What is a server?

Powerful computers, known as servers, are designed to store, analyze, and manage network data, machines, and systems. Here's our take on what a server is and how it works.

Updated: 13 Mar, 23 by Susith Nonis 11 Min

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You've undoubtedly heard the term "server" used a lot if you've been around anybody who works in technology. It can be challenging to understand for someone who doesn't work with computers daily.

Powerful computers, known as servers, are designed to store, analyze, and manage network data, machines, and systems.

A client is a device that submits a request and waits for a response from the server. The computer system that accepts requests for online files and transmits those files to the client is referred to as a "server" in the context of the Internet.

Servers manage network resources. For instance, users might install a server to handle print jobs, transmit and receive an email, or host a website. They are very adept at doing complex calculations.

Some servers sometimes referred to as dedicated servers, are devoted to a particular task. However, many servers in use nowadays are shared servers that manage numerous websites, DNS, FTP, and email in the case of a web server.

The term "server" can apply to any computer running the required software, although the largest, most powerful machines that push and draw data from the internet are usually meant. Most computer networks include one or more servers performing certain duties.

The more clients connect to a network or the volume of data it transfers, the more likely it is that multiple servers play a role, each with a distinct function. The program that manages a certain task is known as the server. But a server is also the name for the robust hardware that underpins this software.

This is because server software needs more durable technology than PCs intended for home use to manage a network of hundreds or even thousands of customers.

There are different types of servers, though most of us consider an internet server or web server the most typical. The most prominent server varieties are:

Web server

You are accessing a server if you are online and viewing a webpage. For the text, graphics, videos, and other elements you can view on a webpage, your browser needs to obtain data from a web server.

You interact with several internet servers when you transmit or receive data over the internet, install software or programs, or even store your work files in the cloud. Web servers are frequently "headless" machines. This protects the server's memory and ensures enough to run the operating system and applications.

"Headless" means that it doesn't function like a typical home computer but rather serves content. Only their administrators can use command line terminals to connect to these systems.

Remember that these servers are just like your home computer in that they can run any application. As long as they adhere to the main "rules" of the web, they can operate on any operating system.

Email server

Next on our list of types of servers is email servers. You presumably depend on a web server to manage your messaging if you access your email account through a web-based tool like Gmail or Yahoo!

Customers who favour using computer-based software like Outlook connect to a particular email server that facilitates the sending and receiving operations. When using email, if you encounter references to IMAP, POP, or SMTP, you are connecting to a third-party email server.

Game server

Gamers are well aware of these servers.  It would help if you established a server connection to load an online game. Typically, each game has its server. If you've ever experienced prolonged loading times for games, server congestion may be to blame.

Servers are used to deliver and receive the data required for gamers to play all online games, from the largest computer games to the smallest smartphone games.

Proxy server

Proxy servers are used whenever a third-party middleman is present between a user's computer and another server. In addition to censoring content and accelerating internet traffic, proxies prevent unauthorized users from gaining access to networks.

Most business internet connections utilise proxy servers on their networked computers to protect data and guarantee that employees are only using authorized online features.

Database server

Usually, a database server works in conjunction with another kind of server. Simply put, this type of server exists to store data in groups. There are various ways to store data, all of which follow different ideas. Structured Query Language, or SQL, is one of the more popular forms.

On these servers, programmers can create databases using scripting written in the database language. Web applications typically connect their server-side components to a database server to retrieve data as users want it.

Keeping web servers and database servers on different computers is a smart idea. Database servers should be self-contained for security reasons. A hacker will find it simple to retrieve or edit the data contained in the database server, even if they have access to the main webpage.

Print server

A print server is a method that offers sufficient management and controls whether you have a fleet of devices, numerous printers, or geographically dispersed office locations. Print servers are powerful hardware or software that assist businesses in managing files in a printing queue and streamlining the workflow between users and printers.

Print servers today connect devices to certain network printers through physical or cloud-based technologies. Print requests can be submitted by office personnel and approved remote users to add a bid to a queue. It eventually becomes a physical file that is printed.

DNS Server

Domain names are converted to their associated IP addresses via a "Domain Name Service" server, often known as a DNS server. When you enter a domain name and press Enter, your browser requests this server. Users won't have to learn IP addresses, and companies can choose appropriate names.

Normally, DNS servers are made available to consumers by Internet Service Providers (ISPs). However, a lot of organizations also offer this lookup service without charge. These alternative DNS servers are frequently used by individuals more worried about safeguarding their online privacy. When people register a new domain name, DNS servers are also accessed.

Because DNS servers work hierarchically, some are more "authoritative" than others. The domain name is registered with a higher-level DNS server that is used as a reference by other lower-level DNS servers.

This registration often spreads worldwide through a procedure that takes 24 to 48 hours.

FTP Server

Next on the list of types of servers, FTP servers, often known as "File Transfer Protocol" servers, have only one function: to host user file exchanges. Other secured implementations of the protocol are frequently utilized in its stead because these servers do not provide any encryption by default.

After logging in with an FTP client, users of this type of server can upload files to it and get files from it. Additionally, users can explore the server's files and download specific files as needed.

DHCP Server

DHCP servers use the Dynamic Host Communication Protocol (DHCP) to set up client PCs' network settings.

A DHCP server in the network dynamically configures these network settings to LAN computers rather than forcing client computers in a large network to manually configure static IP addresses and other network parameters.

Streaming video server

A web server with RTMP support specifically designed to send live or on-demand video content to a user's PC, smart TV, or mobile device is known as a video streaming server. Video streaming servers use additional technologies, such as codecs as well as broadcast-quality features, in comparison to conventional servers to index, store, and deliver high-quality video content.

Video streaming is converting or encoding a video into a data format before sending it as a stream of data from a server to a viewer's computer over the internet.

Streaming users, as opposed to those downloading, don’t need to save the entire file on their hard drive to view the material. Instead, they can begin watching the video almost immediately as the file transmission takes place.

The drawback of streaming is that a strong connection is needed to provide lag-free, high-quality playback with little buffering or stalling.

In a local network, the server is linked to a router or switch used by the other PCs. Other computers can utilize that server and its features once they are linked to the network. A user might connect to a web server, for instance, to see websites, do searches, and interact with other users on the network.

Similar to a local network server, yet operating on a much wider scale, is an Internet server. InterNIC, or the web host, assigns the server an IP address.

Users typically access servers through domain names registered with domain name registrars. A DNS resolver automatically converts the domain name to the server's IP address when users connect to the domain.

Because a domain name is simpler to remember than an IP address, it makes it simpler for users to connect to the server. Additionally, domain names allow the server owner to modify the server's IP address without affecting how users access the service.

The domain name can almost always stay the same even if an IP address changes.

Servers can be large or small, as seen by the list of types of servers and their wide range of purposes. The price of a server increases with its size. Large and expensive servers will be employed by major cloud storage providers like Amazon's Cloud and Google Drive. On a lesser scale, servers are easily accessible to the typical user.

They may cost a few hundred dollars or several thousand. The cost is based on how much data you plan to transfer and keep and whether you intend to scale up or down in the future.

If you previously believed that IT professionals exclusively used servers, you now understand how important they are to everything we do online. The internet wouldn’t exist without servers, and these clever and versatile gadgets keep our home and corporate networks safe and operational.

A server is necessary for large organizations or individual online users to deliver all of the services required across a network. For a business to function properly, specific types of servers, such as email or file storage, are required.

While most servers used to be housed in a company's physical address until a few years ago, most servers are in the cloud today. Your company can operate from any location with dependable internet connectivity.

Since uptime is crucial for most servers, they aren't made to shut down but rather operate continuously. However, some websites and services alert customers to scheduled downtime or planned maintenance since servers occasionally go offline on purpose for scheduled maintenance.

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Susith Nonis

Susith Nonis

I'm fascinated by the IT world and how the 1's and 0's work. While I venture into the world of Technology, I try to share what I know in the simplest way with you. Not a fan of coffee, a travel addict, and a self-accredited 'master chef'.