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  1. #1
    E-business guru Eirik's Avatar
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    What is a web server

    To this day, I'm still having trouble understanding what a web server is. Or more appropriatly, what separates a (web) server from a PC.

    I mean, I know that a web server it is a computer connected to the Internet 24/7 running some web server app like Apache that's responding to queries. But apart from that, I have several questions.

    1. Does the hardware in a server differ from a computer? If yes, in what way? If no, is it just like separating a laptop from a stationary?

    2. What exactly does one need to run a web server (hardware and software)?

    3. I have a laptop running Apache which is connected to the Internet using a 2 Mbit line when I'm at work. Could I use this computer as a web server. If yes, how? And if no, why not?

    Thanks in advance for clearing up a confused mind!
    Sincerely,

    Eirik Johansen
    Netmaking AS

  2. #2
    Intoxicated with the madness petertdavis's Avatar
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    The most visible difference is the case. Not all, but many servers are built in rack cases, and described in terms of 1U, 2U, 3U and so on (depending on how tall they are, each U takes up one slot of space in the rack). Of course, there are a lot of tower servers as well.

    There are some more subtle differences, too. You can use any mobo or cpu in a server, but some work better than others. Celeron isn't a particularly great cpu for a server, whereas the Pentium 3 1ghz is the old work horse of the server industry. Hard drives are a key weak point too, as servers get a lot more 'wear and tear' on the moving parts than your average at home pc does.

    Your laptop would certainly function as a web server, and maybe even do a very nice job of it. You wouldn't find a web hosting company using them, though.

  3. #3
    SitePoint Wizard Rick's Avatar
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    OK, a pc and server are basicaly the same, and you can use a normal PC as a server, I have a Linux PC acting as a file server and email server on my home network for example.

    There are differences to a computer sold as a server and one sold as a PC. These are simply Power and Redundancy.

    The servers components will be more powerful than that of a normal PC's and its components and OS will be optimised for use as a server, possibly a file server, or drivng a suite of applications / database system.

    It will also have more features, such as Hot Swap Disk / PCI bays etc, so you don't have to power it down to say, replace a failed hard drive.

    Redundancy, while your PC is designed for general use it isn't designed with long term stability in mind, as frequent power-ups and downs are the norm with home users.

    A server is expected to run for weeks / months (even years in some cases) at a time with out needed to be restarted becuase it crashed, or needing attention etc.

    To ensure reliability manufacturers will include redundant features such as RAID, Redundant Power Supplies, Redundant NIC's etc to make sure that even if a component fails the server can continue running normally.

    A web server is a server with special software installed that is desgned to allow the server to recieve HTTP requests and send out files. Web servers such as Apache are far more advanced than this though, and include options such as PHP scripting, FTP, Mail Server capabilities etc.

    You can use any computer as a web server as long as it has, an internet connection; a suitable OS (Linux / Windows / FreeBSD, UNIX etc) and a web server software installed.

    If you know little about the subject, which I'm guessing you do, then it may be wise to consider hiring a 'dedicated server' from a company such as Rackshack, this will come installed with a web server and will be connected to the internet with a fast reliable connection and include many features to enable you to host your own site.

    You could of course run a web server from your PC and always - on - connection, I could even run a web server from my PC over my 56.6k connection if I wanted - it wouldn't be very fast though!

    A start would be to find out if you have a 'static IP address'. An IP address is your Address while online and is a number such as 135.345.657.01 (This is made up and random, I have no idea if it exists or what it is if it does exsist!). You don't need this to host a site - you could just tell people to visit your IP address but it would be different each time. If you want to host something like a domain name you would need a static IP to give to the DNS servers to tell them where to send a request for your domain.

    There are various guides and books online, and you can set one up for free using software available online.

    But if you have little knowlage of the subject, I'd suggest you learn about it, before you can even hope of setting up a web server. If you just want one to play with then that would be an ideal (and cheap!) solution, but if your serious about hosting a website then I'd look into dedicated servers.

    Good luck
    Rick
    Rick

  4. #4
    SitePoint Wizard Rick's Avatar
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    Typical, took me so long replying that petertdavis beat me to it!

    Rick
    Rick

  5. #5
    Intoxicated with the madness petertdavis's Avatar
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    Originally posted by zoo
    Typical, took me so long replying that petertdavis beat me to it!

    Rick
    That's okay, you covered some things I didn't.

  6. #6
    FreeBSD The Power to Serve silver trophy pippo's Avatar
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    Web servers such as Apache are far more advanced than this though, and include options such as PHP scripting, FTP, Mail Server capabilities etc.
    Just a little precisation to what zoo explained very well

    Apache is not a web server but it's an http server and it does not include FTP capabilities.

    I'm sure that zoo wanted to say that.



    pippo
    Mr Andrea
    Former Hosting Team Advisor
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  7. #7
    SitePoint Wizard Rick's Avatar
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    Originally posted by zoo
    Web servers such as Apache are far more advanced than this though, and include options such as PHP scripting, FTP, Mail Server capabilities etc.
    Your right! What I meant by this was it had the ability to work with plug-ins and additional software such as FTP server programs, PHP, Mail server programs, Online control panels etc to provide additonal features.

    Sorry for my lack of clarity!

    Rick

    P.s. Thanks Pippo, I'm not normally too good at explainin stuff like this!
    Rick

  8. #8
    FreeBSD The Power to Serve silver trophy pippo's Avatar
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    >> I'm not normally too good at explainin stuff like this!
    No, no you were good...better than me that's sure

    edited
    By the way,
    I have at home two books and one is titled:
    Linux Apache Web Server Administration
    and the other
    Professional Apache,
    that in the back cover explains:
    Professional Apache is the book for anybody who needs to get the most out of the Apache Web Server.

    So usually it is known as a Web Server,
    but indipendent of that I still think that it's an http server,
    but that's just me....



    pippo
    Last edited by pippo; Oct 31, 2002 at 13:33.
    Mr Andrea
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  9. #9
    Prolific Blogger silver trophy Technosailor's Avatar
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    Actually, if you want to be REALLY technical, a web server IS an HTTP server and it is software not hardware. Apache is a web server. IIS is a web server. FTP is NOT a webserver. FTP is it's own software/process. SSH is it's own software/process.

    Now on a generic basis, computerss that operate server software with the express purpose of serving up webpages, files, printing services, etc are generically called servers, as computers that operate MS Office, Photoshop, etc are called Workstations, or generically, PC's.

    Usually, as zoo suggested, the 2 types are built differently, to enhance their purpose. a "server" will usually have lots of RAM, maybe dual processors, no video or sound features, etc. They are built to porcess lots of data quickly. A "workstation" will be built with audio/video, less RAM, smaller hard drives, etc and essentially optimized for single-user use. Their OS's generally aren't required to be as stable as a "server" would have.

    So there's some more technicality break downs.

    Aaron
    Aaron Brazell
    Technosailor



  10. #10
    FreeBSD The Power to Serve silver trophy pippo's Avatar
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    Am I right if here at http://httpd.apache.org Apache is called HTTP server...?!?
    In some part of the site it's called web server ( in some faq ),
    but in the main page and in other parts it's called as http server.

    >>>a web server IS an HTTP server
    Okay, I will accept this.

    By the way, I never said that it's hardware...



    pippo
    Mr Andrea
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  11. #11
    Prolific Blogger silver trophy Technosailor's Avatar
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    Originally posted by pippo
    Am I right if here at http://httpd.apache.org Apache is called HTTP server...?!?
    In some part of the site it's called web server ( in some faq ),
    but in the main page and in other parts it's called as http server.

    >>>a web server IS an HTTP server
    Okay, I will accept this.

    By the way, I never said that it's hardware...



    pippo
    I know you never said it was hardware. I was just throwing that out there.

    Because the 'web' is Port 80 (HTTP), it is technically called an HTTP server but it is also commonly known asa web server.

    Aaron
    Aaron Brazell
    Technosailor



  12. #12
    SitePoint Wizard Rick's Avatar
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    I have always been told there is a difference.

    The people I have worked with in the past have called a program such as apache (a HTTP server) and a machine (i.e. a server) with a suitable OS, HTTP server installed, software such as email servers, FTP services, SSH services, PHP plugins, MySQL running, SSI's, ASP etc (the list of possiblt configurations is endless) with a connection to the internet is a 'web server'.

    Where as the HTTP server is simply software that takes a HTTP request, find the relevent file, processes the relevent file and send it to the visitor.

    So I guess you could say that the Hardware is the web server and the http server is software running on it.

    I'm not 100% on the latest technical lingo, and it should be noted that the people I learn't from have worked in IT for years and so have probably become accustomed to older terms.

    At the end of the day whatever your happier calling it is what you should stick with.

    From what I have read in Apache documentation and articles etc the two terms have been merged into one anyway, so what ever you prefer. I prefer HTTP server for something like apache becuase this describes its function better than something like web server. But... Whatever floats yer boat!

    Oh, forgot to mention...

    When I was on about redundancy before, I meant to mention that no amount of hardware back-up can account for human error, such as Rack Space updating SitePoint.com's server with invalid IP address data!

    Rick
    Last edited by zoo; Oct 31, 2002 at 14:06.
    Rick

  13. #13
    Prolific Blogger silver trophy Technosailor's Avatar
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    Well, zoo.

    I can run a Windows 98 machine, with a 56k Dialup, with MS Access, no SSH, no SSI's running PWS (Personal Web Server) and serve my pages up to the internet from home.

    Now it'll be damn slow, and it will prolly crash out, but it's a webserver, because Port 80 is sending data to the web.

    Now we have a P4 1.8 ghz dual processor with 1 gb RAM and call it a webserver and it does a fine job. But if I thre a sound card and a GeForce 4 in there, it would make a hell of a good gaming machine too.

    So it doesn't matter what the hardware is. It's a computer regardless.

    What matters is the function of the computer. If the software is serving up webpages and you're playing games on it, it is both a PC and a web server.



    Aaron
    Aaron Brazell
    Technosailor



  14. #14
    FreeBSD The Power to Serve silver trophy pippo's Avatar
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    This is extracted from the Linux book I mentioned:

    What Is a Web Server
    Essentially, a Web Server is a software application that listens for client connectgions on a specific network port.
    When a connection is made, the Web Server then waits for a request from the client application. The client is usually a Web browser, but it could also be a Web site indexing utility, or perhaps an interactive telnet session.
    The resource request, usually a request to send the contents of a file stored on the server, is always phrased in some version of the H.T.P (HTTP).


    pippo
    Last edited by pippo; Oct 31, 2002 at 14:13.
    Mr Andrea
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  15. #15
    SitePoint Wizard Rick's Avatar
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    Sketch - I agree.

    The way I have been taught the machine doing the serving is the Web Server and the software sending out the pages is the HTTP server. I like these definitions becuase they seperate two seperate entities and make it easier to refer to them separatly.

    Rick

    P.s. - I hope your not putting down the Win 98 and PWS set up over a 56k Dial Up - I have used that many times to allow friends to download files of my machine and look at some latest design attempts
    Rick

  16. #16
    Prolific Blogger silver trophy Technosailor's Avatar
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    yeah, it's a common misunderstanding and it really is harmless at that. But since we were breaking down specifics...

    Oh, and yes I am criticizing the PWS and the 56k

    Aaron [the one who sits behind a DSL, Apache enabled PC and runs 4 RedHat Servers]
    Aaron Brazell
    Technosailor



  17. #17
    SitePoint Wizard Rick's Avatar
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    Well isn't Aaron (if that IS your real name, the lucky one

    Perhaps someone will trick or treat your servers 2nite... Hopefully the 'trick' variety too!

    Rick

    P.s. Only kdding, and if someone does hack you it wasn't me, I don't know your ip addy
    Rick

  18. #18
    Mlle. Ledoyen silver trophy seanf's Avatar
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    Originally posted by zoo
    P.s. Only kdding, and if someone does hack you it wasn't me, I don't know your ip addy
    I can give you it


    Nothing going on here

    Sean
    Harry Potter

    -- You lived inside my world so softly
    -- Protected only by the kindness of your nature

  19. #19
    SitePoint Wizard Rick's Avatar
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    LOL, better not - sketch would get me into trouble with my mummy

    Rick
    Rick

  20. #20
    Phil fillup07's Avatar
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    Would pages running IIS without a domain name (just an IP)... be found using Google? If not..... any search engines?


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