What is a Web Server? Features and How it Works 

What is a Web Server? Features and How it Works 

Knowing how a web server works is essential for anyone dealing with websites.  

For web developers, it’s about creating sites that work smoothly. Website admins need it to keep their sites secure and running well. If you’re a business owner with a website, understanding web servers helps you make smart decisions about hosting and security. 

We will take you deep into the world of web servers. 

Discover what a web server is, what it does, key features of a web server, and why it is so important in the digital world. 

What is a Web Server?  

A web server is a combination of software and hardware. How a web server works is that it follows the client/server model, where the client (typically a web browser) sends requests to the server, and the server responds with the requested content. 

It handles requests from clients over the internet, using the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) and other protocols. Its primary function is to store, process, and deliver web pages and other web content to users.  

In addition to HTTP, web servers also support protocols like SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) for email and FTP (File Transfer Protocol) for file transfer and storage. 

The hardware component of a web server is connected to the internet and facilitates the exchange of data with other connected devices. The software component controls how users access the files hosted on the server.  

How Web Server Works?  

To better understand the working of a web server, think of it as a librarian and a web page as a book.  

When you want to read a book, you ask the librarian for it, who then goes to the shelves, finds the book, and gives it to you. Similarly, a web server searches for the requested web page on its storage, retrieves it, and sends it back to your browser. 

Here’s a more detailed version of how a web server works. 

1. Requesting a File:

When a user’s web browser (like Google Chrome or Firefox) needs a file from a website, it sends a request to the web server using HTTP. 

2. Processing the Request:

The web server’s HTTP server accepts the request, locates the requested content (such as HTML documents, images, or JavaScript files), and prepares to send it back. 

3. Sending the Response:

The web server sends the requested content back to the user’s browser through HTTP, allowing the browser to display the webpage. 

4. Handling Errors:

If the requested content is not found or if an error occurs, the web server sends an error message back to the browser. This error message typically includes a status code, such as “404 Not Found,” indicating that the requested file could not be located on the server. 

One of the noteworthy features of a web server is that, a single web server can host multiple domains. This means it can manage and serve content for several different websites. Each domain is like a separate folder or section on the server that contains all the files and resources needed for that specific website.  

When a user requests a webpage from a particular domain, the web server knows which set of files to retrieve and send back to the user’s browser.  

Static vs Dynamic Web Servers  

A web server can be classified as either static or dynamic based on how it serves content.  

Static Web Servers 

A static web server delivers content that remains fixed unless the actual files are updated. This type of server typically consists of a computer running HTTP software like Apache or Nginx. When a request is made for a static file, such as an HTML page, an image, or a CSS file, the server simply sends that file to the client’s browser without any additional processing.  

Static sites are known for their fast loading-time since there’s no server-side processing required for each request. Examples of static sites include blogs, company websites, and portfolios. 

Dynamic Web Servers 

On the other hand, a dynamic web server can generate content on the fly, allowing for more flexibility and interactivity. It typically consists of a web server, an application server (such as PHP, Python, Ruby on Rails, etc.), and possibly a database. When a request is made, the application server processes the request, possibly querying a database or performing other operations, and then generates the content to send to the client’s browser.  

Dynamic sites can offer personalized and interactive content, making them suitable for e-commerce sites, social media platforms, and web applications. However, dynamic sites are more complex to set up and maintain compared to static sites. 

What are the features of a Web Server?

There are several features of a web server. 

1. File Logging:

Web servers keep log files to track events and activities, such as requests, security, and errors, providing a record of server actions. 

2. Authentication:

Web servers often require users to authenticate before accessing resources, typically by providing a username and password. 

3. Bandwidth Limiting:

Servers control the speed of responses to manage the amount of data transferred, ensuring smooth file delivery and network performance. 

4. Storage Space:

The amount of disk space available for storing files directly impacts the server’s ability to host and manage web pages and applications. 

5. Load Balancing:

Servers distribute incoming traffic across multiple servers to minimize response times and prevent overloading, ensuring efficient resource utilization. 

6. Uptime Guarantee:

Server uptime measures how long a server remains operational to process requests and deliver files, with a 99.9% guarantee being the industry standard for reliability. 

7. Programming Language Support:

Servers support server-side scripting languages like Python, which is used to develop and run programs on the server, enabling dynamic website functionality. 

What are the Web Servers in the Market? 

There are several types of web servers, each with its strengths and weaknesses. 

1. Apache:

Hands down, it is the most popular web server on the internet. It is open-source and works with all major operating systems. Apache is widely used but can be slower than other servers like Nginx and IIS. 

2. Nginx:

This is an open-source web server known for its performance and scalability. It uses an asynchronous event-driven model, which makes it more efficient than Apache, especially for handling lots of multimedia content. 

3. IIS:

Internet Information Services (IIS) is Microsoft’s web server for Windows servers. It offers better support for Microsoft technologies like ASP, .NET, and SQL Server, making it a natural choice for Windows-based websites. 

4. LiteSpeed:

This is a commercial-grade web server that claims to be faster and more secure than Apache. It offers enterprise features like load balancing and clustering and is free for personal use. 

5. Lighttpd:

It is a lightweight web server known for its speed and low memory requirements. It’s simple to set up but has limited support for some Linux commands. It’s used by some large sites like Wikipedia for its speed and efficiency. 

Web Server Configuration 

The working of a web server is dependent on its set-up, and affects its reliability and security. Server administrators can perform tasks like adjusting settings, setting up security measures, and optimizing performance to ensure the server efficiently handles requests, protects against threats, and delivers content quickly. 

Settings Configuration:

Administrators adjust parameters like cache size, request limits, and connection timeouts to align with the website’s requirements. Fine-tuning these settings helps the server efficiently manage requests and deliver content quickly. 

 Security Measures:

To safeguard sensitive data, administrators set up firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and encryption protocols. Regular security patches are crucial to keep hackers at bay and mitigate potential threats. 

 Performance Optimization:

Server configuration allows administrators to optimize resource allocation, implement effective load balancing, and utilize caching mechanisms. These measures enhance the server’s ability to handle traffic spikes, resulting in reduced latency and faster response times. 

While there are various features of a web server and they can handle various tasks like sending/receiving emails and storing web applications, hosting websites is their main function. 

To create and publish a website, you need access to a web server. This is typically done by purchasing web hosting and a domain name from a hosting provider. Web hosting provides the server space and resources needed to store and serve your website’s files, while a domain name gives your site a unique address on the internet. 

 

Without web servers, web hosting services would not be able to deliver websites to users over the internet. 

It is important to choose a reliable hosting provider like BigRock that offers quality servers. They ensure high uptime, fast performance, robust security, responsive support, and scalable plans. This guarantees your website’s accessibility, user satisfaction, SEO rankings, security, and flexibility, ultimately contributing to its success and avoiding revenue losses due to downtime. 

In case you have any doubts, queries or feedback for this article, please share them in the comments section below.

 

WRITTEN BY:

Web hosting specialist with a knack for creativity and a passion for baking, serving up tech solutions with a side of sweetness.

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