Synthetic Monitoring

Simulate visitor interaction with your site to monitor the end user experience.

View Product Info


Simulate visitor interaction

Identify bottlenecks and speed up your website.

Learn More

Real User Monitoring

Enhance your site performance with data from actual site visitors

View Product Info


Real user insights in real time

Know how your site or web app is performing with real user insights

Learn More

Infrastructure Monitoring Powered by SolarWinds AppOptics

Instant visibility into servers, virtual hosts, and containerized environments

View Infrastructure Monitoring Info
Comprehensive set of turnkey infrastructure integrations

Including dozens of AWS and Azure services, container orchestrations like Docker and Kubernetes, and more 

Learn More

Application Performance Monitoring Powered by SolarWinds AppOptics

Comprehensive, full-stack visibility, and troubleshooting

View Application Performance Monitoring Info
Complete visibility into application issues

Pinpoint the root cause down to a poor-performing line of code

Learn More

Log Management and Analytics Powered by SolarWinds Loggly

Integrated, cost-effective, hosted, and scalable full-stack, multi-source log management

 View Log Management and Analytics Info
Collect, search, and analyze log data

Quickly jump into the relevant logs to accelerate troubleshooting

Learn More

The most popular web servers for REST APIs

Web server softwareRESTful APIs have become increasingly popular both among web services and developers and are easy to serve up with the same software used for regular web pages. In May of 2010, 74% of web APIs used REST as their protocol.

When setting up servers for a REST API it can make sense to use a web server software that is a bit more lightweight than what you’d use for a full-blown website. The gains are, at least in theory, that each API server that way could handle more requests since it would be less taxing on system resources.

But is that what actually happens, or do most web services just put up an Apache server, same as they would do for a regular website?

Since we’re working on a new REST API ourselves here at Pingdom, we were curious about this and decided to find out.

Web server software used by websites

Before we show you which web servers are most common for serving REST APIs, let’s first recap which web servers are the most common for serving regular web pages.

On the traditional Web, Apache is king of the hill and has been so since before the dinosaurs roamed the Earth. This is shown month after month by Netcraft’s web server survey. For example, for the month of November, the top three web servers were:

  • Apache: 59.4%
  • Microsoft IIS: 22.7%
  • nginx: 6.0%

Apache and IIS need no introduction, and in case you haven’t heard of nginx, it’s a lightweight, high-performance web server that has been gaining in popularity the last couple of years. We wrote about its rise to fame earlier this year.

Now let’s examine which web servers are most common for serving REST APIs.

Web server software used by REST APIs

A good resource for finding web API listings is Programmable Web, which is what we used in this article. We filtered out the REST APIs that had been updated during the past 60 days, removed duplicates for APIs from the same provider, and ended up with a list of 127 APIs. It included a mixed bag of APIs both from big players like Google and Paypal, as well as plenty of smaller services.

The relatively modest sample base we used means that these numbers won’t be super exact, but they are good enough for our purpose, which is to estimate which web servers are currently the most common for REST APIs.

We accessed all those APIs to see what kind of server would respond (by reading the HTTP response header) and got the following results:

Web servers used by REST APIs

A few observations:

  • Apache is almost as common for serving REST APIs as regular web pages. This was perhaps not too surprising considering that it is highly mature software and above all is a well-known entity among webmasters. It might actually be more common than what is shown here, as we’ll explain here below in the bullet point about nginx.
  • Nginx is significantly more common here than it is for serving regular web pages, although it’s still far behind Apache. It’s a huge jump for the little web server. However, since nginx is sometimes used as a load balancer (in front of example Apache servers) it’s difficult to tell how many of these APIs use it as an actual replacement for Apache. That said, nginx does have several properties that should make it suitable for serving up a web API, such as a very light system load and the ability to handle a huge amount of simultaneous connections.
  • Microsoft IIS is in a relatively distant third place when it comes to serving REST APIs.
  • These three web servers together make up more than three quarters of the web server software used.

Since images tend to illustrate these kinds of differences better than words, here’s a visual breakdown of how web server usage differs between websites and REST APIs:

REST API vs Website web server usage

And a small side note regarding the “Others” category in the first chart. We lumped together all of those we only found one of: GSE, Cherokee, Jetty, Lighttpd, Node, Virtuoso, YAZ, Mongrel, Resin, PasteWSGIServer and mafe (this last one from Google Maps…).

Final words, and a question

To be honest, we had expected Apache to be slightly less dominant in the world of web APIs than it turned out to be. However, people like to work with what they’re used to, which we suspect is a factor here. (We’re not implying that Apache is a bad web server.)

We haven’t decided yet what we’ll end up using for our new API. If you have built, or are building, a REST API, we’d love to hear your opinion. What web server are you using, or plan on using? What do you think is the best tool for the job?

Webpages Are Getting Larger Every Year, and Here’s Why it Matters

Last updated: February 29, 2024 Average size of a webpage matters because it [...]

A Beginner’s Guide to Using CDNs

Last updated: February 28, 2024 Websites have become larger and more complex [...]

The Five Most Common HTTP Errors According to Google

Last updated: February 28, 2024 Sometimes when you try to visit a web page, [...]

Page Load Time vs. Response Time – What Is the Difference?

Last updated: February 28, 2024 Page load time and response time are key met [...]

Can gzip Compression Really Improve Web Performance?

Last updated: February 26, 2024 The size of the web is slowly growing. Over [...]

Monitor your website’s uptime and performance

With Pingdom's website monitoring you are always the first to know when your site is in trouble, and as a result you are making the Internet faster and more reliable. Nice, huh?



Gain availability and performance insights with Pingdom – a comprehensive web application performance and digital experience monitoring tool.

Start monitoring for free