If you have read an article about any popular website – Google, Wikipedia, Facebook and it has gone into any detail about the history and/or the workings of the website then you have probably heard the term web servers, but what are web servers?
What are web servers?
Lets first look at the term servers as this is actually a common term that can be linked with lots of other things. A server is very similar to a normal home computer – they both come from the same family and they are both devices that bring together a range of components to effectively compute data.
A server is different from a home PC in that it is normally much more powerful, has a much larger capacity for data storage, is often physically much larger and often is more robust due to their much more demanding job roles.
The role of a server is exactly the same as the usual meaning for the word “server” – they are there to serve others. Normally they will be serving data, in some form, to other computers or to people.
What are web servers and what data do they serve?
So now that we understand what servers are, and their role, what are web servers? Of course the web is a shorthand term for the world wide web – the humongous, autonomous network of computers that connects the digital world together.
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In every day terms, the web is Google, Yahoo, wikipedia, MSN, Microsoft.com and any other site that you visit on a daily basis.
So a web server is a powerful computer that serves the web to users. Its as simple as it sounds. Every single website that you have ever visited is actually stored on a web server. Technically speaking it gets a lot more complicated than that, most of the more popular websites that we have listed above are so large and contain so much data that they are more likely served to you from thousands of web servers.
In fact, most large websites will be delivered in a much more highly distributed manor – they will often have many servers doing very small jobs – SQL database servers, search servers, servers responsible for handling user comments and any other task that can be assigned to a server or servers to distribute the computing load.
In addition, large websites that serve visitors form all over the world often also have a global network of distribution servers that act like a go between for the central storage servers and the end user taking the requested content from the source server(s) and then passing it on to the end user. This practice is very handy for user access speed because it means that servers all over the world can build up a local cache of the websites pages and then deliver them to near by users at a much faster speed than could be achieved if the server was in Australia for example and the user was in the UK.