What Is The Difference Between Web Server and Application Server?

Marcin Suwała
3 min read

In the era of web application development, the terms ‘web server’ and ‘web application server’ are often used. Although at first glance they may seem interchangeable, in reality, they represent different components in the architecture of web applications. Understanding the roles and differences between these fundamental elements is key to effectively navigating the complexities of modern web application development.

What is a web server?

At its core, a web server is the software responsible for handling HTTP requests from clients, typically web browsers, and delivering static resources in response. These static resources include various assets required for rendering a web page, such as the web pages themselves, images, CSS files, JavaScript files, and many others. Web servers act as intermediaries between users’ browsers and the content they request from a website.

What is a web application server?

Unlike web servers, application servers provide a runtime environment designed for executing application code and managing the business logic of a web application. While web servers primarily handle static content, application servers can execute server-side code and process dynamic requests that require application-specific logic.

Application servers are equipped with support for a range of features essential for web application development, including dynamic content generation, database access, security enforcement, session management, and integration with other backend services. They play a crucial role in implementing complex functionalities such as user authentication, database transactions, and data processing.

How do application and web servers work together?

Application and web servers work harmoniously to handle client requests and deliver appropriate content to users. Typically, a web server first receives a new request. If it can deliver the requested information using available resources, it does so and sends an HTTP response. However, if the web server lacks access to the required content, it forwards the request to the application server. The application server processes the data, applies business logic to deliver the correct information, and passes the request back to the web server, which delivers it to the user. In some architectures, application servers may also be configured to handle HTTP requests independently.

The most important differences

After establishing the basic functions of web and application servers, let’s analyze the main differences between them:


  1. Web Server: Primarily delivers static content and handles basic HTTP requests.
  2. Application Server: Executes application logic, processes dynamic requests, and manages the business logic of a web application.

Content Handling:

  1. Web Server: Delivers static resources, such as HTML pages, images, CSS, and JavaScript files.
  2. Application Server: Processes dynamic content, communicates with databases, and executes server-side code to generate personalized responses.

Supported Functionalities:

  1. Web Server: Focuses on delivering content and handling basic HTTP protocols.
  2. Application Server: Provides a comprehensive runtime environment for executing application code, managing transactions, and integrating with backend services.

Programming Environment:

  1. Web Server: Mainly interacts with files and directories, delivering static content stored in the filesystem.
  2. Application Server: Executes application code written in various programming languages and frameworks, supporting the generation of dynamic content and implementation of business logic.


In summary, while both web and application servers play indispensable roles in the architecture of web applications, they serve different functions and cater to different aspects of web application development. While web servers focus on delivering static content, application servers enable developers to build and deploy dynamic, feature-rich web applications. Understanding the differences between these two components is crucial for designing scalable, efficient, and resilient web-based solutions.

Marcin Suwała
Python Developer

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