Web Design

7 Best Free and Open Source Web Servers

In hardware terms, a web server is a computer that stores web server software and a website’s component files such as HTML documents, images, CSS and JavaScript files. A web server connects to the Internet and supports physical data interchange with other devices connected to the web.

This article focuses on the software side. In this respect, a web server’s primary function is to store, process and deliver web pages to clients. It has several parts that control how web users access hosted files. At a minimum, this is an HTTP server. An HTTP server is software that understands URLs (web addresses) and HTTP (the protocol your browser uses to view webpages). An HTTP server can be accessed through the domain names of the websites it stores, and it delivers the content of these hosted websites to the end user’s device.

At the most basic level, whenever a browser needs a file that is hosted on a web server, the browser requests the file via HTTP. When the request reaches the correct (hardware) web server, the (software) HTTP server accepts the request, finds the requested document, and sends it back to the browser, also through HTTP.

Nowadays, sites use HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure). This is a mechanism that allows your browser or web application to securely connect with a website. HTTPS is one of the measures to help keep your browsing safe and secure.

Here’s our verdict captured in a legendary LinuxLinks-style ratings chart.

Ratings chart for the best free and open source web servers

For many years Apache HTTP Server (often called Apache) was our preferred web server. But nginx often outperforms Apache and other popular web servers in benchmark tests, especially in situations with static content and/or high concurrent requests.

We’ve rated the open source programs purely in terms of their web server qualities. The programs can be used for other purposes other than serving web pages e.g. as a reverse proxy. Note, Node.js is frequently not categorized as a web server.

Let’s explore the 7 web servers at hand. Click the links in the table below to learn more about each server.

Web Servers
nginxVery powerful and efficient web server powering the majority of top web sites
ApacheLike nginx, Apache is a hugely popular web server
CaddyPowerful, enterprise-ready web server written in Go
lighttpdFast, compliant and very flexible low memory footprint web server
HiawathaWeb server that focuses on security
AngieScalable web server that was forked from nginx
Node.jsServer-side JavaScript environment for network applications such as web servers

This article has been revamped in line with our recent announcement.

Best Free and Open Source SoftwareRead our complete collection of recommended free and open source software. Our curated compilation covers all categories of software.

The software collection forms part of our series of informative articles for Linux enthusiasts. There are hundreds of in-depth reviews, open source alternatives to proprietary software from large corporations like Google, Microsoft, Apple, Adobe, IBM, Cisco, Oracle, and Autodesk.

There are also fun things to try, hardware, free programming books and tutorials, and much more.
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