Learn Computers Series: What is a Server

Servers, you may have heard of them before as they are very important for modern life.  They power the web, gaming services, many of the apps in smartphones and much much more. So what are they and is so special about them? What do you, the regular user need to know about them? Read on to find out!


Let’s start of with a definition. A server is computer that is designed to serve a particular function/data to other computers who request such data(clients). For example, a web server serves other computers(clients) web pages that they request and a file server shares disk drives/folders/files with other computers.

More specifically though, a server is only just software. It is not a special kind of computer or operating system.  It runs on top of standard operating systems. You can also run multiple servers on the same computer. So you may understand that web servers serve you web pages, however it is the web server software on a remote computer that is serving the web pages. Why is this important?  Well, you can have multiple servers run on the same computer. Although for businesses its usually best to keep each computer acting as a server to be a server of a single type.

What kind of servers are there?

As mentioned above, web servers power the world wide web/internet, and file servers share files.  There are a few other common types of servers, but software can allow for any new type of server to be made.  For example, E-mail servers are software designed to host where e-email is stored and accessed by users(clients). However, email is an application, so really it can fall under a blanket term of being an application server. Game servers are another example and used to connect and maintain connections/game states for remote players of a particular game.  File servers do require file sharing server software, but it’s so common now today that it’s generally built into your computers OS to be a file server or a client to be able to connect to and download files from other file servers. Anytime you have an application contact a remote system a client/server relationship exists and each is referred to as such.

Do servers need special hardware?

The short answer is no. You can set up your desktop or even your laptop as a server so long as they are powerful enough to run the server software and handle the volume of requests you need to send to it. There is a number of folks, myself included that use spare PC’s/parts to have a home server which can do anything from share files with other PC’s on the local network or even be a media server that streams audio and video to other devices such as TV’s or game consoles.

With that said though, for commercial grade servers that are used by companies(and possibly enthusiasts) they have special hardware to ensure better reliability than consumer grade equipment. This hardware is designed to run with high usage for long periods of time without errors or failure.

Closing thoughts

To recap, a server is software that runs on any operating system that can run on standard computer hardware.  It’s designed to process requests from and perform tasks for clients.  This can be anything from returning a requested webpage so the client can view it or sending a file that the user requested to view/download. You can have multiple servers running in a single operating system although this is less common in businesses, but very common for home users.

That’s it, you now know the basics of what a server is and what they do. If you have any questions or would like to know more information, please leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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