What is a Web Server? - Brown Surfing

What is a Web Server?

Posted on: July 25th, 2022
By: Efrain Lemus

Do you ever take a second to think about what makes your favorite website appear in your browser? If you take a minute to think about it, the answer is quite complex! A web server is a vital part of making websites function- without it, the internet would be a very different place. 

Simply put, a web server is a computer system that stores, processes, and delivers website pages to web browsers.

Web servers are comprised of hardware and software that use Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) to respond to user requests via the World Wide Web.

Stay tuned- by the end of this post, you’ll have a greater understanding of one of the building blocks of the internet!

An Overview of Web Server

A web server is a system that provides web pages to users who request them. The pages are usually created using Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), the code used to create webpages. When someone types in a Uniform Resource Locator (URL) or clicks on a link, their browser sends a request to the web server for the page it needs. 

Afterward, the web server sends the page back to your computer and displays it in your browser window. Pretty simple, right?

Web servers are usually very fast and can handle large amounts of traffic without slowing down. This is because they are designed to serve pages quickly and efficiently. 

Overall, web servers are vital in delivering content to users across the Internet. Without them, you would not be able to view websites or access online services.

When is Web Server Required?

Web servers are required anytime you need to provide content or services to users over the internet; you will need some form of a web server.  This could be anything from a simple HTML website to a large-scale e-commerce platform.

Some common examples of when you would need a web server include:

– Creating a web-based application

– Sharing files or resources with other users

– Setting up a remote access system

– Managing email servers or other online services

Without web servers, the internet would cease to exist. They are an integral part of the way the internet works. So next time you browse the web, take a minute to think about the complex systems working behind the scenes to make it all possible!

How Do Web Servers Work?

Web servers are the heart of the web, handling billions of requests daily. But how do they work?

A web server is a computer that stores website files and makes them available to users across the internet.

The server then looks up that domain’s DNS entry and finds the associated IP address. Once it has the IP address, it sends an HTTP request to that address. The server at that address then sends back the requested web page, which is displayed in your browser along with an HTTP response header. 

This header tells the browser whether the request was successful or not. If the request were successful, the browser would display the page; if not, it would display an error message. You may think it takes a lot of time and effort, but it all happens in seconds. 

Static Vs. Dynamic Web Server

There are two types of web servers: static and dynamic. A static web server stores files in a predetermined way and serves them to clients as they request them. 

A static web server is simple to set up and requires little maintenance. It can easily handle large numbers of simultaneous requests because it doesn’t have to generate pages dynamically. However, static web servers are less flexible than dynamic servers because they can only deliver pre-existing content. You must manually edit the HTML files if you want to change how content is presented. 

A dynamic web server generates pages on-the-fly in response to client requests. Each type of server has its advantages and disadvantages. 

Dynamic web servers are more complex than static servers but offer greater flexibility. Because dynamic servers generate pages on-the-fly, they can easily present content differently based on user input or other factors. Dynamic servers can also access databases and other data sources to generate pages, which static servers cannot. However, dynamic servers require more processing power than static servers and may be less stable under heavy loads.

Web Server Features

Web servers generally support HTTP protocols to process incoming requests and responses, as well as the following features:

File logging:

Web server software usually creates log files detailing activity on the server. These log files can monitor traffic and performance or for security purposes, such as detecting attacks.

Access control:

Some web servers allow administrators to restrict access to certain resources, such as specific URLs or directories, by IP address or subnet. This is often used to prevent unauthorized access to sensitive website parts or limit traffic from certain locations.

Bandwidth throttling:

To conserve server resources and avoid overloading the network connection, some web servers can limit the amount of data transferred for each request. This is usually done per IP, so all requests from a single IP address are affected.

Error handling:

When a client request cannot be fulfilled, the web server usually responds with an error message detailing the problem. Common error responses include “404 Not Found” (the requested resource could not be found) and “500 Internal Server Error” (an error occurred while processing the request).

Virtual hosting:

Many web servers can handle multiple websites with their domain name from a single machine. This is done using virtual hosts, which map multiple domain names to different IP addresses or directories on the same server.

Caching:

Web servers can speed up loading times by caching static resources, such as HTML files or images. Cached resources are stored in memory or on disk and are served to clients without having to be re-fetched from the origin server each time.

Load balancing:

To distribute traffic evenly across multiple servers and avoid overloading any single machine, web servers can balance requests between different machines in a network. This is usually done using a load balancer, which routes requests to different servers based on criteria such as server availability or request response time.

Programming language:

Many dynamic web servers support multiple programming languages, allowing developers to create dynamic websites that can generate content on the fly. For example, the Apache HTTP Server supports over two dozen programming languages, including PHP, Python, and Ruby.

Examples of Web Server Uses

Web servers are a crucial part of a larger internet and intranet package. They have three primary uses:

  • Host multiple websites or web applications.
  • Sending and receiving emails
  • Process File Transfer Protocol (FTP) requests.

Many basic web servers also support server-side scripting, which allows scripts on the server to customize the response to clients. The server-side script runs on the machine and typically has a broad feature set, including database access. Aside from Active Server Pages (ASP), Hypertext Preprocessor (PHP), and other scripting languages, the server-side scripting process will also use Active Server Pages. Additionally, HTML documents can be dynamically generated using this method.

Top Web Server Software on the Market

Various web server software programs are available today. Here is a quick glance at some top choices:

Apache HTTP Server:

Apache is a free and open-source web server that is the most popular choice for web servers today. It runs on various operating systems, including Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X.

IIS:

Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS) is a web server software developed by Microsoft for Windows servers. It is a versatile and feature-rich web server that can be used for various purposes, from hosting small websites to large enterprise applications.

NGINX:  

Igor Sysoev created NGINX in 2004. The server works both as a web server and a proxy server. Today, NGINX can handle hundreds of thousands of concurrent connections simultaneously and power more of the Internet’s busiest sites than any other server.

Lighttpd:

It is a free web server that is based on the FreeBSD operating system. It is seen as secure and fast while consuming less CPU power. It runs on a variety of operating systems, including Windows and Linux.

Apache Tomcat:

An open-source web server and servlet container developed by the Apache Software Foundation. It can be used to run Java applications on a web server.

Sun Java System Web Server:

A commercial web server that was developed by Sun Microsystems. It supports different programming languages and can be used on multiple operating systems, including Windows, Unix, and Linux. It is well-equipped to handle medium to large websites.

Choose the Right Type of Server

In tech, multiple tools can perform similar tasks without being interchangeable. 

Depending on the size and type of business, several different types of servers can be used. For example, a small business is likely to need a single file server, while a large corporation may require a more complex network with multiple types of servers. Consider your needs before choosing a server type.

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