Is Tomcat a Web Application Server?


Larry Thompson

Is Tomcat a Web Application Server?

Tomcat is a widely used web server for hosting Java-based web applications. However, it is important to understand the distinction between a web server and a web application server.

In this article, we will explore the features and capabilities of Tomcat to determine whether it can be classified as a web application server.

Web Server vs. Web Application Server

Before delving into the specifics of Tomcat, let’s clarify the difference between a web server and a web application server.

A web server primarily handles HTTP requests and responses. It is responsible for serving static content such as HTML, CSS, JavaScript files, images, and other resources to clients.

Popular examples of web servers include Apache HTTP Server and Nginx.

On the other hand, a web application server not only serves static files but also executes dynamic code to generate dynamic content. It supports the deployment and execution of web applications that are built using technologies such as Java Servlets, JavaServer Pages (JSP), or other frameworks like Spring MVC or Struts.

The Role of Tomcat

Tomcat is officially classified as a servlet container. It provides an environment for running Java servlets and JSPs, making it an essential component for hosting Java-based web applications.

However, it does not provide some advanced features typically associated with full-fledged web application servers.

One key feature that distinguishes web application servers from servlet containers like Tomcat is support for Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB) – a component architecture used in enterprise applications. While Tomcat does not include built-in support for EJBs, it can be integrated with other Java EE (Enterprise Edition) compliant servers to provide a complete web application server environment.

Tomcat Features

Despite not being a full web application server, Tomcat offers several features that make it a popular choice for hosting Java web applications.

  • Support for Java Servlets and JSPs: Tomcat provides a robust runtime environment for executing servlets and JSPs, allowing developers to build dynamic web applications using Java.
  • HTTP Server Capabilities: Tomcat includes a built-in HTTP server that can handle HTTP requests and deliver static content efficiently.
  • Easy Deployment: Tomcat simplifies the deployment process by providing an intuitive directory structure and deployment descriptors. Web applications can be easily deployed by copying the WAR (Web Application Archive) file to the appropriate location.
  • Scalability and Performance: Tomcat supports clustering and load balancing, enabling seamless scaling of web applications to handle increased traffic. It also includes features like connection pooling and request buffering to optimize performance.

While Tomcat may not have all the features of a full-fledged web application server, it remains a popular choice among developers due to its lightweight nature, ease of use, and excellent support for servlets and JSPs.


In conclusion, although Tomcat is primarily known as a servlet container, it can be considered as a lightweight web application server due to its ability to execute servlets and JSPs. However, for more advanced enterprise-level features like EJB support, integration with other Java EE compliant servers may be necessary.

Regardless of its classification, Tomcat continues to be widely used in the industry for hosting Java-based web applications effectively.

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