Using nginx to Customize Control of Your Hosted App

Using nginx to Customize Control of Your Hosted App

One great example of controlling this data is nginx. nginx is an open source web server that is a world leader in load balancing and traffic proxying. It comes with a plethora of plugins and capabilities that can customize an application’s behavior using a lightweight and easy-to-understand package.

Open source application diversity is both the biggest boon in the free and open source software (FOSS) movement and its greatest hindrance to adoption. You don’t always own the application you’re consuming, and it often comes with certain opinions and limitations imposed by the software author — either intentionally or otherwise.

Reverse proxies are one means of taking back control of the implementation details of these products. By filtering data into a Layer 7 (or, application-level) capable processor, you can manipulate, encrypt and decrypt, redirect, and otherwise control how data destined to your services can flow and behave.

What is nginx and Why Do You Need It?

One great example of controlling this data is nginx. nginx is an open source web server that is a world leader in load balancing and traffic proxying. It comes with a plethora of plugins and capabilities that can customize an application’s behavior using a lightweight and easy-to-understand package.

According to Netcraft and W3Techs, nginx serves approximately 31%–36% of active websites, putting it neck and neck with Apache as the world’s preferred web server. This means that not only is it well-respected, trusted, performant enough for a large portion of production systems, and compatible with just about any architecture, it also has a loyal following of engineers and developers supporting the project. These are key factors in considering the longevity of your application, how portable it can be, and where it can be hosted.

Heroku and nginx

Let’s look at a situation when you might need nginx. In our example, you’ve created an app and deployed it on a platform as a service (PaaS) — in our case, Heroku. With PaaS, your life is easier, as decisions about the infrastructure, monitoring, and supportability have already been made for you, guaranteeing a clean environment for you to run your applications with ease. However, to gain these benefits of PaaS, your application must conform to the vendor’s constraints.

When you write the custom code yourself, this is not a problem: Simply add the hooks required by the infrastructure and you’re off to the races. However, when you need to use a third-party service or product that doesn’t fit the mold of this infrastructure, such as our example BookStack below, the only way to design this integration may be with a middle-tier traffic manipulator like nginx.

So let’s look at three ways you can use nginx to customize the behaviors of your application in Heroku.

  1. Dynamically assigning server ports at container runtime
  2. Adding basic authentication to your application
  3. Mirroring traffic to test application changes without impacting your production service

nginx cloud-architecture heroku programming devops

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