Web servers vs application servers

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Web and application servers are often confused, partly because they work together, and partly because some vendors have consolidated web and application servers into dual-purpose machines. Likewise, the use of terms such as “web application server” gives the impression that these are double units when in reality they are often distinct and separate nodes.

The key difference between web servers and application servers is how each delivers web and application content. Since the early days of the Internet, web servers have been the medium to meet the demands of web clients. The web servers receive a request from the client and retrieve the contents of the relevant database to provide to the client. In contrast, application servers also facilitate web content for clients, but are capable of handling dynamic requests.

As the World Wide Web developed, scripting for web pages shifted from HTML to JavaScript, and web content became more interactive. The introduction of dynamic scripting languages ​​advanced web development and produced the universe of software, tools, and applications available today.

This change pushed the limits of a web server’s capabilities and led to the adoption in server management of another highly specialized computer called an application server. This article examines the role that web servers and application servers play and how they differ.

What is a web server?

Web servers are computer systems responsible for:

  • Storage
  • Treatment
  • And provide web content to clients (users / browsers)

To retrieve web resources, users use web browsers to request web content from a web server. Whether it is a virtual or physical appliance, web servers receive HTTP requests from web browsers, translate the request into the underlying database of the web page, and respond with the requested resource. That is… if the resource is static content, such as a PDF or a newspaper article.

HTML: Static content

Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) has been a dominant programming language for producing web page content since the early 1990s. Stored in an organization’s web database, static web pages as HTML code appear on a customer’s web browser.

Users recognize HTML content as fonts, documents, images, and videos. The content of these web pages is static because the web server retrieves the same instance for all clients requesting that particular web page. This easy static data service frees up the web server to serve multiple pages and websites.

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Web servers are limited

Unfortunately, the role of web servers in Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) is not a jack of all trades in handling the advanced web content demands of the 2020s, which brings us to a web server’s best friend. , the application server.

What is an application server?

Like a web server, an application server is a computer capable of processing HTTP requests, serving web applications, and using web containers to respond to client requests. However, where application servers go further is their access to application databases and dynamic content transfer. With the ability to handle business logic demands, handle heavier workloads than a web server, and support multithreading, application servers are the workhorses fueling today’s business economy. applications.

Read also: Virtualization vs. Containerization

Dynamic content requires more server specialization

Any web page that offers interactive or live tools where a client doesn’t need to launch another page is probably thanks to dynamic scripts and the work of an application server. Dynamic web pages often include real-time analytics, financial transactions, and security software.

As an example, Google is the most visited website in the world with a plethora of tools for web clients. One of these programs is the calculator built into the Google search engine. When a customer performs a search that is a mathematical equation, Google recognizes the request and displays a calculator on the search results web page.

If the customer continued to use the calculator, he would notice that the URL does not change through all the calculations. Thanks to the dynamic scripts built into the page, the calculator is responsive to client input and able to process queries independent of web server activity.

How do web and application servers work together?

The graphic below shows three communicating parties: a client, an application server, and a database server. When users jump to their web browsers like Google Chrome or Firefox, the browser acts as the client requesting a particular resource.

The web server sits between the client and the application server in the instance below, serving HTTP requests where the web server can facilitate static content. When the web server receives a request beyond its capacity, the application server ends the exchange.

Designed by Aubri Ziegler. © Webopedia 2021.

The differences between the web server and the application server

Web server

  • Host web pages and respond to inquiries
  • Provides static content
  • Use only HTTP protocol
  • Only serves web applications
  • No multi-threading support
  • Access the static database
  • Facilitates light web traffic
  • Low storage capacity
  • Uses web containers
  • Suitable for web browsers
  • Provides hypertext on a browser

Application server

  • Hosts advanced applications and data resources
  • Provides dynamic content
  • Uses HTTP and business logic for applications
  • Supports web and enterprise applications
  • Supports parallel multi-threading
  • Access the applications database
  • Facilitates heavier data workloads
  • Large storage capacity
  • Uses web client and application containers
  • Suitable for web and mobile browsers and applications
  • Provides a wealth of data resources

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Web and hybrid application servers

Several web and application servers today contain functionality traditionally held by the two different servers. For example, plugins for scripting languages ​​such as JSP, ASP.NET, and PHP allow web servers to produce dynamic web page content.

Alternatively, application servers are able to perform the tasks of a web server and more, in part because application servers developed after web servers. Application servers are not, however, free from vulnerabilities. Compared to static content, dynamic websites are more prone to web attacks and are often more difficult to secure. Dynamic content also requires more cloud storage and relies on more systems.

While web and hybrid application servers can be an attractive option for organizations trying to feed two birds with a single scone, integrating application servers into web servers means your new application server will produce. heavier workloads than before.

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