We have all heard a lot about web servers and hosting but do not know how it works or what exactly it is. This will explain the technical side of web servers and hosting to give you a better understanding of the subject.
A web server
A web server can either be hardware or software such as a computer or a computer application. Think of web servers as big buildings with a lot of space. This server assists in delivering content over the Internet for access. The main role of a web server is to deliver web pages that are requested by a client. This can include HTML documents containing various documents, style sheets, images or scripts.
A client can be a web browser or a web crawler that starts the communication process. A client makes a request for a specific HTTP and the server respond by connecting the client with that resource.
Besides being a delivery system, various basic web servers offer server-side-scripting including PHP and Apache HTTP Server. Therefore, HTML documents are regularly created using this function of a web server. The use of web servers is not limited to the World Wide Web. A server can also be embedded on various peripherals such as routers, printers, webcams and a local network.
Allocation of space in a web server for customers who want to showcase their web pages is known as web hosting service. A web server is essentially connected to the Internet 24/7. Web hosting services are of many different types and every service has a different configuration and capability. In addition, each service can be modified to meet a customer’s requirement. For instance, for individual purposes a web hosting service can be scripted to perform interactive functions while a commercial web server can serve as a business tool such as credit card processing or point of sales unit.
Each web hosting service varies in price from free to hundreds and thousands of dollars a year. The price depends on its intended use and needs. For example, a personal web hosting service required for small websites can be easily acquired for free if no special tools are required and generates low traffic.
Apart from price, other considerations need to be taken when searching for a web hosting service. Different hosting services have different policies. Some restrict scripting languages, uses, content and functions. In addition, privacy policies should also be viewed to determine how the service will use your personal information.
What makes a web server fast?
Since a web server is basically a communication machine, its speed is measured by the number of connections it can handle in a given time frame. The speed depends on the ability of a web server to connect, decipher a request, transmit the request and terminate this loop. It is a common misconception that the time consuming step in this process is the transmission of files. In fact, a server’s speed is determined by how quickly a connection is established and terminated for transfer of files. This bottleneck of ‘ready-to-be-sent files’ is known as a gating factor. The gating factor is the speed at which simple web pages are served and not the speed at which files are transmitted.
Besides this, the connection of a web server to the Internet also matters. You may have seen large organizations and universities that have direct Internet connections which make their server connection faster in comparison to personal home based connections. As a result, most people curse their Internet to be too slow when in fact, it is the web server that matters. Probably, by now you can comprehend the problem.
Improving the performance of a web server
Once you know that it is the speed of a web server that matters when browsing the Internet, what measures can you take to improve its performance.
Most of the websites are using Web 2.0 Technology combined with RSS, AJAX technology and video streaming. The more technically heavy your website will be, the longer the time it will take a web server to connect. In order to improve the performance of the web server, you need to make a few adjustments mentioned below:
• Avoid any redirects
• Use more Gzip components
• Apply a CDN
• Make the AJAX script small and cacheable
• Turn off any ETags
• Try to put in a few HTTP requests
• Reduce any DNS lookups
• Mostly coders have used duplicate scripts so remove them
Since a web server can be hardware or software, it can only handle a limited amount of client connections. A default connection is between 500 and 1000 per IP address while a bigger web server can handle 2 to 80000 client connections per IP address. When a web server acts close or over its prescribed limits, it becomes overloaded which causes it to be unresponsive.
Many websites use the following anti-overload measures to help them through this or prevent an overload.
• Use firewalls and HTTP traffic managers to reduce the network traffic
• Use traffic shaping management and bandwidth management to minimize the usage peaks in a network
• Apply various web cache techniques
• Different static and dynamic domain names are used to serve different content on a web sever
• Use many grouped web servers to serve as one big server. This is known as a load server
• Fine tuning the OS parameters to increase hardware usage and capabilities
• Make different workarounds for dynamic content
• Create different domain names to distinguish between large and small files so that they are cached efficiently over the web servers
Web Server Vendors
There are very few vendors in the market who operate web servers. The top five include Apache, Igor Sysoev, Microsoft, Google and Sun Microsystems. Now that you have explored the technical side of web servers and hosting, it is hoped that you have benefited from it and may use it to create a better Internet experience.