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Understanding the Function of a Web Server

If you’re like most people, you probably don’t spend much time thinking about the origins of websites. After all, if you were born in the 90s or later, the internet has always been a part of your life. Even if you’re older, you’ve most likely come to accept the internet as an essential part of your daily routine.
However, most people don’t realize that a website is data and hardly ever think about web servers. Yet, web servers are responsible for bringing data to life as perfectly placed pixels on your Phone. Without them, we wouldn’t have the websites we know and love.
In this article, we’ll explore web servers: what they are, how they work, and which ones are the most popular. Furthermore, we’ll provide you with some resources if you’re interested in setting up a web server for yourself on your VPS Hosting.
A web server is a computer system that operates software to manage client requests from the World Wide Web. The server is responsible for storing all the requisite information for a website, and its software processes requests, utilizing Internet protocols, to transmit requested documents to visitors of the website.
To serve files and web pages in response to requests from users via HTTP clients such as web browsers like Google Chrome or Safari, web servers utilize the HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol).
Typically, web servers operate continuously to respond to client requests in various formats such as HTML, XHTML, and XML, which are widely recognized as web pages. Before serving web pages to clients, the server needs to collect resources such as CSS or JavaScript files, images, and fonts.

Exploring Web Server Operations

Before discussing Web Server Operations, it’s important to understand what a URL is.

URL(Uniform Resource Locator)

A URL, which stands for Uniform Resource Locator, is a unique address that points to a file stored on a web server. This file could be an HTML file, a CSS file, an image file, or any other file related to a web page. It is considered as a resource for the web server.

A URL consists of the following parts:
1. The protocol used to access the resource, such as http or https. If you want to learn more about HTTPS, click on the link.
2. An IP address or domain name that identifies the web server.
3. A port number where the web server is running. The default port number is 80, so there is no need to include it in the URL.
4. The path to the location where the resource is stored on the web server.
When you enter a URL into your web browser, the server specified in the URL sends back the requested page.

Web Server Work

When you type a URL in your web browser, it breaks it into three parts: the protocol, the IP address or domain name, and the resource path in the web server.

After that, the web browser uses HTTP/HTTPS protocol to contact the web server indicated in the URL and request the web page.

Once the web server receives the request, it searches for the requested document and all the necessary files. It then sends them back to the web browser via HTTP. However, if the web server can’t find the requested page or document, it returns a 404 status code instead of the requested content.

Apache & Nginx: Leading Web Server Choices

The two most popular web servers available today are open-source software, which means they are free to download, install, and use for your websites. The Apache Web Server is widely used and powers approximately most websites. Nginx, pronounced as “engine-X,” is not far behind and has gained significant popularity in recent years. Both options are usually deployed in a software stack based on the Linux operating system, known as the LAMP stack for Apache and the LEMP stack for Nginx.

Set up a web server on your VPS Hosting: LAMP vs LEMP

Both of these software stacks are built on the Linux operating system and are comprised of the OS (Linux), a web server software, a database software, and a programming language.

LAMP Stack: A LAMP stack is a framework that allows developers to build web applications or dynamic websites using Linux as the operating system, Apache as the web server, MySQL/MariaDB as the database, and PHP as the scripting language. However, depending on the requirements of a particular application, sometimes Perl or Python can be used instead of PHP. Every component of a LAMP stack is open source and freely available to anyone who wants to use it for developing and deploying their web application or dynamic website. Let’s take a closer look at each of the components of a LAMP stack.

LAMP: Linux is a reliable and secure operating system that is widely preferred by universities, government organizations, small and large businesses, and personal users all over the world. There are various Linux distributions to choose from, including Red Hat, CentOS, Ubuntu, and Debian.

Apache is a free web server software that is distributed by the Apache Software Foundation and is widely used in all Linux distributions. It is a fast and secure HTTP server that can be deployed to everything from small static websites to large web applications with thousands or even millions of daily users.

MySQL is a free, relational database management system licensed under GNU GPL. It is released by Oracle under a dual GPL and commercial license. If you want a 100% open-source database management system, then choose MariaDB, which was forked by some developers of MySQL due to concerns over its acquisition by Oracle Corporation. The MariaDB foundation distributes MariaDB and guarantees it will remain open source.

PHP, Perl, and Python are object-oriented, server-side scripting languages. Any logic you put in these languages run inside the web server and the results can be embedded into an HTML page before sending it to the web browser. PHP is widely popular among developers due to its natural learning curve and availability of ready-made extensions, and many free and open-source web development frameworks like Laravel, Symphony, Zend framework are written in PHP. Also, the most popular content management systems (CMS), like WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla are all based on PHP.

LEMP Stack: The LEMP stack is a popular variation of the LAMP stack. In a LEMP stack, you replace Apache with Nginx, which is represented by the letter “E”. Nginx is an open-source reverse proxy server that supports HTTP, HTTPS, SMTP, POP3, and IMAP protocols, and it can also function as a load balancer. LEMP has been gaining ground on LAMP over the past few years and is becoming increasingly popular.

LAMP vs. LEMP: Deciding the Superior Web Server Stack

Both LAMP and LEMP offer unique advantages and choosing between them depends on the specific requirements of your use case. While the Apache system is process-driven, the Nginx system is event-driven. This means that Nginx has a smaller system footprint, enabling it to handle a higher load of HTTP requests. As a result, the LEMP stack is gaining popularity among developers.

However, the LAMP stack remains more commonly used and is relatively easier to set up. Moreover, it may be preferred for simple WordPress installations that operate on limited resources. For a comprehensive comparison of the two options, please refer to our article on Apache vs Nginx.

Conclusion

In conclusion, a web server is the backbone of online communication, serving web pages and handling requests from clients. Its efficient operation ensures the best browsing experiences and facilitates the exchange of information across the internet.

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