How Does a Web Server Handle HTTP Request?


Angela Bailey

How Does a Web Server Handle HTTP Request?

A web server is a crucial component of the World Wide Web that handles HTTP requests from clients, such as web browsers, and delivers web pages to them. Understanding how a web server handles these requests is essential for developers and system administrators alike.

1. Receiving the HTTP Request

When a client sends an HTTP request to a web server, the server’s first task is to receive the request. The request consists of several parts, including the request line, headers, and an optional message body. The server uses TCP/IP protocols to establish a connection with the client and retrieve the incoming data.

2. Parsing the Request

Once the web server receives the HTTP request, it needs to parse it to extract important information such as the requested URL, headers, and any data in the message body. This parsing process involves breaking down the request into its individual components for further processing.

Request Line

The request line contains three main components: the HTTP method, the requested URL, and the HTTP version. The method defines what action should be performed on the requested resource (e.g., GET, POST, PUT). The URL specifies which resource is being requested (e., /index.html), while the version indicates which version of HTTP is being used by the client.


Headers provide additional information about the request or client making it. They can include details like user-agent (the client’s software), content-type (the data format in the message body), cookies (stored client-side data), and many others. Web servers use these headers to process the request appropriately.

Message Body

The message body contains optional data sent by the client, typically used in requests like POST or PUT. This data can be in various formats, such as JSON or XML, and is often used to submit form data or upload files to the server.

3. Processing the Request

After parsing the request, the web server begins processing it based on the extracted information. This involves various steps depending on the server’s configuration and the requested resource:

  • Routing: The server determines which component or handler should handle the request based on the requested URL. It uses routing rules defined in its configuration to make this decision.
  • Authentication: If required, the server may authenticate the client’s identity using credentials provided in the request headers.
  • Data Retrieval/Generation: The server retrieves requested data (e., HTML files, images) or dynamically generates it based on database queries or other computations.
  • Data Manipulation/Processing: The server may modify or process retrieved/generated data according to specific logic or business rules.

4. Generating a Response

Once all necessary processing steps are complete, the web server generates an HTTP response to send back to the client. This response also consists of several parts:

Status Line

The status line indicates whether the request was successful and provides a status code and a corresponding reason phrase. Common status codes include 200 OK (successful), 404 Not Found (resource not found), and 500 Internal Server Error (server encountered an error).

Similar to the request, response headers provide additional information about the response being sent. They can include details like content-type (the data format of the response body), cache-control (caching instructions for clients), and server (the web server software and version).

The message body contains the actual data being sent back to the client. This can be HTML, CSS, JavaScript, images, or any other type of content requested by the client.

5. Sending the Response

Finally, the web server sends the generated response back to the client over the established TCP/IP connection. The response is broken down into smaller packets for efficient transmission over the network.

In conclusion, a web server plays a crucial role in handling HTTP requests. By receiving, parsing, processing, generating responses, and sending them back to clients, it enables us to access and interact with web pages and resources on the internet.

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