Meet the Web Server

There is a lot that goes into running a web hosting business.  The provider needs an internet connection, bandwidth and data facility to store the equipment that enables the service.  While numerous components are required, almost all of them revolve around the web server.

What is a Web Server?

There term web server actually describes to different elements.  One is the computer that stores the data for a website.  The other is a software application that runs on the computer and processes requests from web browsers and other client-side technologies.  Though often used interchangeably, these two components are quite different.  For this reason, one should always clarify the mentioning of a web server as it can refer to either a machine or an application.  This article will focus on the latter and give a brief overview on how this type of software works.

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The Web Server in Action

A web server application helps the actual hardware serve web pages upon the request of a browser such as Internet Explorer or Opera.  Because it deals primarily in HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) requests, this type of application if often referred to as an HTTP server.  After receiving a request, the server runs HTTP, which is a protocol for transferring data over the internet and enabling two computers to communicate with each other.  When using your web browser to access any given website, a request is transmitted to a web server on a remote computer.  The server application then processes the browser’s request and attempts to locate the requested web page.  If it is found, the server sends the page to your browser which then displays the appropriate content.

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Commonly Used Web Servers

The Netcraft Web Server Usage Survey reports that the Apache HTTP server is the most the widely installed web server in the world, claiming that it has nearly 60% of the market share.  As an open-source application, Apache supports numerous open-source technologies such as the Linux operating system and MySQL database server.

The main competitor to Apache is IIS (Internet Information Services), a robust server application developed by Microsoft.  This web server was designed to work with various server editions of the Windows operating system.  Though it is compatible with MySQL and other open-source technologies, IIS was designed to be integrated with Microsoft products such as ASP (Active Server Pages) and the SQL Server.  Other web server applications exist but they are rarely used in comparison to Apache and IIS.

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Using a Web Server off the Web

While primarily intended for the web hosting arena, web server applications can also be used for other purposes as well.  For example, many techies have the Apache server installed on their Windows-based computers.  This is great for someone who scripts custom programs for their own servers.  Several developers find this method much easier than working on a remote server.   So, if you have a powerful computer with a need to create PHP or ASP scripts, a web server like Apache or IIS could work wonders on your system.

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