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What is a Web Server? Definition, Benefits & More Explained

Imagine a world without web servers. No Google. No Facebook, No YouTube, not even this blog post. That’s what it would be like without web servers.

Web servers are the BACKBONE of the internet. Without web servers, the internet would simply not exist.

A web server is like a computer system that sends website content to your internet browser when you ask for it. Web servers are so important, but most people don’t even realize they exist. 

In this blog post, we’ll discuss what web servers are, how they work, and why they’re so important. Let’s get started!

Table of Contents

What are Web Servers? How Do They Actually Work?

what is web server

What is a Web Server?

A web server is a computer system that stores and delivers files for a website over the internet via a web browser. 

Every SINGLE website you’ve ever visited is hosted on a web server.

Imagine that a web server is like an Apple iPhone store. The Apple store sells all the different iPhone models and accessories. 

When you visit the store, you tell a salesperson what you want to buy, such as an iPhone, Macbook, charger, etc. The salesperson then goes to the back of the store to get the item for you.

In the same way, a web server has a list of all the files that it stores. When you type ANY website address into your web browser, your browser sends a request to the web server for those files. The web server then sends the files back to your browser so that you can see the website.

How Does a Web Server Work?

Here’s how a web server works:

  • You type a web address into your web browser, such as Google.com or YouTube.com
  • Your computer sends a request to the web server at Google.com (or YouTube.com) for the web page at that address.
  • The web server at Google.com looks up the web page and sends it back to your computer.
  • Your web browser displays the website for you.

Basically, the web server stores ALL the files for a website, such as HTML pages, images, CSS stylesheets, and JavaScript files. 

Types of Web Servers

So… what are the different types of web servers?

There are two main types of web servers: static and dynamic.

  • Static web servers can only deliver static content like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript files. 
  • Dynamic web servers can deliver both static and dynamic content based on requests from the browser. This can be done using programming languages such as PHP, Python, and Ruby.

Why Use a Web Server? Benefits of Web Servers

Web servers are extremely important because they allow us to access all websites online. Without web servers, you cannot use any websites you browse daily, such as Google, YouTube, or any of your favorite sites.

web server benefits

Apart from the above, there are many benefits to using a web server, including:

  • Performance: Web servers are designed to handle a HUGE number of requests simultaneously, which can improve the performance of your website.
  • Scalability: Web servers can be scaled up or down to meet the needs of your website. Scalability is important, especially if you expect your website traffic to grow over time.
  • Security: Web servers can be configured to improve the security of your website, such as by using SSL encryption, brute force protection, filtering out malicious requests, etc.

Above all, your web server can affect your website’s overall performance and loading times. In most cases, your web hosting provider will determine your web server. That’s why picking the RIGHT web host is extremely important.

Examples of Web Servers

Here are some real-life examples of web server usage.

  • Hosting websites: Web servers are used to host websites of all sizes, from small personal websites to high-traffic websites.
  • Delivering web applications: They are used to deliver web applications, such as Gmail, Evernote, Google Maps, etc.
  • Serving files: They can be used to serve ALL types of files, including HTML, CSS, JavaScript, images, etc.
  • Streaming media: Web servers can be used to stream media, such as live video and audio. The best examples are Amazon Prime, Diney+, HBO, Netflix, etc.
  • Online shopping: eCommerce websites like Amazon, eBay, etc rely on web servers to manage their product listings, handle user accounts, and process transactions.
  • Educational platforms: All the platforms offering online courses and educational resources, such as Coursera, Udemy, and Khan Academy, rely on web servers to deliver course content to their users.

In a nutshell, web servers are used EVERYWHERE online and are essential to delivering content and services over the internet.

Popular Web Servers

The most popular web servers are Apache and Nginx. 

According to W3Techs, Nginx is the #1 most-used web server and is used by 34.2% of all the websites whose web servers we know.

popular web servers

Here are some of the popular Web Servers on the market. 

  • Nginx Web server: This is the most popular open-source web server that powers more than 400 million websites across the world.
  • Apache HTTP Server: Another popular web server and often considered the ideal web server for shared hosting environments, as they’re affordable, easy to customize, and reliable.
  • Node.js Web server: It is a lightweight web server that is built on JavaScript. It is popular for real-time applications and handles HTTP requests asynchronously.
  • Microsoft IIS: A web server developed by Microsoft and included with Windows Server. It is also popular for use with ASP.NET. 
  • Cloudflare servers: A network of servers distributed worldwide, often used to deliver content to users quickly. Offers excellent features like CDN, DNS, DDoS protection, and security.
  • Google servers: These are the same servers that Google uses to power its own products, such as Gmail, Google Search, and YouTube. These servers are usually high-performance servers with great reliability. 

Web Server Best Practices

Here’s the thing about most web hosts: they’ll take care of all the security of the web servers they use, so you don’t have to do anything specific. However, if you’re using a VPS or dedicated server, you must learn how to secure your web servers.

web server best practices

Here are some of the best practices for using web servers.

  • Keep your web server software up to date. Most web servers, such as Apache, Nginx, etc, often release the latest updates to secure their servers from any security vulnerabilities. So, make sure to keep them up to date.
  • Use a firewall to block unauthorized access to your web server.
  • Use File Transfer Protocol Secure (FTPS), as it helps transfer files to and from a server securely.
  • Monitor your web server logs for any suspicious activity and block immediately if you find any malicious attack.
  • Always take full backups in case your web server is hacked or compromised.
  • Install an SSL security certificate to encrypt traffic between your web server and users’ browsers.
  • Do not allow empty or default passwords. Always use strong passwords and make it a habit of changing them regularly.

FAQs on web server definition

Here are some FAQs about web servers.

What are some popular web servers?

Some popular web servers include:
– Apache
– Nginx
– Tomcat
– Node.js

What is the role of a web server?

A web server is a computer program that stores and delivers web pages to users over the internet. It takes the requests from web browsers and then sends back the requested pages to the end users. If the page does not exist, the web server will send back an error message.

What are the common uses of web servers?

Some of the common uses of web servers are;
– sending and receiving emails
– downloading requests for files
– publishing webpages

Does a web server need a firewall?

Yes, using a firewall or web application firewall (WAF) is extremely important to protect your web server from common website security attacks.

What is the difference between a web server and web hosting?

A web server is basically a computer system that runs websites. Web hosting is the process of using a server to host a website.

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Final thoughts on what are servers

Web servers are an essential part of the internet. 

Without web servers, you can’t run websites, streaming platforms, web applications, email services, etc.

Simply put, web servers allow us to access and share information from all over the world. So, what are your thoughts on web servers? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments. 

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