and extensible server that provides HTTP services in sync with the current HTTP standards.”

Those “current HTTP standards” may not be enough for tomorrow, however.

According to its publisher, lighttpd (, pronounced “lighty,” offers superior security, speed, compliance and flexibility, and is “rapidly redefining efficiency of a web server;” designed and optimized for today’s high performance environments.

Boasting a small memory footprint when compared to other servers, lighttpd offers effective CPU load management and an advanced feature set which includes FastCGI, SCGI, Auth, Output-Compression, URL Rewriting and more.

Designed with a more modern set of needs in mind than was the legacy Apache web server, lighttpd is used to power popular websites including Wikipedia and YouTube.

“Its high speed i/o-infrastructure allows them to scale several times better with the same hardware than with alternative web servers,” states the lighttpd website. “Its event-driven architecture is optimized for a large number of parallel connections (keep-alive) which is important for high performance AJAX applications.”

Calling itself “the perfect solution for every server that is suffering load problems,” the Open Source lighttpd software is offered under the revised BSD license.

While both Apache and lighttpd servers perform most of the same tasks, lighttpd is an asynchronous server, while Apache is a process-based server.

“The main advantage of the asynchronous approach is scalability,” states WikiVS. “In a process-based server, each simultaneous connection requires a thread which incurs significant overhead. An asynchronous server, on the other hand, is event-driven and handles requests in a single (or at least, very few) threads.”

Although testing protocols may vary, lighttpd will often outperform Apache.

“While a process-based server can often perform on par with an asynchronous server under light loads, under heavier loads they usually consume far too much RAM which significantly degrades performance,” WikiVS adds. “Also, they degrade much faster on less powerful hardware or in a resource-restricted environment such as a VPS.”

For adult webmasters running high traffic, resource intensive websites on Apache, taking a closer look at what lighttpd has to offer may make a lot of sense.