Nginx uses location block to set configuration on different request URI. As mentioned by

The matching is performed against a normalized URI, after decoding the text encoded in the “%XX” form, resolving references to relative path components “.” and “..”, and possible compression of two or more adjacent slashes into a single slash.

The Location Syntax

The general structure of an Nginx location block is

location optional_modifier location_match {
    # contents

or denoted as

location [ = | ~ | ~* | ^~ ] uri { ... }
location @name { ... }

The optional_modifier tells nginx which comparison method should be used to check whether location_match (or denoted as uri) meets the request URI. There are mainly five kinds of modifiers, which from priority high to low is: = > ^~ > ~ = ~* > none.


The ^~ = none tells that the location is defined by prefix string.

The ~ and ~* tells that the location is defined by regular expression, and ~ is for case-sensitive matching, ~* is for case-insensitive matching.


Nginx first checks locations defined by the prefix strings (by ^~ = none), i.e., checks whether URI begins with uri

  • If an exact match by = is found, i.e., URI=uri, the search terminates. Otherwise continue prefix check.
  • Select and remember the longest uri matching URI.
  • After all the prefix string are processed. If the longest matching prefix location (the longest uri) is specified by ^~, skip the following regular check, search terminates. Otherwise, goto the regular search.

Then Nginx checks the regular expression in the order of their appearance in the configuration file.

  • The search of regular expressions terminates on the first match, and the corresponding configuration is used.
  • If no match with a regular expression is found then the configuration of the prefix location remembered earlier is used.

Tips: As noted by Nginx:

If an exact match is found, the search terminates. For example, if a “/” request happens frequently, defining “location = /” will speed up the processing of these requests, as search terminates right after the first comparison.


As summarized by Martin Redmond,

location  = / {
  # matches the query / only.
  [ configuration A ] 
location  / {
  # matches any query, since all queries begin with /, but regular
  # expressions and any longer conventional blocks will be
  # matched first.
  [ configuration B ] 
location /documents/ {
  # matches any query beginning with /documents/ and continues searching,
  # so regular expressions will be checked. This will be matched only if
  # regular expressions don't find a match.
  [ configuration C ] 
location ^~ /images/ {
  # matches any query beginning with /images/ and halts searching,
  # so regular expressions will not be checked.
  [ configuration D ] 
location ~* \.(gif|jpg|jpeg)$ {
  # matches any request ending in gif, jpg, or jpeg. However, all
  # requests to the /images/ directory will be handled by
  # Configuration D.   
  [ configuration E ] 


How nginx processes a request

Module ngx_http_core_module


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