Is Apache Tomcat a Web Server or Application Server?


Angela Bailey

Is Apache Tomcat a Web Server or Application Server?

When it comes to understanding the different components of web development, the terms “web server” and “application server” are often used interchangeably. However, there is a distinct difference between the two. In this article, we will explore whether Apache Tomcat can be considered a web server or an application server.

Web Server

A web server is responsible for handling HTTP requests from clients, such as web browsers, and serving static content like HTML, CSS, JavaScript files, and images. It listens for incoming requests on a specific port (usually port 80) and responds with the requested resources. Examples of popular web servers include Apache HTTP Server (httpd), Nginx, and Microsoft IIS.

Application Server

An application server, on the other hand, is designed to execute dynamic applications that generate dynamic content. It provides an environment for running server-side code and enables interaction with databases and other resources.

Application servers can handle complex business logic and support multiple protocols beyond HTTP. Examples of well-known application servers are JBoss/WildFly, IBM WebSphere Application Server, and Oracle WebLogic Server.

Apache Tomcat: A Hybrid Solution

So where does Apache Tomcat fit into this discussion? Well, it blurs the line between a web server and an application server by providing functionality from both worlds.

Web Server Capabilities:

  • Tomcat can serve static content such as HTML files.
  • It can handle basic servlets and JavaServer Pages (JSP), which allow for dynamic content generation.
  • The built-in Catalina web container provides support for the Java Servlet API.

Application Server Capabilities:

  • Tomcat also supports Java Enterprise Edition (Java EE) specifications, including JavaServer Faces (JSF), Java Message Service (JMS), and Java Transaction API (JTA).
  • It includes support for Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB) through integration with other frameworks like Apache OpenEJB.
  • Tomcat can be integrated with other application server technologies to extend its capabilities.


In summary, Apache Tomcat can be considered a hybrid solution that combines features of both a web server and an application server. It is primarily known as a web server due to its ability to serve static content and handle basic servlets and JSP.

However, it also offers support for Java EE specifications, making it capable of handling more complex applications. Whether you classify Tomcat as a web server or an application server ultimately depends on your specific use case and requirements.

If you are looking for a lightweight solution that primarily serves static content or handles basic dynamic content generation, Apache Tomcat can fulfill your needs as a web server. On the other hand, if your application requires extensive enterprise-level features and compatibility with Java EE standards, you might consider using a more robust application server alongside Tomcat.

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