What is a Server?

Depending on who you ask, it can mean different thing. Typically a server is referred to a piece of computer hardware that is designed to deliver data to a network. But the hardware does not really need to be enterprise grade server rack stuff, to be called a server in your home network. A server can also be a laptop, small desktop computer or even a Raspberry Pi.

I like to define ‘server’ as a role you can assign to a piece of computer hardware. One piece of computer can have multiple server roles, like handling e-mail and a webpage at the same time. A server is a server, because of the software that runs on it.

Common Server Types

A computer can be assigned a lot of different roles and one computer is more suitable for one role then the other. Here I will highlight some different types of servers:

Type of Server Used for
Application server A server that runs an application. Can be as simple as one simple server that simply serves some files when requests by a webbrowser, but can also include databases or application software to provide more functionality. Most applications that run in the webbrowser do run a whole suite of different software to provide a service.
Mail server A server that handles mail traffic. Commonly it consists of two applications: one for sending e-mail and one for receiving mails.
Network Attached Storage (NAS) A server that commonly has a lot of storage space that can be accessed by multiple clients at the same time. Runs one or multiple file servers for easy reading and writing of files.
Proxy servers Forward traffic from one server to another. It is used for a whole lot of reasons, including but limited to caching, load balancing and additional security.