Web servers respond to Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) requests from clients and send back a response containing a status code and often content such as HTML, XML or JSON as well.
Why are web servers necessary?
Web servers are the ying to the web client’s yang. The server and client speak the standardized language of the World Wide Web. This standard language is why an old Mozilla Netscape browser can still talk to a modern Apache or Nginx web server, even if it cannot properly render the page design like a modern web browser can.
The basic language of the Web with the request and response cycle from client to server then server back to client remains the same as it was when the Web was invented by Tim Berners-Lee at CERN in 1989. Modern browsers and web servers have simply extended the language of the Web to incorporate new standards.
Web server implementations
The conceptual web server idea can be implemented in various ways. The following web server implementations each have varying features, extensions and configurations.
- The Apache HTTP Server has been the most commonly deployed web server on the Internet for 20+ years.
- Nginx is the second most commonly used server for the top 100,000 websites and often serves as a reverse proxy for Python WSGI servers.
- Caddy is a newcomer to the web server scene and is focused on serving the HTTP/2 protocol with HTTPS.
- rwasa is a newer web server written in Assembly with no external dependencies that tuned to be faster than Nginx. The benchmarks are worth taking a look at to see if this server could fit your needs if you need the fastest performance trading off for as of yet untested web server.
A client that sends a request to a web server is usually a browser such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Chrome, but it can also be a
- headless browser, commonly use for testing, such as phantomjs
- commandline utility, for example wget and cURL
- text-based web browser such as Lynx
- web crawler.
Web servers process requests from the above clients. The result of the web server’s processing is a response code and commonly a content response. Some status codes, such as 204 (No content) and 403 (Forbidden), do not have content responses.