What is server and purpose

The term "server" (English for servant) is used in computer science ambiguous used. A server is both a computer that makes resources available over a network and the program that runs on this computer. Correspondingly are found two different server definitions:

  • Definition server (hardware): A hardware-based server is a physical machine integrated into a computer network, on which one or more software-based servers run in addition to the operating system. An alternative term for a hardware-based server is "host" (English for host, host). In principle, any computer with server software can be used as a host.
  • Definition server (software): A software-based server is a program that offers a special service that other programs, so-called clients (English for Customers), locally or via a network. Which service is available depends on the type of server software. The basis of communication is the client-server model. Service-specific transmission protocols are used for data exchange.

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How does a server work?

The provision of server services via a computer network is based on the Client-server model. This concept makes it possible to distribute tasks to different computers and to make them accessible to several end users independently of one another. Every service that is available over a network is offered by a server (software) that is permanently on standby. This is the only way to ensure that clients such as web browsers or e-mail programs always have the option of actively accessing the server and using the service as required.

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What servers are there?

How client and server communicate depends on the respective service and is determined by a specific transmission protocol. This principle can be illustrated more commonly using the example Server types:

  • Web server: The primary task of a web server is to save, prepare and deliver web pages to clients such as web browsers or search engine crawlers. The communication between server (software) and client is based on the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) or its encrypted variant HTTPS. As a rule, HTML documents and the elements integrated in them such as images, style sheets or scripts are transmitted. Common web servers are the Apache HTTP Server, Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS) or Nginx.
  • File server: A file server is used for the central storage of files that are to be made accessible to various clients via a network. Companies rely on this type of file management to give multiple workgroups access to the same files. A file server counteracts conflicts due to different local file versions, enables automatic versioning of files and a central backup of all company data. If the file server is accessed via the Internet, transmission protocols such as FTP (File Transfer Protocol), SFTP (Secure File Transfer Protocol), FTPS (FTP over SSL) or SCP (Secure Copy) are used. The protocols SMB (Server Message Block) and NFS (Network File System) have established themselves in local computer networks (LAN).
  • Mail server: A mail server consists of several software modules, the interaction of which makes it possible to receive, send and forward e-mails and to hold them ready for retrieval. The Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) is usually used for this. Users who want to access a mail server need an e-mail client that picks up the messages from the server and makes them available in the e-mail inbox. This retrieval takes place via IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) or POP (Post Office Protocol).
  • Database server: A database server is a computer program that enables other programs to access one or more database systems via a network. Corresponding software solutions with a high market share are Oracle, MySQL, Microsoft SQL Server, PostgreSQL and DB2. Database servers usually support web servers in storing and delivering data.
  • Gameserver: A game server is a server (software) that is specially set up for online-based multiplayer games. Game servers manage the data of the online game and enable synchronous interaction with the virtual world. The hardware base of a game server can be located in the data center of a specialized provider or provided locally in the home network.
  • Proxy server: The proxy server serves as a communication interface in computer networks. As an intermediary, the proxy server accepts requests from the network and forwards them via its own IP address. Proxy servers are used to filter communication, control bandwidth, increase availability through load balancing or to temporarily store data (caching). In addition, a proxy server enables extensive anonymization, as the IP address of the client remains hidden behind the proxy.
  • DNS server: DNS or name servers are used for name resolution in a network. DNS servers are of central importance for the World Wide Web, as they translate host names such as www.example.com into the corresponding IP address. Further information on name servers and the domain name system can be found in the in-depth article on DNS.

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In theory, different types of servers can be hosted on the same physical machine. However, an implementation is common in which each server is housed on an independent computer or even distributed over several computers. This prevents the hardware load of one service from affecting the performance of other services.

The following short video simply explains how servers work:

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What does server hosting mean?

While the purchase of your own server hardware can be worthwhile for large companies, the self-employed and private individuals who want to implement their own server project usually use rented resources. Specialized providers offer Rental server in different hosting models, in which the users do not have to worry about the operation of the physical machine. The product range extends from dedicated servers, their Hardware components exclusive are available to a user, up to shared hosting tariffs in which several virtual customer servers on a common hardware basis be hosted. A discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of different hosting models can be found in the following article.

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