In this era of the Internet, the term “server” is something we encounter frequently. Whether it’s a “Server Busy” message or an “Internal Server Error,” we’ve all come across these phrases while browsing the web. But what exactly is a server? In simple terms, any hardware or software capable of providing services to other hardware devices or users can be referred to as a server. When it comes to the World Wide Web, a server that provides services over the web and its underlying protocols, such as HTTP, is known as a web server.
A web server, as hardware, is responsible for storing and serving web pages and multimedia content over HTTP. On the software level, it handles protocols, user access levels, content, and corresponding URIs (Universal Resource Identifier). To be accessible from anywhere in the world, web servers need to be connected to the Internet, and we, as users, require a web client, most commonly known as a web browser, to access information from any server.
The Role of Web Clients and DNS
When we enter a URL (Universal Resource Locator) in our web browser, it sends a GET request to the server associated with that URL. Like any other server, a web server also has a unique identification called an IP address. The DNS (Domain Name System) is responsible for mapping URLs to their corresponding IP addresses. So, when we try to access a website through our web browser, the DNS reroutes the request to the appropriate web server, and the web browser downloads the web page and related content to its cache before presenting it to the user.
Static vs. Dynamic Web Servers
Dynamic web servers are used when there’s complex business logic involved, but they require more resources compared to static web servers.
A Look at Different Web Servers Available Today
There are several web servers available in the market today, each with its unique features and capabilities. Here are some of the most popular ones:
1. Apache HTTP Server
Apache HTTP Server is a free and open-source web server developed and maintained by the Apache Software Foundation and the associated open community. It is a cross-platform web server, making it highly customizable and supportive of many programming languages and frameworks.
One key advantage of Apache is its widespread support across various operating systems. Approximately 60% of web server machines worldwide run on the Apache Web Server. However, Apache’s biggest drawback is that it consumes more RAM under heavy load and struggles to process multiple requests concurrently with heavy web traffic.
According to W3Techs, Apache has a market share of 31.4%, and as per NetCraft, it holds 22.62% of the market.
Nginx is a high-performance, free, and open-source web server developed by Igor Sysoev, publicly released in 2004. It follows an asynchronous event-driven approach rather than using threads for request handling, leading to high performance and low resource usage.
Nginx excels at handling static content and thousands of concurrent connections while maintaining a small memory footprint. However, it may not handle dynamic requests as efficiently as Apache. Many control panels, like Plesk, use Nginx as a frontend proxy for Apache, where Nginx serves static content and forwards dynamic requests to Apache.
As of the latest data, Nginx has a market share of 34.2%, according to W3Techs, and 28.91%, as per NetCraft.
3. Microsoft IIS (Internet Information Services)
Microsoft IIS is a proprietary web server developed by Microsoft, specifically designed to run on the Windows NT operating system. It is mainly used for hosting ASP.Net Web applications.
IIS has a market share of 5.9%, according to W3Techs, and only 3% as per NetCraft. The IIS Manager GUI provides ease of use for managing the server, but it can only be configured through the GUI, lacking an Apache-like file-based configuration. Another limitation is that it requires Windows to run. While IIS is mainly used to host ASP.Net sites, it can also be used to host PHP or static websites.
4. LiteSpeed (LSWS)
LiteSpeed Web Server is a proprietary web server developed by LiteSpeed Technologies. While a license is required to install the full LiteSpeed version on a server, an open-source variant called OpenLiteSpeed is also available, developed and maintained by the same team. LiteSpeed is currently available for Linux-based distributions and OpenBSD.
LiteSpeed handles both static and dynamic requests swiftly and efficiently with a low memory footprint. It provides a user-friendly interface where users can manage everything easily. LiteSpeed can also be used as a drop-in replacement for Apache HTTP Server, supporting most Apache configurations and commands.
Unlike Apache, LiteSpeed follows an event-based approach similar to Nginx, making it comparatively faster. Additionally, it uses LSAPI to connect to PHP, invoking PHP processes when required rather than loading them with every LiteSpeed process, which further improves performance.
In conclusion, web servers play a crucial role in hosting websites, processing HTTP requests, and delivering web content to users. The choice of a web server can significantly impact the quality of your website, data privacy, and overall performance. Depending on your website’s features and usage, you may choose the most appropriate server for your needs. Each web server mentioned above offers unique advantages, and understanding these differences will help you make an informed decision.
Regardless of the web server you choose, it is essential to implement robust security measures to ensure the safety of your website and its users. With the right web server and security in place, you can provide a seamless and reliable web experience to your audience.