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The Internet is a true modern marvel. Uncountable bits of information cross through the World Wide Web every second, delivering images and other media to computer screens nearly instantaneously. It’s all thanks to software and hardware called web servers.

Web servers, in fact, are crucially important to anyone who uses the Internet. But they are oftentimes misunderstood. Read on to learn more about what a web server is, how it works, and why it’s important to your company and customers.

What Is a Web Server?

A web server is a tool that leverages both software and hardware to platform protocols. “Protocols” are scripts or requirements that address and route data throughout the Internet. Web servers use protocols, specifically HTTP protocols (hypertext transfer protocols), to respond to client requests that are made over the World Wide Web.

A quick note: the Internet and the World Wide Web aren’t technically the same. In fact, the Internet runs on the World Wide Web, which is comprised of all the computers and terminals that send information back and forth to each other.

There are numerous web servers on the market. Some of the most popular web servers include Apache HTTP Server, Microsoft IIS (Microsoft Internet Information Services), Nginx, and LiteSpeed Web Server.

So, what do web servers do? In most cases, high-performance web servers are used to display website content. They do this by storing, processing, and/or delivering web pages to individual users. On top of using HTTP, web servers can use protocols like SMTP or simple mail transfer protocol and FTP or file transfer protocol; these protocols are used to send emails and files, respectively.

All web server hardware is connected to the Internet. It lets data be exchanged with different devices, such as computers, mobile phones, etc. Web server software, meanwhile, determines how users can access any hosted files. Put another way, web servers are used both for viewing webpages and for web hosting, which hosts the data for websites and web applications.

Dynamic vs. Static Web Servers

Depending on the type of web server and the needs of the user, web servers can be either dynamic or static.

Static web servers show content as it is or without updating the content from moment to moment. Static servers, of course, show content that is updated regularly. Static web servers are comprised of HTTP software and a standard computer; the server only sends hosted files to the computer as a browser.

Dynamic web servers include both a web server and other software, such as databases and application servers. The application server can update hosted files right before they are sent to a browser, as well as generate content whenever it is requested from the database. It’s more flexible but also a little more complicated.

So, How Does a Web Server Work?

Let’s dive into the details.

A web server works by first accessing the domain name of a given website. It then ensures that the website content can be safely delivered to the requesting user (e.g., you on your home computer trying to reach a website for a brand to make a purchase).

The HTTP server part of a web server understands the HTTP script as well as URLs and other web software languages. The hardware part of a web server is essentially a dedicated computer that stores web server software and files that might be related to the website, like HTML documents, JavaScript files, images, and more.

Whenever a web browser, like Google Chrome, needs a file that is currently hosted on a web server, the browser requests the file using the HTTP language. The web server receives the request, accepts the request, finds the content, and sends it back to the browser, also using the HTTP language.

To get even more specific:

  • A person requests a website’s information by inputting the URL in a web browser address bar.
  • The browser gets the IP address of the domain name by translating the URL through DNS or Domain Name System or by searching its previously cached files.
  • The browser goes to a web server, where the browser then requests a specific file or files from the web server using an HTTP request.
  • The web server responds and sends the browser the requested page(s) through HTTP.

Have you ever tried to visit a website only for some glitch to prevent you from viewing the page? When that happens, it might be because the requested page doesn’t exist or through some other technical error. In these cases, your browser might display an error message.

Open-source web servers can be adjusted or have their languages changed by others. This is common for some kinds of web content, like WordPress blogs or service providers. However, be sure to read a tutorial before trying this yourself. Even the basic languages, like Apache, Linux, Java, CSS, and Nginx, can be a lot for someone new to web servers.

How and When Are Web Servers Used?

Web servers are used for a variety of purposes. They're primarily used to both process and manage HTTP (and its more secure counterpart, HTTPS) requests and responses. But they can also perform functions like:

  • Controlling bandwidth in order to regulate network traffic. This can help to minimize or even eliminate downtime that may be caused by a lot of website viewers.
  • Store and protect web data, such as critical consumer data, using firewalls and HTTPS certification.
  • Server-side web scripting, which lets users create new dynamic webpages using various scripting languages like Active Server Pages (ASP), Hypertext Preprocessor (PHP), Python, and Ruby.
  • Virtual hosting. Some web servers can act as virtual servers and run multiple web apps at the same time, including websites, games, data, and much more.

Depending on their objectives, Microsoft Windows or other server owners will use load balancing or other techniques to keep servers stable. This includes caching to provide dynamic content to visitors, using many operating systems, and more.

How Are Web Servers Kept Safe?

Web servers are kept safe through a variety of security practices. For example, a company may use a reverse proxy to hide an internal server from bad actors or hackers. SSH or Secure Socket Shell access restrictions may also be utilized, which limit web host access to infrastructure machines or critical data.

Network monitoring, firewalls, and SSL certification are also used in conjunction with each other to maximize web server security in many contexts.

Try AdQuick Today

Web servers perform crucial functions by responding to individual client requests made over the WWW. Thanks to web servers, you can see website content delivered almost instantaneously on your own computer screen, no matter where you have to request the content from.

Web servers are also key elements of AdQuick’s OOH advertising platform. With AdQuick, you can get key data about your OOH materials delivered when you need it, plus rely on our resources and solutions to acquire programmatic advertising spots at great prices. Try it today.


What is a Web Server and How Does it Work? | Tech Target

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What is a web server? - Learn web development | MDN

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