What Is the Difference Between Web Server and Application Server in Java?


Heather Bennett

What Is the Difference Between Web Server and Application Server in Java?

When talking about web development in Java, it’s common to come across terms like web server and application server. While both play crucial roles in hosting and running web applications, they serve different purposes. In this article, we will dive deep into understanding the difference between a web server and an application server.

Web Server

A web server is responsible for handling HTTP requests and serving static content to clients. It primarily focuses on delivering HTML, CSS, JavaScript files, images, videos, and other static resources to web browsers. Web servers are designed to handle a large number of concurrent connections efficiently.

Here are some key characteristics of a web server:

  • HTTP Protocol: Web servers communicate with clients using the HTTP protocol.
  • Static Content: They serve static files that do not require any processing or dynamic data.
  • Examples: Apache HTTP Server, Nginx, Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS).

Application Server

An application server, on the other hand, is designed for hosting enterprise-level applications. It provides a runtime environment that enables developers to build and deploy complex applications. Application servers offer extensive support for executing business logic and managing various components of an application.

Let’s take a look at some key features of an application server:

  • Distributed Computing: Application servers support distributed computing by allowing multiple instances to work together.
  • JEE Specifications: They implement the Java Enterprise Edition (JEE) specifications, providing a set of standard APIs and services.
  • Database Connectivity: Application servers offer built-in support for connecting to databases and managing transactions.
  • Examples: Apache Tomcat, WildFly, IBM WebSphere Application Server.

Web Server vs. Application Server

The main difference between a web server and an application server lies in their primary responsibilities. While a web server focuses on serving static content, an application server is designed to execute dynamic code and provide services to support complex applications.

A web server can handle simple web applications that don’t require extensive processing or business logic. It serves HTML files, CSS stylesheets, and JavaScript files directly to the client’s browser. In contrast, an application server supports the execution of Java code, allowing developers to build enterprise-level applications with complex business logic.

Another significant distinction is that application servers implement the JEE specifications. These specifications define a set of standards for building enterprise applications and include features such as Java Servlets, JavaServer Pages (JSP), Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB), and Java Persistence API (JPA). Web servers generally do not include these features as they focus on serving static content rather than executing dynamic code.

Which One Should You Choose?

The choice between a web server and an application server depends on your specific requirements. If you are developing a simple website or a lightweight web application that doesn’t require complex processing or database connectivity, using a web server like Apache HTTP Server or Nginx would be sufficient.

However, if you are building a large-scale enterprise application with extensive business logic and integration with databases or other systems, opting for an application server like Apache Tomcat or WildFly would be more appropriate. Application servers provide the necessary infrastructure and services to support the development and deployment of complex Java applications.


In summary, web servers and application servers have distinct roles in the world of Java web development. While web servers focus on serving static content, application servers provide a runtime environment for executing dynamic code and supporting complex enterprise-level applications. Understanding the difference between these two types of servers is essential for making informed decisions when developing and deploying your Java-based web applications.

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