What Is Web Server and Application Server?

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Heather Bennett

What Is Web Server and Application Server?

In the world of web development, two terms that often come up are ‘web server’ and ‘application server’. While they both play important roles in serving web applications, they serve different purposes.

In this article, we will dive deep into understanding what exactly a web server and an application server are, their differences, and their respective functions.

Web Server

A web server is a software application that handles HTTP requests sent by clients (typically web browsers) and responds with HTML pages or other resources. It acts as the middleman between the client and the requested content.

When you type a URL in your browser’s address bar or click on a link, it sends a request to the web server hosting that website.

Web servers are designed to deliver static content efficiently. They can handle requests for HTML files, images, CSS stylesheets, JavaScript files, and other static assets.

Some popular web servers include Apache HTTP Server, Nginx, and Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS).

Main Functions of a Web Server:

  • Handling HTTP Requests: Web servers listen for incoming HTTP requests on specific ports (usually port 80 for HTTP or port 443 for HTTPS) and respond accordingly. They parse the request headers to determine which resource is being requested.
  • Serving Static Content: Web servers are responsible for retrieving static files from disk storage and sending them back in the response to the client.

    This can include HTML pages, images, CSS stylesheets, JavaScript files, etc.

  • Processing Server-Side Scripts: Many web servers support server-side scripting languages like PHP or Node.js. They can execute these scripts on the server and send the generated dynamic content back to the client.
  • Handling Security: Web servers can also handle security-related tasks like enforcing HTTPS connections, authentication, and protecting against common web attacks.

Application Server

An application server, on the other hand, is a software framework that provides a runtime environment for running web applications. It is responsible for executing server-side logic and processing business logic.

Unlike web servers, application servers are designed to handle dynamic content generation and complex business processes.

Application servers sit between the web server and the database or other external services. They receive requests from the web server, process them using various frameworks and technologies, interact with databases or other data sources, and generate responses to be sent back to the client.

Main Functions of an Application Server:

  • Managing Application Components: Application servers provide an environment for deploying web applications. They manage application components such as servlets, JavaServer Pages (JSP), Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB), or .NET components.
  • Handling Business Logic: Application servers execute business logic implemented in various programming languages like Java or C#.

    They process incoming requests, perform calculations or data manipulations, and generate dynamic content.

  • Connection Pooling: Application servers often provide connection pooling capabilities to manage connections to databases efficiently. This helps in improving performance by reusing existing connections instead of establishing new ones for each request.
  • Session Management: Application servers can handle session management by maintaining user sessions across multiple requests. They store session data securely and allow developers to access it when needed.

Differences Between Web Servers and Application Servers

In summary, the main difference between web servers and application servers lies in their purpose and functionality. Web servers focus on serving static content efficiently, handling HTTP requests, and processing server-side scripts.

On the other hand, application servers are built to run web applications, manage application components, execute business logic, and interact with databases.

While web servers can be used to serve simple dynamic content through server-side scripting, they lack advanced features provided by application servers such as connection pooling and session management.

Understanding the distinction between web servers and application servers is crucial when architecting and deploying web applications. Choosing the right technology stack depends on the specific requirements of your project.

In conclusion, both web servers and application servers play vital roles in serving web applications. Web developers should have a clear understanding of their differences to make informed decisions about which technology best suits their needs.

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