Is Tomcat a Web Server or Web Container?


Angela Bailey

Is Tomcat a Web Server or Web Container?

If you are new to web development, you might have come across the terms “web server” and “web container” while exploring different technologies. Understanding the difference between these two concepts is essential for building and deploying web applications effectively.

Web Server

A web server is a software application that delivers static content, such as HTML, CSS, JavaScript files, and images, to clients over the internet. It listens for incoming requests from clients (usually web browsers) and responds with the requested resources. The primary role of a web server is to handle HTTP requests and serve web pages.

Web servers are responsible for managing connections, handling security protocols (such as SSL/TLS), and implementing various features like caching, load balancing, and URL rewriting. Some popular web servers include Apache HTTP Server (httpd), Nginx, Microsoft IIS, and LiteSpeed.

Web Container

A web container, also known as a servlet container or servlet engine, is a component that provides an environment to execute Java Servlets and JavaServer Pages (JSP). It extends the capabilities of a web server by adding support for dynamic content generation using Java-based technologies.

The most widely used web container is Apache Tomcat. Despite being called “Tomcat Server” by many developers, it’s important to understand that Tomcat is primarily a web container. It is not designed to handle static content like traditional web servers; instead, it focuses on executing Java servlets and JSP pages.

TCP/IP vs. Servlet API

To clarify further: when you request a static HTML file from a server using your web browser, the web server processes the request, locates the file, and sends it back to the browser for rendering. However, when you request a servlet or JSP page, the web container (Tomcat) intercepts the request, invokes the appropriate servlet or JSP engine, and generates dynamic content based on the request parameters.

Web Server + Web Container = Full-Fledged Web Application Server

In many cases, a complete web application requires both a web server and a web container. The web server handles static content delivery efficiently, while the web container executes server-side code and generates dynamic content. By combining these two components into a single package, we get a full-fledged web application server capable of handling various types of requests efficiently.


In summary, Tomcat is not a traditional web server like Apache HTTP Server or Nginx. It is primarily a web container designed to execute Java servlets and JSP pages. Understanding the distinction between these two concepts is crucial for choosing the right technology stack for your web development projects.

  • A web server delivers static content over HTTP.
  • A web container executes Java servlets and JSP pages.
  • A combination of both creates a full-fledged web application server.

If you are planning to develop Java-based web applications using servlets or JSP technology, Apache Tomcat is an excellent choice as your web container.

To summarize:

  1. A web server delivers static content over HTTP.
  2. A web container executes Java servlets and JSP pages.

By understanding the roles and responsibilities of web servers and web containers, you can make informed decisions when building and deploying your web applications.

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