Difference Between Application Server and Web Server

Difference Between Application Server and Web Server

The IT industry uses many specialist terms and often, some of them can be confusing, causing many to mix them up wrongly. Consider the difference between web server and application server. Are these two commonly used technical terms the same or are there important differences between them? To answer the question of what is the difference between application server and web server, we must first look at their functions.

A web server serves displays information on the internet and responds to simple requests. An application server is designed to work with different types of content, allowing it to not only display information, but also to interact with users and to process complex computing requests. 

Some in the industry use the two words interchangeably; ideally this should not be the case. There is a real and practical difference between application server and web server, which we shall examine in the article below.

Definition of Application Server

An application server is defined as a central platform that allows for the creation and running of a set of specific programs designed to perform a particular task. It is usually compatible with the world wide web, multiple operating systems, and web browsers.

It functions by translating data into dynamic forms to enable programmed modifications, data generation, and any further processing of the required information before it is delivered to the end-user. Examples include Oracle WebLogic, Apache Tomcat, Jboss, Glassfish, etc.

One noteworthy difference in the application server vs web server comparison is that the latter is applied in cases of static content while the former is applied in cases of dynamic content.

When content is static, it means that the end-user receives the information without any need for extra modification, data generation, or further processing after the initial content creation stage. When the content is dynamic, it means the components are liable to experience changes before they are delivered to the end-user.

Definition of Web Server

A web server is defined as a central repository of programs and data responsible for the delivery of web pages over the World Wide Web (WWW) using the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP). Simply put, it is a digital machine that handles your web searches and delivers the results you require.

For instance, you might type into a search engine, “When was the internet invented?” The server for the search engine will search the whole of the internet and respond with websites that have the most suitable answer to that question.

From another perspective, this central repository of programs and data can also be defined as a computer that runs websites, distributing web pages as they are demanded.

Aside from the definitions, one of the most outstanding differences in the web server vs application server comparison is that the former deals with web pages while the latter deals with applications. Examples include Nginx, Apache HTTP Server, Microsoft IIS, LiteSpeed, Jetty, etc.

Application Server vs Web Server Comparison Table

Basis of ComparisonApplication ServerWeb Server
Software used to host websites. They carry out complex computing and business-related tasks. These include incorporating databases, transactions, and graphical user interfaces or GUI’sSoftware used to only host websites. They display information and respond to simple user queries
ContentServes HTTP content, but is not only limited to thisServes HTTP content only
IT CapabilitiesAccepts and responds to dynamic contentAccepts and responds to static content only
Business ApplicationsApplied to business-related applications such as mobile apps, which require complex interactions with the end userServe web-based applications only. They do so by carrying out simple tasks such as displaying information and responding to simple requests
ExamplesOracle WebLogic, Apache TomEE, Wildfly, IBM WebSphereApache, Microsoft IIS, Jetty, Roxen, LiteSpeed

Conclusion of the Main Difference Between Application Server vs Web Server

Having looked at the difference between web servers vs. application servers, several key conclusions come to mind.

Firstly, an application server is flexible and accommodates several requests at the same time giving it the capability to perform complex, logical computing tasks, while a web server only displays information and responds to simple requests.

Radically modifying the functions of a web server can lead to errors and what is commonly known as a ‘website crash.’ However, with application servers, content is dynamic. Information seamlessly travels back and forth between the end user and the server; this cannot happen with web servers.

App servers work in tandem with web servers, and indeed, in the world of e-commerce, many web servers integrate with app servers to make online transactions possible. Both help a website to function properly, and by combining the two, we create the basis for the success of many online stores.

Because of this integration, two different consumers can both look at the same information in real time – goods they may wish to purchase online, for instance – present search queries with different criteria simultaneously, and receive their two different answers, also in real time. This is what makes for a seamless, convenient, and quick online shopping experience on many an e-commerce store.