We all know the Internet is a gigantic network of interconnected computers and mobile devices that share and pass information to each other worldwide. What is common with all these computers is that they’re interconnected by a communications protocol called the internet protocol suite (TCP/IP). The amount of information transmitted per day is enormous. On a small scale, let’s say, all the business information for a city, the computer required to hold all the information should be specialized and powerful enough to handle requests of the city’s residents such as the nearest hospital, the nearest coffee shop, and where to buy avocados 24/7. That computer is called an Internet server.
To understand the Internet server or the Internet in general, we need to think of the Internet as a network of Information containers and providers known as servers and information requesters or consumers known as clients. An internet server is a computer that contains the information such as product catalogs, business addresses, stock quotes and cat videos, processes it and transmits it in response to the request of a client. The client is a computer that requests for information and it’s a computer that can be in the form of an office desktop, a laptop, a tablet, a cell phone and even a game console.
Any home computer, even an old one can act as an Internet server as long as it’s connected to the Internet; has a specific internet address or is associated with one; and has software that can ‘listen for’ requests, process and transmit them back to the requesting client. But when one mentions an Internet server, what normally comes to mind is a powerful computer, one that can hold a massive amount of information or a lot of hard disk space; one that has plenty of memory; one that has one or several fast and powerful processors and is reliable enough to be constantly on 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year with a few days allowance for maintenance. The machine also requires the specialized software mentioned to listen for requests and reply to those requests.
Internet servers can be configured to perform a more specific role yet qualify the general description. Web servers store, process and serve information, firewalls and proxy servers to secure and organize information between servers and DNS (Domain name server) servers to act as a map for several servers. They work together as a secure and organized system.
Some of possible Internet servers are listed below:
- A web server contains all the information, let’s say a product database of images, description and prices.The web server then has software that processes that information, organizes and sends back that information to the requesting client. Web servers can act as a simple website with at least one page of static information; can be a database server with terabytes of information; can be an email server for a small or large company and an FTP (File transfer protocol) server that handles the transfer of small to large files from one computer to another.
- Proxy servers act as intermediaries or middlemen between clients and web servers. They serve to organize requests and forward them to the appropriate web server and act as security to filter out undesirable requests from clients.
- DNS (Domain Name Server) servers act as an address book or phone directory and translate numeric or alphanumeric IP addresses into understandable dot-com, dot-org and dot-net addresses.
An Internet server can be one, two or all of these things at once depending on the software installed, the purpose and the company resources. Small companies tend to have one or two Internet servers acting as a mix of the mentioned roles. Giant companies such as Facebook, Microsoft and Google have thousands of interconnected Internet servers spanning several locations each of which are specialized to handle just one role.