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What is a Web Server?

This article highlights the basic concept of a web server, how it works, the different uses of web servers, and the security practices for web servers. 

27 Jan, 22 by Susith Nonis 8 min Read

List of content you will read in this article:

A web server helps store and deliver the website’s content whenever the web browser makes a request. This content includes images, text, informational data, videos, and others, depending on the type of request being made. The web browser you are using to make a request will be sent to the webserver of that website. It may occur whenever a user clicks the URL, downloading any document via browser. 

This article highlights the basic concept of a web server, how it works, the different uses of web servers, and the security practices for web servers. 

A web server can be hardware or software that relies on the HTTP request sent by various clients connected to the network to get some information. The primary purpose of the webserver is to provide the requested data in the form of any images, text, or video that will get displayed on the web browser that several clients are accessing. Apart from supporting HTTP, web servers support SMTP (simple mail transfer protocol) and FTP (file transfer protocol), mainly for transferring files, storing data, and emailing.

The transfer only happens whenever the web server’s hardware is connected to the internet and helps exchange the data between various devices. The web server’s job is to manage what content is to be accessed by the user. There are multiple filters and limitations in order to access the data on the internet. If you are an authorized user of a particular server, you will be able to access the data. Webserver works on the client-server model for displaying the information. Any website must have the webserver software for hosting sites. 

For accessing any website on the internet, you need to provide the URL of that website on the web browser. This request is then sent to the webserver to get the required data. The web server then processes the request, and the requested data is sent back to the client’s machine. The software part of the webserver consists of multiple components that have one HTTP server understanding the URL and the HTTP. 

The web server’s hardware will help store the webserver software and the files related to the website that has been accessed. With the help of a web server, you can even host various websites.

Below are features of a web server that you can leverage and use many of them in your daily life even while browsing through browsers. 

  • Webserver helps in supporting large data storage, thus handling various websites.
  • It allows you to set up log files on the webserver to troubleshoot any errors.
  • It also helps manage the bandwidth that regulates the incoming traffic to the webserver avoiding downtime for any website.
  • You can even create FTP websites as web servers help move the data from one site to another without any effort.
  • It even allows the configuration of websites.
  • It helps create virtual directories that can be mapped to the physical directories.
  • You can even set the customized error page with a meaningful message like the 404 page not found for helping the users to get to the root source of the error.
  • With a web server, you can get the necessary information for initiating communication with the hosting provider.
  • It helps manage the download speed for any web-based application and improves performance.
  • It helps provide permission for fixing the broken links and viewing URL construction.
  • It ensures transparency while making transactions between your website and the server.
  • Web servers are controllable and flexible.
  • Web servers are secured as they are stored in protective infrastructure.
  • It helps in handling various applications.
  • Also, you will be able to customize the web server as per your requirement.
  • You may find the webserver more expensive than the electronic web hosting practice.
  • It is sometimes challenging to customize the hosting service on the webserver.
  • During high traffic, there may be a server crash situation.

In general, a web server is just a part of the whole internet. Below are some uses of the webserver. 

  • It helps in sending and receiving emails. 
  • You can even use a web server for downloading the FTP request. 
  • It helps in building and publishing various websites. 
  • It helps support customizable server-side scripting as per the client’s requirement. This script only works on the server machine.

Web servers are of two types- dynamic web servers and static web servers. The static web servers are fixed where the content cannot be changed or updated. It has HTTP software and a computer. It is considered static because the server sends the requested file as it is present to the browser.

The dynamic web server consists of the web server and the software like the database along with the application server. This is considered dynamic because the application server sends the updated files before they are sent to the browser. 

Below are the most commonly used web servers available in the market.

  • Apache HTTP Server. Apache Software Foundation has introduced this software, which is a free and open-source web server. It shows compatibility with operating systems like Windows, Mac OS X, Unix, Linux, Solaris, and others; to use it, you will require the Apache license to use it.
  • Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS). Microsoft has launched this software for Microsoft platforms, but it is not available as open-source but is widely used.
  • Nginx. This most popularly used open-source web server is available for the administrators. It is widely adopted due to its light resource utilization and scalability. It helps in handling multiple concurrent sessions due to its event-driven architecture. You can even use this software as a proxy server and load balancer.
  • Lighttpd. This software comes with the FreeBSD operating system. It is available as a fast and secure server, ensuring less CPU power consumption.
  • Sun Java System web server. It is a free web server available from Sun Microsystems that runs effortlessly on operating systems like Windows, Linux, and Unix. It is well suited for handling medium to large websites.

You can choose any of the web servers available depending on what features they offer you. On what operating system they can run seamlessly, how they handle the server-side programming, ensuring security, and many other features.

webserver security practices

You can set various security practices around the webserver to make the user experience simple and safer. Below are some examples.

  • You can use a reverse proxy specially designed for hiding an internal server. 
  • You can implement various access restrictions using several processes such as limiting the access to the web host to infrastructure machines, or you can even use the Secure Socket Shell (SSH);
  • Make sure you keep the web servers regularly patched and up to date for ensuring that the webserver is not open to malware and potential vulnerabilities;
  • You can take measures to implement the network monitoring, ensuring that there isn’t any unauthorized activity occurring on the webserver.
  • You can even use a facility of firewall and SSL as firewalls that help monitor the HTTP traffic and a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) to keep data secure.

With the help of the webserver, you will be able to host a single website or multiple websites on the same underlying shared software and hardware resource, which is known as virtual hosting. This is what a web server does. Web servers help limit the speed of the response being sent to several clients. 

With web servers, you will be able to host the websites on the internet, making them accessible to various users connected to the internet. It also allows you to communicate between the web clients and the servers within the local network area. Well, using this article, you will be able to know what a web server is, its advantages and disadvantages, and other necessary details.

Susith Nonis

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