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 recommended 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 6 web servers at hand. For each program we have compiled its own portal page, a full description with an in-depth analysis of its features, together with links to relevant resources.
|nginx||Very powerful and efficient web server powering the majority of top web sites|
|Apache||Like nginx, Apache is a hugely popular web server|
|Caddy||Powerful, enterprise-ready web server written in Go|
|lighttpd||Fast, compliant and very flexible low memory footprint web server|
|Hiawatha||Web server that focuses on security|
|Return to our complete collection of recommended free and open source software including our latest additions.|