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Software Engineering

What Is a Server?

James Gallagher - January 04, 2021


The word server gets thrown around in many different contexts when it comes to computers. Servers are used in gaming to connect players with each other on multiplayer matches; servers are used by businesses to process their emails. There’s a lot of different purposes for a server, and they all seem to be very different.

In this guide, we’re going to talk about what a server is, what they do, and why they are so important to the Internet. Let’s get started!

What Is a Server?

A server is a computer that delivers data to other computers over a network.

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Servers can deliver materials either over the internet or through a local network. One of the most common types of servers is a web server. This is a special computer that takes in requests for web pages and returns those web pages to a user’s browser.

Technically, any computer can act as a server. Your home desktop computer could be a server if you set it up correctly. Most of the time, when people talk about servers, they mean the big and powerful computers that send and receive data over the Internet.

The larger that a network is, the more servers that are needed. That’s why you see large businesses often have their own rooms dedicated to servers. They need more computers to process all of the requests coming to and going from their servers.

Servers often run operating systems such as Windows Server or a distribution of Linux.

What Types of Servers Are There?

Servers can fill many different purposes, from processing and sending emails to handling web traffic that is going to and from a network.

Web Servers

A web server is a type of server that processes requests for web pages. When you visit a website, your browser will make a request to a server for a web page. When you clicked on this article, a request was sent for the “What Is a Server?” article on our blog server. Then, the server finds the web page that you are looking for and returns that page.

Web servers often use tools such as Apache, NGINX, and Microsoft IIS to process requests.

Email Server

Without a mail server, you would not be able to send emails. An email server is used to send and receive email messages.

There are a couple of types of email servers. IMAP, POP, or SMTP are all types of email servers. You’ve probably seen these terms come up at least once in your email client. IMAP and POP are used to download messages to your inbox, while SMTP is used to send messages to an email server which processes that email.

File Servers

Before the World Wide Web, FTP servers were an incredibly important part of sharing information. FTP, which stands for File Transfer Protocol, allows you to share files across the internet.

FTP servers are used to store files. You can connect to an FTP server using a client. This client will allow you to upload files to the server and make modifications to existing files.

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These are only a few of the many types of servers. Servers are used for applications such as video streaming, online gaming, and managing authorization and authentication on a network. Proxy servers, database servers, and print servers are other examples of server applications.

Home Servers

Servers refer to the types of software running on a computer. This means that you don’t have to have a big rack of servers in a data center to operate a server. Your personal computer can act as a server.

At home, servers are not usually used for applications like processing emails or web requests. This is because there are already other services that fill these purposes. Depending on how much traffic is flowing through a web or email server, it’s often impractical to host it at home.

Home servers are often used for file storage purposes. Using FTP server software you can set up your own home file server that you can use to access all your files on your local network. This means that you don’t have to store all your files on your personal computer. You can use a home server as a backup, or as a primary method of storing files.

Client-Server and Peer-to-Peer Relationships

There are two ways in which servers are configured: using client-server or peer-to-peer relationships.

The client-server model is where a server will perform a particular purpose, like hosting a database or a website. The client will then make requests to that server when it needs to access resources on the computer. This means that the client and server are separate. Any device making requests is a client; the device processing requests is a server.

Peer-to-peer networking is when all the devices on a network function either as a server or a client, depending on the types of requests being made. Peer-to-peer networking is commonly used for file sharing over the internet. However, peer-to-peer networking suffers from bottlenecks due to bandwidth limitations, which makes it somewhat impractical at scale.

How Are Servers Maintained?

Servers are designed to be operated all day, every day. Imagine a server that hosts a web application. If that server was only in service for half of the day, you would only be able to visit that website for half of the day. That wouldn’t be very useful.

Most businesses schedule maintenance for their server programs at particular times in the year. This means that they can give their customers advance notice of when a server may be inaccessible. It’s common for businesses to set up new servers to process requests if another server is going down for maintenance.

How servers are maintained depends on where a server is hosted. If you have physical access to a server—for instance, if a server is in your house, or in your office—then it can be managed in-person using a keyboard and mouse. A large number of servers today operate in the cloud which means that you need to access them remotely. This usually involves using a protocol called SSH to access a computer from another computer.

Conclusion

The internet would not be around today if it were not for servers. Servers come in all shapes and sizes; some are hosted at home, others in the cloud, and in business networks. They are usually assigned a specific purpose such as processing emails or web requests.

Any computer can be a server but if a server is going to be widely used, then it’s best to have a dedicated computer to act as a server. This is why cloud computing has become so common: instead of having to buy your own server hardware to run a server that may receive a lot of traffic, you can rent it from the cloud.

Now you’re ready to start talking about servers like a networking professional!

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James Gallagher

About the author: James Gallagher is a self-taught programmer and the technical content manager at Career Karma. He has experience in range of programming languages and extensive expertise in Python, HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. James has written hundreds of programming tutorials, and he frequently contributes to publications like Codecademy, Treehouse, Repl.it, Afrotech, and others. He also serves as a researcher at Career Karma, publishing comprehensive reports on the bootcamp market.

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