Is Tomcat an Application Server or Web Server?


Scott Campbell

Is Tomcat an Application Server or Web Server?

Tomcat is a popular open-source web server developed by the Apache Software Foundation. It is designed to be highly scalable and efficient, making it a reliable choice for hosting Java-based web applications. However, there is often confusion about whether Tomcat is an application server or a web server.

The Role of a Web Server

A web server’s primary function is to deliver static web content to clients over the HTTP protocol. It handles requests from clients, retrieves the requested files from the server’s file system, and sends them back as responses. Examples of widely-used web servers include Apache HTTP Server and Nginx.

Web servers are excellent at serving static files such as HTML pages, images, CSS stylesheets, and JavaScript files. They are optimized for handling a large number of concurrent connections efficiently.

The Role of an Application Server

An application server, on the other hand, provides an environment for running dynamic applications. It supports the execution of business logic and provides various services such as security, transaction management, and resource pooling.

Application servers typically support multiple programming languages and provide frameworks for building enterprise-level applications. Examples include JBoss/WildFly, WebSphere Application Server, and GlassFish.

The Relationship Between Tomcat and Application Servers

Tomcat can be considered as both a web server and an application server to some extent. While it primarily functions as a web server that serves static content like HTML pages and images, it also has additional features that make it capable of running dynamic Java-based applications.

Tomcat acts as a servlet container, meaning it can execute Java Servlets, JavaServer Pages (JSP), and JavaServer Faces (JSF) components. It provides a runtime environment for these components to handle requests and generate dynamic content.

However, Tomcat lacks some features commonly found in full-fledged application servers. For example, it does not provide built-in support for technologies like Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB), Message-Driven Beans (MDB), or Java Transaction API (JTA).

When to Use Tomcat

If your application relies heavily on servlet and JSP technologies and you do not require the advanced features of a complete application server, then Tomcat is an excellent choice. It is lightweight, easy to configure, and has a small memory footprint.

Tomcat also integrates well with other web servers like Apache HTTP Server by using mod_jk or mod_proxy connectors. This allows you to offload static content serving to Apache while still benefiting from Tomcat’s dynamic capabilities.

In Conclusion

Tomcat can be classified as both a web server and an application server, although it leans more towards being a web server with added support for running dynamic Java-based applications. Its versatility makes it suitable for small to medium-sized projects that require lightweight yet powerful servlet and JSP execution capabilities.

  • Web servers primarily serve static content over HTTP.
  • Application servers provide an environment for executing dynamic applications with additional services like security and transaction management.
  • Tomcat, while primarily functioning as a web server, can also run dynamic Java-based applications by acting as a servlet container.
  • If your application relies heavily on servlets and JSPs but doesn’t require advanced features, Tomcat is a suitable choice.

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