What Is the Difference Between Web Server and Web Container?


Angela Bailey

What Is the Difference Between Web Server and Web Container?

In the world of web development, two crucial components play a significant role in delivering web applications – web servers and web containers. While they both serve the purpose of hosting and serving web applications, there are some fundamental differences between them.

Understanding these differences is essential for anyone involved in web development. Let’s explore the dissimilarities between a web server and a web container in detail.

The Basics: Web Server

A web server is a software application responsible for handling HTTP requests from clients (such as browsers) and sending back HTTP responses. It primarily focuses on managing network protocols, handling incoming requests, and serving static content to clients.

Some popular examples of web servers include Apache HTTP Server, Nginx, Microsoft IIS (Internet Information Services), and LiteSpeed. These servers are designed to handle multiple simultaneous connections efficiently and ensure smooth data transfer between clients and servers.

The Role of Web Servers

Web servers handle various tasks that include:

  • Serving Static Content: When a client requests static files like HTML, CSS, JavaScript, or images, the web server retrieves them directly from the file system and sends them back to the client.
  • Handling Security: Web servers often provide security measures such as SSL/TLS encryption for secure communication between clients and servers.
  • Managing Load Balancing: In high-traffic scenarios, web servers can distribute incoming requests across multiple servers to ensure optimal performance.
  • Caching: Web servers can cache frequently accessed files or responses to improve performance by reducing unnecessary processing.

Understanding Web Containers

On the other hand, a web container, also known as a servlet container or application server, is responsible for executing server-side web applications. It provides an environment for running Java-based web applications that adhere to the Java Servlet API specifications.

Web containers handle dynamic content generation and processing requests that require server-side logic. They are designed to execute servlets, JavaServer Pages (JSP), and other types of web components.

Popular examples of web containers include Apache Tomcat, Jetty, JBoss, and IBM WebSphere. These containers provide additional features beyond serving static content and are specifically tailored for hosting dynamic web applications.

Key Functions of Web Containers

Web containers offer the following essential functionalities:

  • Serving Dynamic Content: Web containers execute server-side code to generate dynamic content based on client requests.
  • Managing Lifecycle: Containers handle the lifecycle of web components such as servlets, managing their initialization, execution, and destruction.
  • Session Management: Web containers facilitate session tracking and management to maintain stateful interactions with clients.
  • Request Dispatching: Containers route requests to the appropriate components based on URL mappings defined in the application’s deployment descriptor.

The Relationship Between Web Servers and Web Containers

To host a dynamic web application using a web container, it must be integrated with a compatible web server. In this setup, the web server acts as an intermediary between client requests and the underlying web container.

The typical architecture involves the following steps:

  1. The client sends an HTTP request to the web server.
  2. The web server receives the request and determines whether it should be handled by the web container.
  3. If the request requires server-side processing, the web server forwards it to the web container.
  4. The web container executes the appropriate servlet or JSP to generate a response.
  5. The web container sends the response back to the web server.
  6. The web server delivers the response to the client.


In summary, while both web servers and web containers are crucial components in delivering web applications, they have different responsibilities. Web servers primarily handle network protocols, serve static content, and manage security, while web containers execute dynamic code and manage server-side components.

Understanding these differences is essential for developers when deciding how to deploy their applications and select appropriate technologies. By leveraging the strengths of both web servers and containers, developers can build robust and scalable web applications that meet their specific requirements.

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