What is a server?
Why this question? Web hostings are made of servers. A server is a computer, with specific processors and configurations most of the time, and just a computer. Everyone can access such a computer via the Internet (in simple words). So, when you store the files of your website, or whatever, they are accessible externally. This allows your webpages to be seen by other users.
Now, with the cloud computing, you can see that when you put your files on a service like Dropbox or whatever, you can access these files from any device. So if you put a .doc file on a server, you can download it, or even display it in your browser if it has this capability. That’s almost the same for the files of your website. Your homepage is made of file(s) that are displayed to your audience in their browser. So, to summarize: When your audience wants to access your website, they connect to the computer on which your files are stored by entering your domain name, then the computer displays your files.
By the way, if a server is a computer, does that mean your own computer could be a server? Yes! If you configure your computer to be reached from the Internet, you can use it as a server. For example, imagine you are at a friend’s party and you want to download the songs which are stored on your computer at your place: If your computer is accessible from the web you can enter its web address in the browser of your friend’s computer and you will be able to access your audio files. You could even play the songs directly from your computer at home on your friend’s computer. Your computer turned into a server: your songs are hosted on your computer and can be played or downloaded from the outside.
Thus a server is a computer on which you are storing things and which is accessible from the outside.
What is a web server?
A web server is the same, but with a specific configuration to display web pages. Why does it need a specific configuration?
Actually web pages can be made of several languages, and these languages have to be interpreted by the server. The server must understand the language in which the files are made and understand what he actually has to do with these files to display them properly.
When someone enters yourdomain.com in its browser, the server which hosts the files of yourdomain.com must also know where the files are located in its storage. Indeed a server can host several websites, and thanks to its configuration it knows where to get the files of this or that website, otherwise you can image the mess: When a user asks for a website, the server doesn’t know where to get the files of this website and chooses one randomly…
Voilà! I hope you now have a clearer understanding of what’s a web server. That’s the very basic but we will investigate further as we move forward in this “course”.