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What are Web Servers?

For those just beginning to learn about web technologies, we thought it might be helpful to provide this foundational article. A Web server is a program that uses HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol and the secure HTTPS version) to serve the files that form Web pages to visitors, in response to their requests (which come from the requesting computers browsers). Dedicated computers and appliances may be referred to as Web servers.

Web server also refers to server software, or hardware dedicated to running said software, that can serve contents to the World Wide Web. A web server processes incoming network requests over HTTP and related protocols. This Wikipedia link gives more information on Web Server.

Image of sphere with 1s and 0s

What are Web Servers Used For?

Web servers are primarily used to store process and deliver the pages of a website to users. This means that web servers are what make websites appear when you type in a URL.

Types of Web Servers

There are 4 primary web servers –

  • Apache (provided by Apache) – Apache Software Foundation established the most popular web server in the universe. Since it is open source software can be installed on almost all operating systems including, Windows, Linux FreeBSD, Mac OS X, UNIX, and more. Approximately 60% of web servers run Apache.
  • IIS (provided by Microsoft) – Microsoft created a high performance Web Server called Internet Information Server (IIS). This web server runs on Windows Server platforms (such as Windows Server 2016 and above). Although IIS comes bundled with the server operating system, it must be activated (typically done under roles and features).
  • nginx (provided by NGINX, Inc. and pronounced like “Engine X”) – NGINX accelerates content and application delivery, improves security, facilitates availability and scalability for the busiest web sites on the Internet.
  • GWS (provided by Google and short for Google Web Server) – The Google Web Server – custom-built server software used only by Google – now runs nearly 13 per cent of all active web sites.

You can find out much more information about Web Servers.

Web Server Survey by Netcraft

According to August 2018 Web Server Survey, the Apache web server remains the current leading platform in terms of its total number of domains, computers, active sites, and its proportion of the top million busiest sites, it continues to lose market share. All of Apache’s figures decreased this month, continuing a slow long-term decline in most metrics. However, Apache continues to experience long-term growth in the absolute number of web-facing computers of approximately 200k per year, but it is losing overall market share.

Related Links

Web Server

Top 5 open source web servers

What is a web server?

Definition of ‘Web Server’


We thought teachers might appreciate this background information. For those wishing to learn more, we recommend the Netcraft article mentioned above.

We hope you find these resources and overviews useful. We always look forward to your comments and feedback (whether you are a member or not).

We encourage members (and non-members) check out our social media channels. If you aspire to be a web professional and don’t know where to start, we offer a number of beginning classes to our members via our School Of Web learning management system. As a member, your first class is free.