What Is the Difference Between Web Application and Web Server?


Larry Thompson

What Is the Difference Between Web Application and Web Server?

When it comes to web development, understanding the difference between a web application and a web server is essential. While they are closely related, they serve distinct purposes in the world of the internet. In this article, we will explore what sets them apart and how they work together to deliver dynamic content to users.

Web Server

A web server is a computer program or a hardware device that is responsible for hosting websites. It receives requests from clients (web browsers) and responds by serving static content, such as HTML files, images, or CSS stylesheets. The most commonly used web server software is Apache HTTP Server, Nginx, and Microsoft IIS.

Key characteristics of a web server:

  • Handles HTTP requests: A web server listens for incoming HTTP requests from clients.
  • Serves static content: It delivers pre-existing files directly to the client without any processing.
  • Manages resources: A web server efficiently manages resources like memory, CPU usage, and network connections.

Web Application

A web application, on the other hand, refers to a software program that runs on a web server. It dynamically generates content in response to client requests by interacting with databases or other external systems. Examples of popular web applications include online banking systems, social media platforms, and e-commerce websites.

Key characteristics of a web application:

  • Generates dynamic content: A web application dynamically creates HTML pages based on user input or data retrieved from databases.
  • Interacts with databases: It communicates with databases or other data sources to retrieve or store information.
  • Handles user authentication: A web application manages user accounts, login sessions, and access control.

The Relationship Between Web Application and Web Server

In a typical web development scenario, a client (web browser) sends an HTTP request to a web server. The web server, upon receiving the request, determines whether it can handle the request itself or if it needs to forward it to a web application running on the same server or a different one.

If the request is for static content like an HTML file or an image, the web server can serve it directly without involving a web application. However, if the request requires dynamic content generation or data processing, the web server forwards it to the appropriate web application. The application then generates the required content and sends it back to the client through the web server.


In summary, while both web applications and web servers play crucial roles in delivering content over the internet, they have distinct functions. A web server handles HTTP requests and serves static content directly to clients.

On the other hand, a web application dynamically generates content by interacting with databases and external systems based on client requests. Understanding this difference is essential for developers working on building robust and efficient websites and applications.

Now that you have a clear understanding of what sets apart a web application from a web server, you are better equipped for successful website development!

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