If you're reading this, and I know you are, then you have definitely been served content from a web server. But what exactly is a web server and what does it do? In this article we'll take a low-tech look at the all-too unfamiliar web server.
A web server is a computer, similar to yours, and runs on an operating system like Windows or Linux. However, this computer is equipped with special software designed to respond to browser requests (from Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer, Safari, etc.) and serve content to your visitors. Apache, Microsoft's IIS and NGINX are web server applications that take responsibility in serving content to over 75% of websites on the internet. Like us, web servers use different, basic languages to communicate. These are called ‘server-side’ languages. The language that the server chooses to use is based on support and user preference. PHP is currently the most commonly used server-side language working with web servers to provide content from everything to small WordPress blogs to mega sites like Facebook.
While web hosting plans vary from company to company, in the most general sense, web hosting companies rent space to customers on their servers. When you type www.Internic.ca into your browser's address bar, or click on a link, your browser attempts to locate the computer associated with www.Internic.ca. In order to connect the domain name Internic.ca to the correct computer, a domain's DNS Record must be mapped to the computer via its IP (Internet Protocol) address.
After locating the computer, the browser sends a request for the websites landing page. The web server receives the request and responds with the appropriate resources. Everything that appears on the page is delivered by a web server. Clicking on a link initiates the same procedure. For example, you click on a link for an image, say www.Internic.ca/magic.jpg, the browser asks the web server if it could have the file. If the web server is able to find the image, it sends it back; if not it returns and error message to the browser and redirects the user to an error page. Web servers support a wide-range of file types including: html, css, images, video and pdf, to name a few.
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