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Understanding NGINX Location Rules: A Comprehensive Guide

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| Published on: March 26, 2024 | Last updated on: April 22, 2024

NGINX is renowned for its speed, efficiency, and the powerful flexibility it offers for web server configuration. However, its “location” rules, pivotal for handling different request URIs and directing them to the correct content, often come across as cryptic and under-explained in official manuals. This article aims to demystify these rules, providing a clear, comprehensive guide to understanding and implementing the four types of location directives in NGINX, ensuring your web server operates with precision and efficiency.

What Are NGINX Location Rules?

NGINX location rules are configuration directives used to determine how different client request URIs are processed and responded to. They play a crucial role in the routing of requests to the correct files or scripts, making them essential for website functionality and performance. Understanding these rules can significantly enhance your ability to manage and optimize your web server.

Types of NGINX Location Rules

NGINX categorizes its location rules into four distinct types, each with its own set of priorities and use cases. These types include exact matches, high priority prefixes, regular expressions (regex), and low priority prefixes. Let’s delve into each type to understand their functionalities and implementation nuances.

Exact Matches

An exact match location rule is defined by the ‘=’ modifier and, as the name suggests, matches a request URI precisely. This type of rule has the highest priority among all location directives and is used when you want to specify a configuration for a specific URI.

location = /foo/bar {
  # exact match configuration

In this example, the rule will apply only when the request URI is exactly “/foo/bar”. It’s the go-to choice for targeting a specific page or resource without affecting others.

High Priority Prefix Matches

High priority prefix matches are defined with the ‘^~’ modifier. These rules take precedence over regular expression matches but are below exact matches in the priority hierarchy. They are useful when you have a group of URIs that share a common path component you wish to configure collectively.

location ^~ /foo {
  # high priority prefix match configuration

This rule targets any request URI that begins with “/foo”, making it versatile for handling URIs under a common directory or path.

Regular Expressions Matches

NGINX handles regular expressions (regex) location rules with either ‘~’ for case-sensitive matches or ‘~*’ for case-insensitive matches. Regex rules offer the most flexibility and are powerful for complex URI matching scenarios.

location ~ .foo$ {
  # case-sensitive regex match configuration

location ~* .foo$ {
  # case-insensitive regex match configuration

These rules are applied based on the order they are defined in the NGINX configuration file, with the first matching rule taking precedence. Regex matches are particularly useful for dynamically configured patterns in URIs.

Low Priority Prefix Matches

Defined without any modifier, low priority prefix matches are the most general type of location rule in NGINX. They are applied when no exact, high priority prefix, or regex match is found.

location /foo {
  # low priority prefix match configuration

This rule targets any request URI that begins with “/foo”, similar to the high priority prefix match but with a lower precedence. It’s useful for catch-all configurations within a specific path.

Strategically Implementing NGINX Location Rules

Understanding the nuances and priorities of NGINX location rules is crucial for effective web server configuration. By strategically implementing these directives, you can ensure that your server efficiently routes requests, optimizing both performance and user experience.

Consider the specific needs of your web application or site when choosing between exact matches, prefix matches, and regexes. A well-thought-out configuration, leveraging the strengths of each location rule type, can dramatically improve the manageability and functionality of your NGINX server.


How do I choose between the different types of NGINX location rules?
Select the type based on the specificity and flexibility you need for matching request URIs. Use exact matches for specific URIs, prefix matches for general path configurations, and regex for complex matching patterns.

Can I use multiple types of location rules in a single NGINX configuration?
Yes, you can use a combination of different location rule types within your NGINX configuration to handle various URI matching scenarios effectively.

What happens if multiple location rules match a request URI?
NGINX applies the location rule with the highest priority. Exact matches have the highest priority, followed by high priority prefixes, regex matches, and finally, low priority prefixes.

Can regular expressions be used for both case-sensitive and case-insensitive matches?
Yes, NGINX allows for both case-sensitive (‘~’) and case-insensitive (‘~*’) regex matches, providing flexibility for URI matching based on case sensitivity.

Is there a performance difference between the types of location rules?
Exact and prefix matches are generally faster to process than regex matches due to their simpler nature. However, the performance impact is usually minimal unless your server is handling a very high volume of requests.


NGINX location rules are a fundamental aspect of web server configuration, providing the means to direct client requests to the appropriate content efficiently. By fully understanding and appropriately applying the four types of location rules, you can enhance your server’s routing capabilities, leading to improved performance and user satisfaction. Remember, the key to effective NGINX configuration lies in selecting the right type of location rule for each scenario, ensuring that your web applications run smoothly and reliably.


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