In opensource world, there are some very smart products which are very often used to build a high performance, reliable and scalable architecture.
HAProxy and Varnish are both in this category.

Since we can’t really compare a reverse-proxy cache and a reverse-proxy load-balancer, I’m just going to focus in common for both software as well as the advantage of each of them.
The list is not exhaustive, but must only focus on most used / interesting features. So feel free to add a comment if you want me to complete the list.

Common points between HAProxy and Varnish

Before comparing the differences, we can summarize the points in common:

  • reverse-proxy mode
  • advanced HTTP features
  • no SSL offloading
  • client-side HTTP 1.1 with keepalive
  • tunnel mode available
  • high performance
  • basic load-balancing
  • server health checking
  • IPv6 ready
  • Management socket (CLI)
  • Professional services and training available

Features available in HAProxy and not in Varnish

The features below are available in HAProxy, but aren’t in Varnish:

  • advanced load-balancer
  • multiple persistence methods
  • DOS and DDOS mitigation
  • Advanced and custom logging
  • Web interface
  • Server / application protection through queue management, slow start, etc…
  • SNI content switching
  • Named ACLs
  • Full HTTP 1.1 support on server side, but keep-alive
  • Can work at TCP level with any L7 protocol
  • Proxy protocol for both client and server
  • powerful log analyzer tool (halog)
  • <private joke> 2002 website design </private joke>

Features available in Varnish and not in HAProxy

The features below are available in Varnish, but aren’t in HAProxy:

  • caching
  • grace mode (stale content delivery)
  • saint mode (manages origin server errors)
  • modular software (with a lot of modules available)
  • intuitive VCL configuration language
  • HTTP 1.1 on server side
  • TCP connection re-use
  • Edge side includes (ESI)
  • a few command line tools for stats (varnishstat, varnishhist, etc…)
  • powerful live traffic analyzer (varnishlog)
  • <private joke> 2012 website design </private joke>


Even if HAProxy can do TCP proxying, it is often used in front of web application, exactly where we find Varnish :).
They complete very well together: Varnish will make the website faster by offloading static object delivery to itself, while HAProxy can ensure a smooth load-balancing with smart persistence and DDOS mitigation.

Basically, HAProxy and Varnish completes very well, despite being “competitors” on a few features, each on them has its own domain of expertise where it performs very well: HAProxy is a reverse-proxy Load-Balancer and Varnish is a Reverse-proxy cache.

To be honest, when, at HAProxy Technologies, we work on infrastructures where Aloha Load balancer or HAProxy is deployed, we often see Varnish deployed. And if it is not the case, we often recommend the customer to deploy one if we feel it would improve its website performance.
Recently, I had a discussion with Ruben and Kristian when they came to Paris and they told me that they also often see an HAProxy when they work on infrastructure where Varnish is deployed.

So the real question is: Since Varnish and HAProxy are a bit similar but complete so well, how can we use them together???
The response could be very long, so stay tuned, I’ll try to answer this question in an article coming soon.

Related Links