What Is the Difference Between Web Container and Application Server?


Larry Thompson

In the world of web development, there are several key components that work together to deliver dynamic and interactive web applications. Two such components are the web container and the application server. While these terms are often used interchangeably, they refer to different aspects of the web application architecture.

Web Container:

A web container, also known as a servlet container or a web server container, is responsible for managing the lifecycle of servlets and JavaServer Pages (JSPs). It acts as a runtime environment for these components, providing a platform for their execution.

Key Features of a Web Container:

  • Servlet Management: A web container manages servlets, which are Java classes that handle HTTP requests and generate responses. It provides APIs for servlet initialization, request handling, and response generation.
  • JSP Support: In addition to servlets, a web container also supports JSPs, which are HTML pages with embedded Java code.

    It compiles JSPs into servlets behind the scenes and executes them accordingly.

  • Request Dispatching: A web container routes incoming HTTP requests to the appropriate servlet or JSP based on URL mappings defined in the deployment descriptor (web.xml).
  • Session Management: It manages user sessions by providing APIs for session creation, tracking, and expiration. This allows stateful interactions with clients.

Application Server:

An application server goes beyond the capabilities of a web container. It provides an extensive runtime environment for deploying and running enterprise-level applications. While it includes all the features of a web container, it offers additional functionalities to support distributed computing and enterprise integration.

Differentiating Features of an Application Server:

  • EJB Support: An application server supports Enterprise JavaBeans (EJBs), which are components for building scalable and transactional applications. It provides services such as transaction management, security, and distributed computing for EJBs.
  • Message Queueing: It facilitates asynchronous communication by providing message queueing mechanisms.

    This allows applications to exchange messages reliably and efficiently.

  • Connection Pooling: An application server manages a pool of database connections to improve performance and scalability. It enables efficient reuse of database connections across multiple client requests.
  • Clustering: It supports clustering, allowing multiple instances of the application server to work together as a single logical unit. This enhances scalability, availability, and fault tolerance.


To summarize, the main difference between a web container and an application server lies in their scope and capabilities. A web container focuses on managing servlets and JSPs, whereas an application server provides a broader set of features for building enterprise-level applications. Depending on the requirements of your project, you can choose between a web container or an application server accordingly.

In conclusion, understanding the distinction between these two components is crucial for making informed decisions when developing web applications. By leveraging the features offered by web containers and application servers effectively, developers can create robust and scalable solutions that meet the needs of modern web development.

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