Fri Feb 22 2019

How do web servers work

Technology1037 views

How do web servers work

The Internet acts as a source of information to us and all we need to do if we want any information is to just query the internet and then we will get the desired response. Generally, many people, when they think of web servers, they think of them being some high-powered computers, while this is correct to some extent, as some high-powered computers are also called as web servers.

Web Servers are basically simple computer programs that dispense the web page when they are requested using the web client. The machines on which this program run are usually called as a server, with both the names web server and server almost used interchangeably.

A Web server is a program that uses HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) to serve the files that form Web pages to users, in response to their requests, which are forwarded by their computers' HTTP clients. Dedicated computers and appliances may be referred to as Web servers as well.

Web servers often come as part of a larger package of Internet- and intranet-related programs for serving email, downloading requests for File Transfer Protocol (FTP) files, and building and publishing Web pages.

Web servers are not only used for serving the World Wide Web. They can also be found embedded in devices such as printers, routers, webcams and serving only a local network. The web server may then be used as a part of a system for monitoring or administering the device in question. This usually means that no additional software has to be installed on the client computer since only a web browser is required.

Leading Web servers to include Apache (the most widely-installed Web server), Microsoft's Internet Information Server (IIS) and nginx (pronounced engine X) from NGNIX. Other Web servers include Novell's NetWare server, Google Web Server (GWS), IBM's family of Domino servers, Lighttpd (pronounced lighty) web server - distributed with the FreeBSD operating system, Sun Java System Web Server, Jigsaw (W3C's Server), and LightSpeed web server.


A web server has to store the website's files, namely all HTML documents and their related assets, including images, CSS stylesheets, JavaScript files, fonts, and videos.

Technically, you could host all those files on your own computer, but it's far more convenient to store them all on a dedicated web server which is always up and running, always connected to the Internet, maintained by a third-party provider and has the same IP address all the time (not all ISPs provide a fixed IP address for home lines). For all these reasons, finding a good hosting provider is a key part of building your website. Dig through the various services companies offer and choose one that fits your needs and your budget.

How do web servers work?

  • Once you set up a web hosting solution, you just have to upload your files to your web server.

  • Next, a web server provides support for HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol). As its name implies, HTTP specifies how to transfer hypertext (i.e., linked web documents) between two computers.

  • HTTP is a textual, stateless protocol. That is a set of rules for communication between two computers. It's based on commands that are plain-text and human-readable.

  • HTTP provides clear rules for how a client and server communicate. Only clients can make HTTP requests, and then only to servers. Servers can only respond to a client's HTTP request.

  • When requesting a file via HTTP, clients provide the file's URL.

  • Then the web server answers every HTTP request.

  • On receiving a request, an HTTP server first checks whether the requested URL matches an existing file.

  • If so, the web server sends the file content back to the browser. If not, an application server builds the necessary file. If neither process is possible, the web server returns an error message to the browser, most commonly "404 Not Found".

  • The Browser finally gets the webpages and displays it, or displays the error message.

In short,

  • To fetch a webpage, your browser sends a request to the web server, which proceeds to search for the requested file in its own storage space.

  • On finding the file, the server reads it, processes it as needed, and sends it to the browser.


Considerations in choosing a Web server include how well it works with the operating system and other servers, its ability to handle server-side programming, security characteristics, and the particular publishing, search engine, and site building tools that come with it.

There are so many application servers that it's pretty hard to suggest a particular one. Some application servers cater to specific website categories like blogs, wikis or e-shops; others, called CMSs (content management systems), are more generic. If you're building a dynamic website, take the time to choose a tool that fits your needs.

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Stock photo from hanss

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