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What is a Server? - Definition & Explanation

Instructor: Lyna Griffin

Lyna has tutored undergraduate Information Management Systems and Database Development. She has a Bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering and a Masters degree in Information Technology.

In this lesson, we will define what a server is, the configurations that make systems function as servers and the differences with computers built as servers. We will examine the different types of servers and their capabilities.

Server Definition

A server is a computer, equipped with specific programs and / or hardware, to enable it to offer services to other computers (clients) on its network (connected to it). Servers are other computers. There are different types and capabilities of servers. Think about transportation. We can think of transportation as anything that can move something or someone from one location to the other. A bicycle can move one person, a car can move 4 people, a bus can move 50 people and a plane can move 500 people. They are all modes of transport, but with different capacities. The same applies to servers. There are servers of varying types and capacities discussed in this lesson.

Types Of Servers

When working on a computer there are many services a computer may need and as such there are different types of servers available. We will discuss some basic server types in the next section.

File Server

A file server is a server that contains files which are made accessible to other clients on the network. A file server has the sole responsibility for storing and managing a set of files, which are made accessible to other computers. These files are shared among clients in the network by allowing access without having to physically transfer the accessed files to their local systems.

Print Server

A print server is a server which has a dedicated printer connected to it which is accessible by other clients through it on the same network. Other clients on the network with no local printer, can print work to this printer through this print server.

Web Server

A web server is a server equipped with HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) with a unique domain name, that serves web pages in response to requests submitted by clients. For example, if you type www.ismellgood.com/homepage on your browser as a client, you are in effect requesting a web page stored on a server with a domain named ismellgood.com, called homepage. In response to your request, the respective web server locates the homepage page in its system and displays it to you. If you erroneously type www.ismellgood.com/homewage, the server will return an error message saying - web page not found! Well, that's familiar!

Application Server

An application server is responsible for storing and managing all applications between an organization's users and its databases or backend business applications. If you have visited a bank to withdraw money, then you have accessed the bank's application server through the services of the attending teller. The teller's machine through the banking application accesses the bank's application server to retrieve your bank account details and facilitate your transaction.

Server Capabilities

Now in the real world, there are really two main types of servers. A system that is configured (setup) to serve as such and there are sophisticated specially designed operating system server software and server hardware.

Server Software

To understand this better let us revisit the definition of a server. To recap! A server is a computer equipped with specific programs and / or hardware to enable it to offer services to other computers (clients) on its network (connected to it). A home computer, with a desktop operating system, 100Gb storage capacity, 10Gb memory, that has 4 computers connected to it, containing a number of files can be configured to share those files with the other computers on the network and act as a file server.

On the other hand, the big software companies have not only designed desktop operating systems but have developed server operating systems. The difference is the desktop operating system is good for a handful of computers within the same geographical location, but when dealing with corporate entities with sensitive applications or files with thousands of login clients all over the world, our little desktop operating system is no match in handling the level of availability and efficiency expected. That's what server operating systems are designed to handle.

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