What Is Difference Between Web Server and App Server?


Larry Thompson

What Is the Difference Between a Web Server and an App Server?

When it comes to hosting and serving web applications, it is important to understand the difference between a web server and an app server. While these terms are often used interchangeably, they actually refer to separate components of a web application architecture.

In this article, we will explore the distinctions between these two servers and their roles in delivering dynamic web content.

Web Server

A web server is a software application responsible for handling HTTP requests from clients (usually web browsers) and serving static content in response. It is designed to deliver files such as HTML, CSS, JavaScript, images, and other media files directly to the client without any processing.

  • Delivering Static Content: The primary function of a web server is to deliver static content stored on disk directly to the client. This includes documents that do not change frequently, such as HTML pages or images.
  • Handling HTTP Requests: Web servers receive HTTP requests from clients and respond with the appropriate static content. They are responsible for interpreting URLs, locating requested files on disk, and sending them back as responses.
  • Examples of Web Servers: Apache HTTP Server, Nginx (pronounced “engine-x”), Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS), Lighttpd.

Application Server

An application server, on the other hand, is a software framework that provides an environment for executing dynamic applications. It processes business logic and generates dynamic content based on client requests received through the web server.

  • Dynamically Generating Content: Unlike a web server, an application server is capable of generating dynamic content on the fly. It can process data, interact with databases, execute business logic, and construct custom responses based on client input.
  • Managing Application Components: Application servers often provide additional services such as session management, caching, security, load balancing, and clustering to support the execution of complex web applications.
  • Examples of Application Servers: Apache Tomcat, JBoss Application Server (WildFly), IBM WebSphere Application Server, Oracle WebLogic Server.

Differences in Functionality

In summary, the main difference between a web server and an application server lies in their functionality. While a web server handles static content delivery and HTTP request processing, an application server goes a step further by executing dynamic code and generating custom responses based on client input.

To illustrate this distinction further: imagine a scenario where you have a website that displays user-specific information such as personalized recommendations or user account details. A web server would serve the static HTML pages containing placeholders for this information.

However, it would be the application server’s responsibility to fetch the actual data from a database or another source and populate those placeholders before sending the final response back to the client.

In Conclusion

Understanding the difference between a web server and an application server is crucial for anyone involved in developing or deploying web applications. While both servers play important roles in delivering web content, they serve distinct purposes in terms of functionality.

A web server focuses on static content delivery and HTTP request handling, while an application server executes dynamic code and generates customized responses based on client input.

By leveraging these two components effectively within your architecture, you can ensure efficient and scalable web application delivery that meets the needs of your users.

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