Is Apache Tomcat Web Server or Application Server?


Scott Campbell

Is Apache Tomcat Web Server or Application Server?

When it comes to web development and deployment, understanding the different types of servers is essential. One commonly asked question is whether Apache Tomcat is a web server or an application server. Let’s dive into the details and clarify this misconception.

What is a Web Server?

A web server is a software that handles HTTP requests and serves static content files to clients, such as web browsers. It primarily focuses on handling incoming HTTP requests, processing them, and returning the appropriate response. A web server typically supports protocols like HTTP, HTTPS, FTP, etc.

What is an Application Server?

An application server, on the other hand, provides an environment for executing dynamic applications. It not only handles HTTP requests but also executes business logic and processes data on behalf of client applications.

So, what about Apache Tomcat?

Apache Tomcat is often referred to as a servlet container, but it can also be used as a standalone web server. Confusing? Let’s break it down.

Apache Tomcat as a Servlet Container:

In its simplest form, Apache Tomcat acts as a servlet container. This means it provides an environment for running Java servlets and JavaServer Pages (JSPs).

It follows the Java Servlet API specifications and can be used with any web server that supports these specifications. In this scenario, Apache Tomcat works in conjunction with another web server like Apache HTTP Server or Nginx.

Apache Tomcat as a Standalone Web Server:

In addition to being a servlet container, Apache Tomcat can also function as a standalone web server. It can handle HTTP requests and serve static content files just like any other web server. However, compared to full-fledged web servers like Apache HTTP Server or Nginx, Tomcat may not be as feature-rich or optimized for high-performance scenarios.

When to use Apache Tomcat?

The choice between using Apache Tomcat as a servlet container or a standalone web server depends on your specific requirements:

  • If you only need to run Java servlets and JSPs, using Apache Tomcat as a servlet container is sufficient.
  • If you require additional features such as load balancing, caching, or SSL configuration, it is recommended to use Apache Tomcat in conjunction with a more robust web server.
  • If you are building a small-scale application and prefer simplicity, Apache Tomcat as a standalone web server might be suitable.


In conclusion, Apache Tomcat is primarily known as a servlet container but can also function as a standalone web server. Its flexibility allows developers to choose the best approach based on their specific needs. By understanding the differences between web servers and application servers, you can make an informed decision when it comes to deploying your applications.

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