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What is Web Server? - Working, Types, and Examples

What is Web Server? - Working, Types, and Examples

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Web Server Definition

A website’s content is stored and delivered with the help of a web server. All images, texts, videos, application data, and anything else that is needed by the user, is delivered with the help of a web server. Whenever a user clicks on a link or starts a download, the web server calls for the data from the website. To help you better understand it, let us take a look at the definition of a web server.

It consists of the hardware and software that is responsible for responding to requests on the World Wide Web, with the use of hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) and other protocols. These requests are made by clients. 

The main thing that it is responsible for, is displaying the contents of a website to each user who requests it. This process involves storing, processing, and delivering data.

The exchange of data among devices is facilitated by a web server’s hardware. The software component of a web server controls the users’ access to the hosted files. All systems that host websites need to have the web server software.

History of Web Servers

In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee proposed the world’s first web server to his business enterprise, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). Meanwhile, they were working on a new project to create and implement the hypertext system to make the web server technology successful. They programmed the code that was developed on NeXTSTEP as a hypertext project. 
The world’s first World Wide Web server ran in the CERN laboratory. In 1991, Berners-Lee launched his World Wide Web software. Later, CERN decided to launch the Web into the public server domain as an open-source standard. In 1994, Tim Berners-Lee decided to represent the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which made them improve the technology for further development of HTTP, HTML, etc.

Functions of a Web Server

To understand all aspects of a web server, it is important to start with an understanding of its various functions.

Web servers have the following functions in general:

  • Web servers store and configure all website data. This is done to protect data from unauthorized users.
  • Web servers have the prime responsibility to enable accessibility to hosted websites. This includes the availability of back-end database server services and more.
  • When potential clients around the globe are trying to access your website, your website’s web server would serve them accordingly. Such potential clients and visitors are known as end users and their access requests are known as end-user requests.
  • Web servers help in controlling the bandwidth; they are equipped to minimize excess network traffic, thus regulating the overall traffic in the network. This feature of web servers prevents downtime to a great extent. Downtime is usually caused by surplus web traffic.
  • The presence of a web server enables the creation of dynamic web pages in popular scripting languages such as Perl, Ruby, Python, and others.

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Benefits of Web Server

  • Provides flexibility and reliability
  • Low costs
  • Scalable storage 
  • Maintains uptime
  • Bandwidth throttling
  • File logging and auditing
  • Secures and backups the servers
  • Provides security for sensitive information
  • Several options for hosting 
  • Easy-to-handle applications
  • Enhances server performance
  • Supports programming languages like Python

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Hardware Used in Web Servers 

  • A static web server consists of a computer acting as hardware with a Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) server. 
  • The reason we call it “static” is that your browser receives the hosted files directly from the server. 
  • A dynamic web server contains a static web server with additional software, using a client-server architecture for the application server and a database. 

Software Used in Web Servers

  • A web server software operates using HTTP and other various protocols to respond to client requests from the web browser.
  • It provides services to handle various websites, webpages, file security, virtual files, and log file analysis.
  • Both static and dynamic page client requests sent over the HTTP protocol are managed by a web server. 

Web Hosting vs. Web Server

AspectWeb HostingWeb Server
DefinitionA web hosting service is defined as hosting and providing storage for a website on the internet, where users can easily access the website’s content. It offers to create and maintain a site and make it accessible on the World Wide Web.A web server is a program that processes the network requests of users and serves them with files that create web pages.
PurposeThe main purpose is to provide storage space, networking, and other services that are required to be available online on the website.It processes requests from client browsers, obtains the requests from web pages, and sends them back to the client.
OwnershipOwned and managed by a hosting company or service provider.It depends on the individual or provider whether it can be owned and managed.
ExamplesHostGator, Bluehost, GoDaddy, etc.Apache, Nginx, Microsoft IIS, etc.

How Does a Web Server Work?

A web browser uses HTTP to request a file hosted on a web server. The HTTP server accepts this request, finds the file, and then sends it back to the browser using HTTP.  Let us take a look at all the steps involved in the process:

  • A user specifies the URL they want to access in the address bar.
  • The browser fetches the IP address of the domain name. This would take the web browser to the web server.
  • The browser requests the file from the web server using HTTP.
  • The web server will send back the requested file via HTTP. If, in case, the file does not exist, an error message will be sent.
  • The browser displays the web page.

A web server can host multiple domains.

Web Server Configuration

Step 1: Visit https://www.apachefriends.org/download.html and download the latest version of XAMPP that is compatible with your operating system (OS).

Web Server Configuration: Step 1

Step 2: Double click to install it on the system.

Step 3: Click OK to install the XAMPP setup.

Web Server Configuration: Step 3

Step 4: Click on the Next button to set up the XAMPP Wizard.

Web Server Configuration: Step 4

Step 5: Select the components required to install. Click Next button to continue.

Web Server Configuration: Step 5

Step 6: For installation, select the folder to save the setup in-built files.

Web Server Configuration: Step 6

Step 7: Select the language and click on the Next button. 

Web Server Configuration: Step 7

Step 8: To begin the installation, click on the Next button.

Web Server Configuration: Step 8

Step 9: Wait for a while; once the installation is complete, click on the Next button.

Web Server Configuration: Step 9

Step 10: Click Finish to complete the XAMPP setup wizard.

Web Server Configuration: Step 10

Step 11: Now launch the XAMPP Control Panel and review the required services that are installed.

Web Server Configuration: Step 11

Step 11: Here we have an index.html, which we will run on the localhost server.

Web Server Configuration: Step 11

Step 12: Copy the index.html file to xammp>htdocs.

Web Server Configuration: Step 12

Step 13: Now switch back to the XAMPP Control Panel. Click on the Apache Run button. Review the logs to see if the status has changed in the running state and if ports are available.

Web Server Configuration: Step 13

Step 14: Paste the URL:http://localhost/index.html  in a web browser. Now we can see our index.html file is running on the localhost web server.

Web Server Configuration: Step 14

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Web Server vs Application Server

S. No.Web ServerApplication Server
1.Web servers are bound only to web containersApplication servers are bound to web containers as well as EJB containers
2.Web servers are best-suited for static contentApplication servers are best-suited for dynamic content
3.Web servers do not use a lot of resourcesApplication servers use a lot of resources
4.Web servers are responsible for arranging the run environment for web applicationsApplication servers are responsible for arranging the run environment for enterprise applications
5.Multithreading is not supported in web serversMultithreading is supported in application servers
6.The capacity of a web server is lower than that of an application serverThe capacity of an application server is more than that of a web server
7.The protocols used in web servers are HTTP and HTMLThe protocols used in application servers are GUI, HTTP, RPC, and RMI

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Examples of Web Server Uses

Web servers are a component of a larger internet and intranet package. They can be used for:

  • Sending and receiving emails
  • Downloading requests for file transfer protocol (FTP) files
  • Building and publishing web pages

Server-side scripting is also supported on a lot of web servers. It employs scripts on a web server and can help personalize the response for the clients. The server machine is used to run server-side scripting. The process uses various scripting languages such as Hypertext Preprocessor (PHP), Active Server Pages (ASP), etc. HTML documents can be created dynamically by using the same process.

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Types of Web Servers

Types of Web Servers

Here you will see few types of Web Servers.

Apache Web Server

Launched in 1996 and is currently maintained by the Apache Foundation, Apache Web Server is one of the most popular web servers in the world today. It is a freeware. It is one of the top web server examples to be compatible with platforms such as Linux, Windows, Mac, and more.

IIS Web Server

Known widely with its abbreviation, Internet Information Services (IIS) is a web server that is owned by Microsoft. IIS comes with the Windows Server Operating System and can be configured via a graphic interface.

NGINX Web Server

NGINX was developed in 2002 by Igor Sysoev. It is a web server that works as a proxy server as well. This means that it, just like Apache, can work along with another web server. Its primary job is to handle hundreds of concurrent connections.

Apache Tomcat

Apache Tomcat is a free web server that specializes in Java Servlets. Apache Tomcat is popularly known as a Java container. It can work under Port 8080 and supports PHP, ASP.net, Perl, Python, and more.

lighttpd Web Server

lighttpd was developed in 2003. This web server requires low memory and CPU and disk space. Web cameras, internet routers, and other things of a similar nature use lighttpd as their web server.

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Static Web Server vs Dynamic Web Server

Web servers can serve both static and dynamic content. Static content is shown as it is, while dynamic content keeps changing.

A static web server has a computer along with an HTTP software. When the server sends the hosted files to the browser, they are sent without any changes.

On the other hand, a dynamic web server has a computer and other software such as a database and an application server. The application server can update the hosted files at any time before they are sent to the browser. This web server can also generate content whenever it is requested from the database. This provides flexibility but also makes the process more complex.

Use Cases of Web Server

  1. Media Streaming Platforms: YouTube, Hotstar, Netflix, and Jio Cinema provide on-demand video streaming platforms using highly available and scalable web servers.
  2. E-commerce Websites: Myntra, Flipkart, and Amazon are the e-commerce websites that allow clients to securely and safely browse product items, order products, and make payments.
  3. Social Media Platforms: Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and LinkedIn use web servers to manage requests, deliver content, and manage notifications such as likes, comments, and messages.
  4. Travel Booking Applications: Platforms like BookMyShow, MakeMyTrip, and OYO depend on web servers for booking hotel rooms, flights, event tickets, and many more.

Financial and Banking Sectors: Nowadays, banks rely on web servers for online banking services. Providing online services to clients, such as checking account balances, transferring funds, paying bills, etc. Examples include the State Bank of India, Axis Bank, and HDFC.

Web Server Architecture

Web server architecture is the layout of a web server. These are developed, designed, and deployed based on the web server architecture. All the essential components of a web server, which are required for delivering web-server-based operations and services, are defined in the architectural layout.

There are certain parameters that are defined in the web server architecture, including:

  • The physical capacity of the server. This includes storage, memory, and computing power.
  • The quality of the server and its performance. This includes throughput, latency, and low memory use.
  • The application tiers. This includes the different types of applications that are deployed on the server.
  •  The platform that is supported.
  •  The operating system.
  •  The network or internet connectivity.

There are two approaches to web server architecture:

  • Concurrent Approach
  • Single-process-event-driven Approach

Concurrent Approach

With the concurrent approach, a web server can handle multiple client requests at the same time. One of the following three methods can be used to achieve that:

  • Multi-process
  • Multithreaded
  • Hybrid


A single parent process creates various single-threaded child processes and then distributes all the incoming requests to the child processes. All the child processes handle one request at a time. The parent process is responsible for monitoring the load and deciding if a process needs to be forked or filled.


Multiple single-threaded processes are created to handle various requests.


This approach combines the above two approaches. Multiple processes are created that initiate multiple threads. One thread handles one connection.

Single-process-event-driven Approach

In the single-process-event-driven (SPED) approach, a single process performs all client processing and activity, in an event-driven manner. It uses a single event-driven server process, and is responsible for processing multiple HTTP requests concurrently.

Cloud Web Server

Cloud servers can be defined as virtual servers that operate in a cloud computing environment and are available for millions of users to access whenever they want to run an application. It performs similar tasks to physical servers, including data storage and application execution. Also, it offers a reliable, uninterrupted connection, more processing power, and additional random access memory. Cloud servers are built by using virtualization software known as a hypervisor.

Web Server Security

It is very important to keep your web server secure. With the absence of web server security, your web server is vulnerable to various attacks such as DoS attacks, SSoS attacks, SQL injections, unpatched software, cross-site scripting, and much more.

You can protect your web server in the following ways:

  • Keep only required services on your server. Having too many services on your web server can open portals. This can enable hacking activities in the long run. An additional benefit of removing unnecessary services is that it will improve the overall website functionality.
  • By having separate environments for development, testing, and production, you can reduce the risk of breach. Preferably, separate environments should be kept private.
  • Automate backups and install a firewall. A firewall will come in handy even if all your security systems are compromised. By automating backup daily, you can preserve data for the long run. This will be useful even when your system is compromised beyond repair.

Web Server Best Practices

  • Regularly update security patches and upgrade software batch files to safeguard against hackers.
  • Secure file transfer protocol helps transfer files by encrypting data files without the risk of malicious activity.
  • Design virtual isolated environments or use dedicated servers to keep sensitive data records on the web server.
  • Ensuring proper server management, following standard compliance, and obtaining certificates to maintain the optimal performance of web servers.
  • Implement physical security to avoid unauthorized access.
  • Disable unnecessary services that are actively running on the server; regular audits can reduce server risks.
  • Make sure you always have backups in case something goes wrong or a disaster occurs.
  • Create an isolated VPC and use a secure connection like MFA, SSH, or SSL/TLS.
  • Monitor and manage user access; do not share the root credentials. Give the least privileged access to users.


A web server is important for your business’ website. The overall wellness of this determines the quality of your website to a great extent; the wellness of your web server influences data privacy and much more. Make sure to implement web server security systems to make the best use of your web server. In this blog we have explained “What is a Web Server? It’s Type, Architecture etc”. 

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About the Author

Technical Lead - AWS Solutions Architect

Shivanshu is a Technical Lead and AWS Solutions Architect passionate about utilizing Cloud technology to empower businesses. Proficient in AWS, Terraform, and GCP, he crafts innovative solutions to propel companies forward. As an enthusiastic writer, he shares his expertise to inspire others in this field.