Web Server vs. Application Server: What Are the Differences?

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:

  • Documents

  • Images

  • Videos

  • Fonts

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

  • Decision support

  • Real-time analytics

This server type is the main link between a client and server-side code. Typical tasks of an application server include:

  • Transaction management

  • Security

  • Dependency injection (DI)

  • Concurrency

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:

Nginx

Apache HTTP Server

Microsoft IIS

Jetty

LiteSpeed


Most Popular Application Servers

Here are the most wide-spread application servers on the market:

Apache Tomcat

Oracle WebLogic

Glassfish

JBoss


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.

Another option is to use plugins to add functionalities to a web server. In that case, a web server can delegate dynamic response generation to a server-side technology option, such as CGI scripts, JSPs, Servlets, ASPs (Active Server Pages), or server-side JavaScript.


Video - Web Server and Application Server | Explained


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