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TUTORIALS » Before you build a website » The world wide web basics

Servers & Clients



So you want to be a webmaster and you don't know how to start? You have come to the right place!

First things first

In order to understand how a website works, first you have to understand the relationship between servers (also known as hosts or mainframes) and clients (also known as terminals or workstations).

What is a Server?

A server is, in plain English, a very powerful computer (or group of computers) with a lot of information stored inside. This information is intended to be accessed by people using their own computers (clients). There are all kinds of information stored inside a server depending on what the owner of the server wants to provide to its visitors. There is also a vast variety of ways to serve that information; those are called services, such as web, email, ftp, etc. Also, the information stored in a server can be public or protected (using usernames and passwords).

What is an IP address? What is a domain name?

Every computer (server or client) connected to the internet has a numeric address, called IP address, which is just like having a phone number per computer. Now, imagine someone telling you: "Log into my web site, the address is 235.27.142.194" or "Send me an email to john_doe@215.25.63.154"... ANNOYING!!! That is why the internet gods invented the domain names, which are nothing but nice aliases or nicknames we can use instead of boring and hard-to-remember IP addresses.
Open a new web browser window and type http://66.54.18.30 in the address bar, then hit ENTER.

You just entered the website of a rather well known sportswear brand. It would have been a lot easier to just type nike.com, don't you think? That is why we have domain names!

What is a Client?

A client computer is, in a few words, a computer like yours at home, at school, or at work (assuming you don't work as a server administrator, in which case I don't know why you are reading this). A client does not store data for other computers to have access to it. Clients are the computers we all use to access the information stored in servers. Every time you surf the web or retrieve your email, you are using your computer (client) to access information in servers all around the world.

Servers and Clients
Figure 1  Example of servers and clients connected to the Internet
(Actual IP addresses might be different)

So many terms!

Why do we need so many different words to name the same thing?
   eg.   Server = Host = Mainframe     or     Client = Terminal = Workstation
Remember that the internet—and, generally speaking, the whole technology world—was not invented by one only person in one only place, but very often many people all around the world had the same ideas at almost the same time, so they used very different terms to name their "inventions". Today it is very difficult to decide which term is the best so we all have to live our lives using lots of different words to name the same thing.


Go to the next tutorial to learn about server side and client side web languages.

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