Choosing the right web server software option depends on many factors, such as the operating system you are running, the size of the websites you want to publish, the type of server-side scripting (if any) that you want to use, the volume and frequency of visitors, and your budget.
The following are four of the most common web server applications used by websites all over the world.
By far the most popular web server software on the market, Apache is a free and open source web server that is used on nearly 60 percent of all websites and 66 percent of the top million sites. It can run on variants of Unix, Linux, BSD variants, Solaris, Mac OS X, and Microsoft Windows. Most web hosts, such as virtual dedicated hosting company 34SP.com, offer it as the first option for Linux servers. Top sites using Apache include YouTube.com and Wikipedia.org.
One of the appealing features of Apache is that it is modular, supporting both standard modules and third-party modules. It is also possible to configure Apache at the system administration level, virtual host level, and individual user level (using .htaccess files). Most Linux distributions offer versions of Apache in their software repositories.
Pronounced “Engine X”, this is a lightweight web server capable of holding up heavy loads while maintaining high performance. Because of this, it is preferred by system administrators who need speed and performance over extensibility and extra features. Ngnix runs on significantly fewer servers than Apache but is the web server of choice for many high-load sites, such as WordPress.com, Hulu.com, and TwitPic.com
Some of its features include load balancing, fault tolerance, gzip compression, and the ability to maintain over 10,000 simultaneous connections. Ngnix runs on FreeBSD, Linux, Solaris, Mac OS X, and Windows.
Lighttpd, as the name implies, is another lightweight web server . The name is pronounced “lighty”, and it is known for its “event-driven architecture”, very low CPU load, low member footprint, and the ability to handle over 10,000 simultaneous connections, all without adding much load to the CPU or RAM.
Lighttpd runs well in high-traffic situations, and for that reason, many file sharing sites have used it, such as frostwire.com and mininova.org.
Of those on the list, IIS is the only popular proprietary web server software. It comes standard with Windows servers, particularly Windows Server 2003 and 2008. After Apache, it is the most widely used web server, occupying 21 percent of all websites and 16 percent of the top million sites. Top sites using IIS include GoDaddy.com, MSN.com, and WebMD.com.
Like Apache, IIS is very extensible, supporting modules that can be added or removed at will. The other major draw for those who prefer Windows is the integration with the ASP.NET, and, by extension, several server-side scripting languages. IIS is not free or open source, and it only runs on Windows servers.
All four of these web servers support the standard protocols and features, such as HTTP, HTTPS, CGI (and/or FastCGI), virtual hosting, and IPv6 (which will become very important soon). All but IIS are free, open source, and cross-platform. If you need something robust, modular, and reliable, Apache is probably the best choice. If you need enterprise technical support and integration with a Windows environment, IIS may be better for you. If you need lightweight scalability, either Ngnix or Lighttpd may fit nicely.
Tavis J. Hampton is a librarian and writer with a decade of experience in information technology, web hosting, and Linux system administration. His freelance services include writing, editing, tech training, and information architecture.