Web Server vs. Application Server: Key Differences

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published May 28, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

With businesses increasingly relying on technology, it's critical for company leaders and employees to understand basic computer terminology and how to apply digital systems to their enterprises. Web and application servers are two kinds of server that companies may require their employees to be familiar with. Learning the differences between them may help you determine which one to use for the website of the organization where you work. In this article, we define web server vs. application server, outline the key differences between them, and discuss how to choose the right one for the company you where you work.

The definition of web server vs. application server

Web server vs. application server are similar in definition but also have distinct differences. Here are their definitions:

Web server

A web server is a software or hardware component of a computer that enables it to host web pages. Web servers respond to hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) and hypertext transfer protocol secure (HTTPS) requests from web browsers with static material, such as HTML pages, files, pictures, and videos. They deliver material to the client, which is often a web browser or a cell phone application. A web server may host one or many websites, depending on its configuration. For instance, a company may use a web server to host its own website.

A basic website often has static material, which implies that its content doesn't go through updates in real time. A static page may be the contact information page of a business. Only the site owner or another authorized individual can manually update the information it contains. Web server software is accessible through a website's domain name. Additionally, the software side comprises multiple components, including at least one HTTP server. A web server, like hardware, is typically a computer that holds the web server software and other website-related data, such as HTML texts, photos, and JavaScript files.

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Application server

An application server is another kind of server that is useful for hosting web applications, which are computer programs that run within a browser. An application server's major task is to give clients access to business logic, which is the portion of a computer program that specifies how it may produce, store, and change data. Application servers offer this access by facilitating interactions between end-user clients and the server's application code. An application server may convert data into dynamic content by using business logic. Several examples of dynamic material include the following:

  • Transaction results

  • Real-time analytics

  • Decision support

Hosting content through an application server may assist organizations in managing administrative and marketing responsibilities by enabling them to monitor data in real time. For instance, a corporation may use a tool that automatically analyzes its website's user engagement data. As the software automatically captures and changes data in its system, it makes use of a dynamic content process that is almost certainly hosted by an application server.

The differences between a web server vs. an application server

Here are some of the key differences between these two types of servers:

Main purpose

The web and application servers serve distinct purposes. A web server's principal function is to host web pages and respond to basic queries. Application servers can be useful for performing more complex activities. They may serve as hosts for applications and facilitate complicated interactions through business logic. The result of using a web server is typically a hypertext document that displays information in a browser, usually by opening a video or a webpage.

By contrast, an application server may generate more specialized outputs, such as files containing data that meet a specific client's needs. For example, the data may relate to a financial transaction the client is conducting.

Clients and protocols

Web and application servers may also vary in terms of the kind of clients they serve and the protocols they use to communicate with them. A client is a computer or software that makes a request to another program for a response. A protocol is a set of rules that a program adheres to while communicating with another program. The most frequent client for web servers is a browser.

While application servers may be accessible through web browsers, they can also provide cell phone and enterprise-based applications that businesses may use to model, project, and manage their operations. Web servers support only HTTP and HTTPS protocols, whereas application servers may use other protocols as well.

Type of content

Web and application servers typically generate a variety of content types. Web servers are solely responsible for generating static information. This implies that the files, websites, movies, and photos they host aren't dynamic. By communicating with the application code, an application server generates dynamic content by processing and updating data in real time. Application servers' dynamic nature enables them to calculate business analytics, whereas web servers' static content enables them to show informational websites.

Do web servers and application servers overlap?

The tasks and activities of web and application servers may overlap in certain circumstances. For instance, while a standard web server provides only static material, many web servers can use coding plugins that adapt them so they can host dynamic content. These plugins function by granting the server access to the server-side code and interacting with it to dynamically change the content.

Additionally, some application servers, like web servers, may host static content and use the same HTTP protocols. Due to the overlaps between these systems, many companies may choose to opt for hybrid solutions that combine the functions of both kinds of servers.

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Which server is right for a business?

Deciding which server is right for a business typically depends on the business's needs. Here are some considerations for choosing between web, application, or hybrid servers:

Web servers

If you only want to host static web pages, a web server may be the best option. For instance, if you work at a small business with a corporate website dedicated to promoting information about the organization's services, a web server may suffice. A basic web server can host the website and may even enable you to include additional services, such as an online shop where clients can place orders and complete transactions. But a web server's capabilities may have limited features without including extra plugins. A web server may therefore be the right choice for:

  • Small businesses

  • Informative webpages

  • Basic cell phone applications

Web servers may also cost less to implement and may produce fewer network delays than more complicated server systems.

Application servers

Application servers can usually perform a broader range of duties than web servers. For businesses that provide complex services and maintain client accounts or transactions online, an application server may be more effective. Additionally, businesses may use application servers to support their internal administrative and marketing management systems. For instance, application servers can be useful for many enterprise-level applications. These apps may assist enterprises in the following ways:

  • Overseeing customer accounts

  • Managing billings systems

  • Maintaining relationship management databases for customers or suppliers

  • Tracking digital marketing metrics

  • Forecasting business models

  • Ensuring the security of digital information

  • Hosting internal messaging systems

Due to their ability to update data in real time, application servers can be an excellent choice for automated tracking and management systems. To support their operations, large enterprises may incorporate capabilities that are better housed on application servers than on web servers. Application servers may be more expensive to set up than web servers as they're sometimes more intricate and feature-rich. Moreover, they may require additional resources, such as bandwidth, which might cause the network to slow down.

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Hybrid systems

Certain organizations may benefit from a hybrid system, which incorporates web and application servers into one system, allowing them to get the advantages of both. This strategy is likely to be the most successful for firms that need both static and dynamic content promotion. Hybrid servers may improve the overall efficiency of the system by adjusting which server is being used to perform particular activities.

Hosting static material through an application server, for example, is workable but may cause the application server to slow down while executing other dynamic activities. A hybrid system makes use of a web server to host static material without interfering with the application server's dynamic functions. For instance, a firm that operates an e-commerce website where product prices are being updated in real time can use a hybrid system. The site may use a web server for static information pages but an application server for dynamic price information.

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