Is Tomcat an Application or Web Server?


Scott Campbell

Is Tomcat an Application or Web Server?

When it comes to Java-based web applications, one commonly used server is Apache Tomcat. However, there is often confusion about whether Tomcat is an application server or a web server. In this article, we will explore the differences between the two and clarify the role of Apache Tomcat in the Java ecosystem.

Understanding Web Servers

A web server is a software that handles HTTP requests and responses. It primarily serves static content, such as HTML files, CSS stylesheets, JavaScript files, and images. The main purpose of a web server is to deliver these files to clients (usually web browsers) upon request.

Some well-known examples of web servers include Apache HTTP Server, Nginx, and Microsoft IIS. These servers are responsible for handling incoming requests, processing them, and returning the appropriate response back to the client.

The Role of Application Servers

An application server, on the other hand, provides a runtime environment for executing dynamic applications. It offers additional services beyond what a web server can provide. These services include support for Java Servlets, JavaServer Pages (JSP), Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB), and more.

Application servers are commonly used in enterprise-level applications where business logic needs to be executed on the server-side. They provide features like session management, transaction management, security mechanisms, and scalability options.

Where Does Tomcat Fit In?

Apache Tomcat falls somewhere in between being just a web server or an application server. It can be classified as a servlet container, which means it provides an environment for running Java Servlets and JSPs.

Tomcat is lightweight and easy to use, making it a popular choice for developers who want a simple solution for deploying Java web applications. It can handle HTTP requests and responses like a web server, but it also supports servlets and JSPs like an application server.

Tomcat is often used in conjunction with the Apache HTTP Server. In this setup, Apache HTTP Server acts as a front-end reverse proxy, forwarding requests to Tomcat for processing dynamic content while serving static content on its own. This combination provides both the benefits of a full-fledged web server and the ability to execute dynamic Java-based applications.


In summary, Apache Tomcat can be considered a web server that also supports running Java Servlets and JSPs. While it does not provide all the features of an enterprise-level application server, it offers enough functionality to run small to medium-sized Java web applications effectively.

So, whether you are developing a simple website or a more complex Java-based application, Tomcat can be an excellent choice due to its ease of use and versatility.

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