What Is the Difference Between a Web Server and Application Server?


Larry Thompson

What Is the Difference Between a Web Server and Application Server?

When it comes to building and deploying web applications, it’s important to understand the key differences between a web server and an application server. While both play crucial roles in serving web content, they have distinct functionalities and purposes.

Web Server:

A web server is responsible for handling HTTP requests from clients (usually web browsers) and delivering static content such as HTML, CSS, images, and JavaScript files. It acts as a middleman between the client and the requested resources.

Key characteristics of a web server:

  • Serves static content: A web server delivers files as they are without any processing or dynamic functionality.
  • Handles HTTP requests: It listens for incoming HTTP requests from clients and responds with appropriate files.
  • Examples: Apache HTTP Server, Nginx, Microsoft IIS

Application Server:

An application server is designed to handle dynamic content and provide additional services beyond simply serving static files. It is responsible for executing business logic, processing data, managing transactions, and performing complex operations required by the application.

Key characteristics of an application server:

  • Serves dynamic content: An application server generates dynamic responses based on user input or other external factors.
  • Runs business logic: It executes code that implements the core functionality of an application.
  • Supports multiple protocols: In addition to HTTP, an application server may support protocols like SMTP or FTP.
  • Examples: Apache Tomcat, JBoss, IBM WebSphere


Now that we have a basic understanding of web servers and application servers, let’s highlight the key differences between them:

  1. Functionality: A web server focuses on serving static content, while an application server handles dynamic operations and executes business logic.
  2. Protocol support: Web servers typically support only HTTP, whereas application servers can handle multiple protocols.
  3. Processing capabilities: Application servers are equipped with more advanced processing capabilities to execute complex tasks, while web servers primarily focus on delivering files efficiently.

In conclusion,

A web server and an application server serve different purposes in the context of web development. While a web server concentrates on delivering static content to clients, an application server provides a platform for executing dynamic logic and handling complex operations. Understanding these distinctions is crucial for developers when designing and deploying web applications.

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