Updated: Dec 5, 2020
Both web and application servers respond to user requests for content. Yet, there are several key differences between the two server types, and knowing these distinctions can help you configure the right software and hardware infrastructure for your needs.
Here is an overview of the main distinctions between app and web servers:
What Is a Web Server?
A web server is a computer system that stores, processes, and delivers web pages to clients. The client is almost always a web browser or a mobile application. Depending on the setup, a web server can store one or more websites.
This type of server only delivers static HTML content, such as:
Web servers and application servers have one thing in common - they need a dedicated server to run the software.
Traditionally, web servers do not deal with dynamic content or server-side programming. Web servers accept and fulfill Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP or HTTPS) requests only. Optionally, you can add components for dealing with dynamic content.
What Is an Application Server?
An application server is a software framework that delivers content and assets for a client application. Clients include web-based applications, browsers, and mobile apps.
Application servers provide clients with access to business logic. Through business logic, an app server transforms data into dynamic content and enables the functionality of the application. Examples of dynamic content are:
A transaction result
This server type is the main link between a client and server-side code. Typical tasks of an application server include:
Dependency injection (DI)
Application servers also handle processes such as clustering, fail-over, and load-balancing.
Most Popular Web Servers
Here is an overview of the most popular web servers:
Apache HTTP Server
Most Popular Application Servers
Here are the most wide-spread application servers on the market:
App Server vs. Web Server: Which One is the Right Server for Your Business?
Now that you understand the difference between web and application servers, it becomes easier to see which one is the better fit:
Use a web server if you are serving static web pages only.
Use a simpler application server like Jetty or Apache Tomcat if you have an application that requires JSP and Servlet.
Use a full-blown application server like JBoss or Oracle WebLogic if you have an application with complex features like distributed transactions and messaging.
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