Servers are the backbone of computer networks. These powerful machines (or software) help ease client communication, centralize storage, share resources, protect networks, collaborate among client devices, and many more.
Yet, not all servers are created equal. Different types of servers serve other clients and provide entirely different services.
In this post, we will explore eight different types of servers in computer networks. Our list here mentions some of the most popular servers, but remember that this is just the tip of the iceberg. In reality, there are new types of servers coming every single day!
Table of Contents
- File Server
- Website Server
- Application Server
- Mail Server
- Database Server
- Proxy Server
- DNS Server
- Media Server
1. File Server
A file server acts as a central repository for information. It allows storage, management, and file-sharing for many devices across a network (either local or remote). It also allows efficient collaboration and sharing by allowing users access to files from a central location.
Different types of file servers meet different needs and requirements. Examples of these servers are:
- Network Attached Storage (NAS) is a file server that provides dedicated storage space for multiple devices.
- Storage Area Network (SAN) is a more sophisticated server for high-speed access to shared storage devices.
- Cloud file servers are hosted in the cloud and usually hosted by a third-party provider.
- File transfer protocols (FTP) are popular servers that allow users to transfer files over the internet.
When it comes to the network protocols used for file sharing and accessing files on a remote file server, there are various types, like Server Message Block (SMB), Apple Filing Protocol (AFP), and Network File System (NFS).
What are some examples of popular file servers?
2. Website Server
The website server makes HTTP websites accessible to anyone over the Internet through web browsers. It is generally designed to handle HTTP requests (port 80) and respond to these web client requests with content, file downloads, etc. The website server connects users with the web, hosts the web content (web pages, static content, multimedia, web apps, etc.), and responds to client device requests.
The website server is built precisely to serve websites. Although it provides HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) services, it can also offer related services such as SMTP, FTP, and database access to respond to client requests.
There are two types of website services:
- Static web server This type serves static content (that does not change). It sends the hosted files as-is to the client.
- Dynamic web server It dynamically generates content using an application server and a database.
Example of website servers
Web servers come in various sizes, from small devices to massive server farms. They can run different web server software like:
Each software comes with unique features and capabilities.
What is not a website server? The line between web and app servers is getting thinner. Since most applications run online today, it seems logical to consider website servers as app servers. However, not all apps are designed for the web. Plus, running web applications online requires more than a simple website server.
3. Application Server
Although an application server could deliver static or dynamic web content, too (as a web server does), they are designed with another purpose: to allow the interaction between end-users and server-side app coding.
Popular types of the application server:
- Web Application Server: The web application server can deliver dynamic content: real-time “on-the-fly” generated content such as transaction results.
- Mobile Application Server: Mobile application servers help develop and deploy mobile applications. They provide features such as push notifications, data synchronization, security, and offline access to mobile apps.
What are some types of application servers? Application servers can support various application server software, including:
Alternatives to application servers? Ways to deploy applications without relying on a monolithic architecture are serverless (AWS Lambda, Google Cloud Functions, and Azure Functions), microservices, and containers.
4. Mail Server
A mail server is a type of server (either software or hardware) designed to manage email communication within a network. It acts as a centralized hub that receives, stores, and delivers emails between users on the network (either local or remote).
The mail server facilitates the sending, receiving, and storing of emails, including attachments. When a user sends an email, the mail server uses its mail protocol to transmit the message to the recipient's mail server. The recipient's mail server then delivers the email to the intended recipient's mailbox.
There are various types of mail servers, including:
- SMTP server Simple Mail Transfer (SMTP) is the standard protocol responsible for receiving and sending outgoing email messages to other mail servers
- IMAP server The Internet Access Message Protocol (IMAP) allows the management and receiving of emails from the mail server. IMAP is designed only to retrieve emails and not send them.
- POP3 server Post Office Protocol Version 3 (POP3) is similar to IMAP. It can retrieve incoming email messages from a mail server and deliver them to a client email program.
What are some examples of mail server software?
Popular mail server software examples include:
5. Database Server
A database server plays a vital role in modern computing infrastructure. It is an essential component (program or hardware) for any of the servers in this list, as it manages and stores database information for client devices on a network. A database server is designed for efficient data storage, retrieval, and sharing, enabling data-driven applications and services.
Popular types of database systems?
- Relational Database Management System (RDBMS) RDBMS is a popular database management system. It supports SQL to interact with the data.
- NoSQL Database Management System NoSQL (Not Only SQL) databases use non-relational models to store and manage data. They are designed to handle large volumes of unstructured or semi-structured data.
- Object-Oriented Database Management System (OODBMS) OODBMS stores data as objects rather than tables. It is designed to support object-oriented programming languages.
- Cloud Database Management System These types are hosted on cloud platforms, providing users with scalable and flexible storage options. They are accessed via web services or APIs.
Examples of database servers software:
Database servers may work with any of the previous systems. Each method has strengths and weaknesses, some better suited for particular use cases than others. Most database servers prefer RDBMS, which includes popular software like
On the other hand, NoSQL databases have popular options like
6. Proxy Server
A proxy is a simple but highly relevant server type in computer networks. It helps improve network performance and security. The proxy acts as a middleman between clients and servers on the internet (or intranet). It intercepts traffic from a proxy client (a web browser, mail server, router, etc.), acts (such as masking the IP, caching frequently accessed content, or changing header fields), and forwards the traffic to the intended destination.
Different types of proxies can be classified based on location, traffic flows (forwarding or reverse), anonymity level, application, service, or IP.
The most popular types of proxies include:
- SOCKS5 Proxy The SOCKS5 protocol enables TCP and UDP traffic to be forwarded through the proxy. It provides authentication making it more secure than any other proxy.
- HTTP Proxy HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) proxy servers filter HTTP requests between a client and a server. It forwards HTTP requests from clients to the server and HTTP responses from the server back to the client.
- SSL Proxy An SSL proxy uses Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) to force secure communication between the client and server. It could also help intercept and decrypt SSL traffic, allowing it to filter, monitor, and log it.
- Content caching proxy stores frequently accessed web content in its cache memory and serves it directly to users without needing to request it from the original web server.
Examples of proxy servers software:
Some popular proxy server software includes
Each of these programs offers a range of tools and functions.
7. DNS Server
Without Domain Name System (DNS) servers, the internet wouldn’t be as big as it is now. DNS servers play a critical role in enabling clients to access all websites and services online. The DNS system acts as the internet’s phone book with all the IP addresses and domain names related to each other.
The DNS system does not rely on a single DNS server; instead, it uses different types of DNS servers, each with its particular purpose. A DNS server (within the system) translates domain names into IP addresses (and vice-versa), allowing devices to locate and connect to the desired destination.
The types of DNS servers are:
- Recursive DNS Server This type of DNS server responds to DNS queries from end-users or other DNS servers. It can search for the requested domain name in its cache; if it doesn’t find it, it queries other DNS servers.
- Authoritative DNS Server This type of server answers DNS queries related to a specific set of domain names. It maintains the DNS records for the domain name(s) it is authoritative for and responds to queries for those records.
- Root DNS Server A root DNS server resolves top-level domain (TLD) names such as .com, .org, and .net. There are only 13 root DNS servers worldwide, maintained by different organizations.
- TLD DNS Server A TLD DNS server resolves domain names within a specific top-level domain, such as .com or .org.
- Caching DNS Server A caching DNS server stores DNS records in its cache for a long time. It helps improve the speed of DNS query resolutions.
Examples of third-party free and popular DNS resolution services:
- Google Public DNS (126.96.36.199 and 188.8.131.52),
- OpenDNS (184.108.40.206 and 220.127.116.11), and
- Cloudflare DNS (18.104.22.168).
8. Media Server
Media servers are getting more popular as media applications such as streaming, online gaming, and videoconferencing grow exponentially. The media server is hardware or software that runs demanding applications that need storing and processing multimedia files, including text, graphics, video, and audio. As long as the media server has access to fast bandwidth and ample storage, it can be suitable to act as a media server.
Examples of media servers:
- Media streaming A media streaming server can be used for processing and streaming multimedia content. They provide services such as transcoding, streaming, and content delivery.
- Gaming media server A gaming media server lets its clients stream and play video games on a local or remote network. It enables access to video games over a variety of devices.
- Videoconferencing media server This type of media server allows its users to perform real-time video and audio meetings over the network. It provides multiple users from different locations access to the virtual meeting.
What are some examples of media server software?
- Plex media server (for on-demand streaming),
- Steam Link (for gaming), and
- Jitsi Meet (videoconferencing).
Servers, either hardware, virtual, or software, are foundational to any network-based application or service. Without them, computer networks wouldn't exist. Servers help clients communicate more efficiently, share resources, collaborate, and more.
In this article, we only touched the tip of the iceberg. File, Website, Application, Mail, Database, Proxy, DNS, and Media Servers are the most popular types of servers in computer networks, but not the only ones. Innovation and necessity are creating more types of servers every single day!