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Web server vs. Application server

A web server accepts and fulfills requests from clients for static content (i.e., HTML pages, files, images, and videos) from a website. Web servers handle HTTP requests and responses only.

An application server exposes business logic to the clients, which generates dynamic content. It is a software framework that transforms data to provide the specialized functionality offered by a business, service, or application. Application servers enhance the interactive parts of a website that can appear differently depending on the context of the request.

The illustration below highlights the difference in their architecture:

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The columns below summarize the key differences between the two types of servers:

Web Server

  • Deliver static content.
  • Content is delivered using the HTTP protocol only.

  • Serves only web-based applications.
  • No support for multi-threading.

  • Facilitates web traffic that is not very resource intensive.

Application Server

  • Delivers dynamic content.
  • Provides business logic to application programs using several protocols (including HTTP).
  • Can serve web and enterprise-based applications.
  • Uses multi-threading to support multiple requests in parallel.
  • Facilitates longer running processes that are very resource-intensive​.

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