Nginx - Location Directive

Nginx - Location Directive

The 'location' directive is a fundamental concept in web server configuration that allows you to specify different settings and behaviors for specific URL paths or patterns within your server. It plays a crucial role in defining how the server handles incoming requests for different parts of your website or application. The 'location' directive is supported by popular web servers like Nginx and Apache.


In the context of Nginx, the syntax for the 'location' directive is as follows:

location [modifier] location_match {
    ...  # Configuration settings


  • modifier is an optional flag that can be used to control how Nginx interprets the location_match. Common modifiers include ~ for case-sensitive regex matching and ~* for case-insensitive regex matching.

  • location_match is the URL path or pattern you want to match. It can be a simple string or a regular expression (regex) to match more complex patterns.


location / {
    # Configuration for the root path '/'

location /static/ {
    # Configuration for URLs starting with '/static/'

location ~ /images/.+\.(jpg|png|gif) {
    # Configuration for image files under the '/images/' path

Use Cases:

  1. Serving Static Files: You can use the location directive to define configurations for serving static files like CSS, JavaScript, images, etc. By specifying a location block for the directory containing static files, you can control caching, set headers, or restrict access.

  2. Reverse Proxy: As previously mentioned, the location directive is often used to set up reverse proxies. By specifying a location block and using the proxy_pass directive inside it, you can forward requests to backend servers, effectively creating a reverse proxy.

  3. URL Rewriting: With the location directive, you can perform URL rewriting, redirecting clients to different URLs based on specific patterns. This is often used for URL normalization or handling legacy URLs.

  4. Handling Errors: You can configure how the server responds to specific error codes within a location block. For example, you might want to display custom error pages or redirect users to specific locations when certain errors occur.

  5. Location Prioritization: When multiple location blocks match a request, Nginx uses a specific set of rules to determine which block takes precedence. Understanding these rules is crucial for proper configuration.

Now, let's cover the topics you mentioned: proxy_pass, reverse proxy, and the route directive.

Proxy_pass and Reverse Proxy:

The 'proxy_pass' directive is used in reverse proxy configurations to forward requests to backend servers. As a part of the 'location' directive, it enables you to set up a reverse proxy for specific URL paths. When a client sends a request to the reverse proxy's URL, the server forwards the request to the backend server specified in the 'proxy_pass' directive. The backend server processes the request, and the reverse proxy sends the response back to the client.


Suppose you have an application running on http://localhost:8000, and you want to use a reverse proxy to serve it under the URL path /myapp. Here's how you can achieve that:

location /myapp {
    proxy_pass http://localhost:8000;

Now, when a client accesses, the reverse proxy will pass the request to http://localhost:8000 and send the response back to the client.

Route Directive:

The 'route' directive is an advanced concept used in some web servers to define specific rules or conditions for routing requests to different backend servers based on various criteria. These criteria could include request headers, cookies, query parameters, or any other request attribute.


location /path {
    route key=value backend_server;


Suppose you want to route requests with a specific query parameter to a different backend server. Here's how you can achieve that:

location /api {
    route $arg_service=backend1 http://backend1;
    route $arg_service=backend2 http://backend2;
    proxy_pass http://default_backend;

n this example requests with 'service=backend1' will be sent to http://backend1, requests with 'service=backend2' will be sent to http://backend2, and all other requests will be sent to http://default_backend.

Please note that the 'route' directive might not be available in all web servers or might require specific modules or plugins to be enabled.

Reverse Proxy

A reverse proxy is a server or software component that sits between clients (usually web browsers) and backend servers. It acts as an intermediary for incoming client requests and forwards those requests to the appropriate backend server to process the request. Once the backend server processes the request and generates a response, the reverse proxy sends that response back to the client. The client is unaware of the backend server and communicates only with the reverse proxy.

Why Use a Reverse Proxy:

Reverse proxies offer several benefits, making them an essential component in modern web architectures:

  1. Load Balancing: Reverse proxies can distribute incoming client requests among multiple backend servers, helping to evenly distribute the workload and prevent server overload.

  2. Caching: Reverse proxies can cache frequently requested resources, such as images, CSS, and JavaScript files. This reduces the load on backend servers and improves response times for clients.

  3. Security: Reverse proxies can act as a buffer between the public internet and backend servers, adding an extra layer of security. They can block malicious requests, protect against DDoS attacks, and mask sensitive server information.

  4. SSL Termination: Reverse proxies can handle SSL/TLS encryption and decryption, relieving backend servers from the resource-intensive task of encryption. This is particularly useful when dealing with a large number of HTTPS requests.

  5. URL Mapping and Rewriting: Reverse proxies can rewrite URLs, making it possible to change the structure of incoming requests before passing them to backend servers. This is useful for handling legacy URLs or implementing URL normalization.

  6. Single Point of Access: A reverse proxy allows you to expose a single public endpoint for your application, even if it is running on multiple backend servers. This simplifies the client-side configuration.

Reverse Proxy Configuration:

The configuration of a reverse proxy involves setting up the appropriate location block within the web server's configuration file (e.g., Nginx or Apache). Here's a step-by-step guide to creating a reverse proxy:

  1. Install and Set Up Web Server: Install your chosen web server software (e.g., Nginx or Apache) on your server.

  2. Configure DNS: Ensure that your domain or subdomain points to the IP address of the server running the reverse proxy.

  3. Configure Firewall: Open the necessary ports in your server's firewall (usually port 80 for HTTP and port 443 for HTTPS).

  4. Configure SSL (Optional): If you want to enable HTTPS, obtain an SSL/TLS certificate and configure the server accordingly.

  5. Create a Configuration File: Open the web server's main configuration file (e.g., nginx. conf for Nginx) or create a new configuration file in the appropriate directory.

  6. Set Up the Reverse Proxy: Inside the configuration file, create a location block to define the URL path that will be served by the reverse proxy.

Example Nginx Configuration for Reverse Proxy:

Suppose you have an application running on http://localhost:8000, and you want to use a reverse proxy to serve it under the URL path /myapp. Here's an example of Nginx configuration:

server {
    listen 80;

    location /myapp {
        proxy_pass http://localhost:8000;

    # Additional server configurations...

In this example, when a client accesses, Nginx will forward the request to http://localhost:8000, where the application is running. The response from the application will be sent back to the client by the reverse proxy.


The 'location' directive is a powerful tool in web server configuration that allows you to define specific settings and behaviors for different URL paths. It is commonly used to set up reverse proxies, URL rewriting, serve static files, handle errors, and more. Additionally, the 'proxy_pass' directive facilitates reverse proxy configurations, while the 'route' directive, an advanced concept, enables you to define custom routing rules based on specific criteria. Understanding these concepts empowers you to optimize your web server's performance, security, and flexibility in handling various client requests.

Amish Kohli