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What is a Web Server?

Web server can refer to either the hardware (the computer) or the software (the computer application) that helps to deliver Web content that can be accessed through the Internet.

The most common use of web servers is to host websites, but there are other uses such as gaming, data storage or running enterprise applications.

Overview

The primary function of a web server is to deliver web pages on the request to clients using the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP). This means delivery of HTML documents and any additional content that may be included by a document, such as images, style sheets and scripts.

A user agent, commonly a web browser or web crawler, initiates communication by making a request for a specific resource using HTTP and the server responds with the content of that resource or an error message if unable to do so. The resource is typically a real file on the server's secondary memory, but this is not necessarily the case and depends on how the web server is implemented.

While the primary function is to serve content, a full implementation of HTTP also includes ways of receiving content from clients. This feature is used for submitting web forms, including uploading of files.

Many generic web servers also support server-side scripting using Active Server Pages (ASP), PHP, or other scripting languages. This means that the behaviour of the web server can be scripted in separate files, while the actual server software remains unchanged. Usually, this function is used to create HTML documents dynamically ("on-the-fly") as opposed to returning static documents. The former is primarily used for retrieving and/or modifying information from databases. The latter is typically much faster and more easily cached.

Web servers are not always used for serving the World Wide Web. They can also be found embedded in devices such as printers, routers, webcams and serving only a local network. The web server may then be used as a part of a system for monitoring and/or administering the device in question. This usually means that no additional software has to be installed on the client computer, since only a web browser is required (which now is included with most operating systems).

History

In 1989 Tim Berners-Lee proposed a new project with the goal of easing the exchange of information between scientists by using a hypertext system to his employer CERN. The project resulted in Berners-Lee writing two programs in 1990:

Between 1991 and 1994, the simplicity and effectiveness of early technologies used to surf and exchange data through the World Wide Web helped to port them to many different operating systems and spread their use among scientific organizations and universities, and then to industry.

In 1994 Tim Berners-Lee decided to constitute the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to regulate the further development of the many technologies involved (HTTP, HTML, etc.) through a standardization process.

Common features

Path translation

Web servers are able to map the path component of a Uniform Resource Locator (URL) into:

For a static request the URL path specified by the client is relative to the web server's root directory.

Consider the following URL as it would be requested by a client:

 http://www.example.com/path/file.html 

The client's user agent will translate it into a connection to www.example.com with the following HTTP 1.1 request:

 GET /path/file.html HTTP/1.1 Host: www.example.com 

The web server on www.example.com will append the given path to the path of its root directory. On an Apache server, this is commonly /home/www (On Unix machines, usually /var/www). The result is the local file system resource:

 /home/www/path/file.html 

The web server then reads the file, if it exists and sends a response to the client's Web browser. The response will describe the content of the file and contain the file itself or an error message will return saying that the file does not exist or is unavailable.

Kernel-mode and user-mode web servers

A web server can be either implemented into the OS kernel, or in user space (like other regular applications).

An in-kernel web server (like TUX on GNU/Linux or Microsoft IIS on Windows) will usually work faster, because, as part of the system, it can directly use all the hardware resources it needs, such as non-paged memory, CPU time-slices, network adapters, or buffers.

Web servers that run in user-mode have to ask the system the permission to use more memory or more CPU resources. Not only do these requests to the kernel take time, but they are not always satisfied because the system reserves resources for its own usage and has the responsibility to share hardware resources with all the other running applications.

Also, applications cannot access the system's internal buffers, which causes useless buffer copies that create another handicap for user-mode web servers. As a consequence, the only way for a user-mode web server to match kernel-mode performance is to raise the quality of its code to much higher standards, similar to that of the code used in web servers that run in the kernel. This is a significant issue under Windows, where the user-mode overhead is about six times greater than that under Linux.

Load limits

A web server (program) has defined load limits, because it can handle only a limited number of concurrent client connections (usually between 2 and 80,000, by default between 500 and 1,000) per IP address (and TCP port) and it can serve only a certain maximum number of requests per second depending on:

When a web server is near to or over its limits, it becomes unresponsive.

Causes of overload

At any time web servers can be overloaded because of:

Symptoms of overload

The symptoms of an overloaded web server are:

Anti-overload techniques

To partially overcome above load limits and to prevent overload, most popular Web sites use common techniques like:


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Exede Internet availabily was based on: Exede internet is available in almost all areas of United States please call us, your local authorized dealer in High Speed Satellite Internet to talk with an internet specialist today. Exede Satellite Internet Requires a clear view of the southern sky. © 2014 WildBlue Communications, Inc. Service not available in all areas of High Speed Satellite Internet United States. Please call to check for service availability. Minimum 24 month commitment term. One-time setup fee of $149.99 (currently on special for $49.99) and $9.99/month equipment lease apply (or pre-pay a 24-month lease and save almost $40). Actual speeds will vary. Non-standard installations may result in additional charge. Equipment must be returned upon cancellation of service, otherwise unreturned equipment fees apply. Taxes and monthly service fees apply. Prices subject to change. All offers valid for a limited time and may be changed or withdrawn at any time. Requires a clear view of the southern sky. Use of the Exede service is subject to data transmission limits measured on a monthly basis as described in the Data Allowance Policy. For complete details and the Data Allowance Policy, visit www.exede.com. Exede Satellite Internet is a service mark of ViaSat, Inc. This website is owned and operated by an independent distributor of Exede Satellite Internet from ViaSat Communications, Inc. Some content on this website may be copyrighted by ViaSat Communications, Inc.