We recently switched to nginx and I was happy to see that rate limiting seems easy enough there. I set up the following limit for a particular zone:

limit_req_zone $binary_remote_addr zone=PHPUtilities:10m rate=60r/m;

I applied that zone to a location block with a burst of 20. That all seemed fine, but what I was surprised to see was that I would quickly get slowdowns where the server would refuse to respond for 5 seconds or so. It seems like nginx takes the 60 requests per minute and divides that down to 1 request per second. So if we loaded several scripts simultaneously, nginx would serve the first request right away and then delay the others.

I'd rather it behaved sort of like "ok they get a free 60 requests per minute. Only once they hit 60 will we begin limiting them, first by slowing down the next 20 requests (the burst). Everything after that will crap out until they stop requesting so much, or fall below the 60 per minute limit."

Is there a way to do that?

PS. I accidentally asked this question on Stack Overflow first, then realized it was more appropriate here. :(

  • nginx does indeed go by requests per second, regardless of how you enter it. Oct 22, 2018 at 21:51

1 Answer 1


I think you want to use the nodelay parameter as well as burst:

location /login/ {
    limit_req_zone $binary_remote_addr zone=PHPUtilities:10m rate=60r/m burst=20 nodelay;

    proxy_pass http://my_upstream;

With the nodelay parameter, NGINX still allocates slots in the queue according to the burst parameter and imposes the configured rate limit, but not by spacing out the forwarding of queued requests. Instead, when a request arrives “too soon”, NGINX forwards it immediately as long as there is a slot available for it in the queue. It marks that slot as “taken” and does not free it for use by another request until the appropriate time has passed (in our example, after 100 milliseconds).

From https://www.nginx.com/blog/rate-limiting-nginx/.

  • 2
    I finally tested this today and it looks like it's working, thank you! I did have to do it slightly differently though, I couldn't put the nodelay parameter in nginx.conf, I had to put it in the site configuration. So for example nginx.conf has limit_req_zone $binary_remote_addr zone=PHPUtilities:10m rate=60r/m; (no change), but my site configuration has this in the appropriate location blocks limit_req zone=PHPUtilities burst=20 nodelay; Sep 25, 2019 at 15:18
  • This indeed works, but I do not understand why. In both cases, the 22nd request should be returned with the 503 error code. Sep 24, 2021 at 9:43

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