Which Type Of Web Server For Me?
What's a web server? And why should you care? A web server is where your
website "lives" on the Internet. When someone types your website address into
their web browser's address bar, a request is sent to your web server for
whatever page they specified. Your web server then "serves" the requested page
back to that person's web browser so they can view it.
Over 80% of all websites run on one of two web servers:
Apache, which runs predominantly on Linux computers, and
Internet Information Services (IIS), which only runs on
Why you care
You should care what type of web server your website runs on if your
website requires certain programming, uses a database connection, or uses many
other advanced features. If this is the case, then you're more or less tied to
your current web server. Switching to a different web server would require
substantial reprogramming (and cost!).
So, if you're still in the planning stages of creating a website, you
should give at least a little thought to what kind of web server you'll use.
They have different characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses.
Outsource or do it yourself?
Before proceeding, let's talk about who runs the web server. If you're a
do-it-yourself type, you could run a web server yourself to host and maintain
your site. You could set up a high-speed connection to the live Internet, and
perform all of the backup and maintenance activities that go along with baby
sitting a web server. Frankly, though, most of us would rather not be burdened
with those types of headaches.
As a web hosting company it's our job
of running the web server for you (along with all the requisite obligations
that go along with it) for very reasonable prices. For a basic website's
needs, you can hand off those responsibilities to us usually
for less than $20 per month. (currently our standard hosting cost
19.99 per month)
IIS & Windows
Let's talk about IIS first because it runs on Windows, which most everybody
has at least a passing familiarity with (even Mac-addicts tend to know a
little about Windows just through observing others around them who use
Windows). That familiarity is one of its major advantages.
Another advantage IIS has is the fact that one company, Microsoft,
is responsible for it. Microsoft is also responsible for the
operating system it runs on (Windows), and various programs that interact with
it, from Visual Studio for programming to FrontPage for design to Internet
Explorer for browsing the web pages. This means that they can provide
support for any problems that arise, and can do more than other companies to
make sure everything interacts properly. Of course, some argue that
this one-stop-shopping is actually a disadvantage. There are good arguments
for both points of view.
Apache & Linux
The other web server is Apache, which typically runs on Linux computers.
It takes a much more hardcore computer-type to run Linux and Apache.
It's beyond the scope of what somebody who's a business person first, and
computer technician second, would normally attempt.
If it's more difficult for the average person to run, then why is it so
popular? For one thing, it costs less (free in many cases).
Linux and Apache are both "open source" programs, which means that they're
created by an army of volunteer programmers instead of a traditional company.
Also, they can run on much cheaper computers.
The fact that they're created and updated by volunteer programmers is also
part of the downside: no company or organization is inherently
responsible for supporting them (a side-effect of them being free).
The tell-tale extensions
When you're browsing a website, is there an easy way to know
whether it's Apache or IIS? A lot of the time the URL (the
web page's address) will tip you off. If the URL ends in .js, .jsp, .cgi
or .php (e.g. www.example.com/faq.php) then it's probably an Apache web
server. URLs that end in .asp usually run on IIS, and .aspx runs exclusively
on IIS. URLs that end in .htm or .html are common to all web servers, so they
really won't help you identify the web server.
Which should you use?
Like so many things in life, the answer is, it depends. We here at Detroit
Metro Area Networks offer both IIS and Apache services. About 85% of our
clients are currently using the Linux/Apache boxes, while the other 15% are on
our Windows/IIS boxes. Apache web hosting used to be much cheaper and more
reliable than IIS, but IIS prices are approaching Apache prices, and IIS's
reliability has dramatically improved over the past couple of years.
If you have a good rapport with a professional, experienced web developer,
then you should probably just use the web server that they're familiar with.
(The only caveat here is to make sure that all of the technology they
implement on the website is widely used. That way if they go out of
business or you decide to quit using them, you can easily find another
professional who can step in and take over.)
If you plan on using a tool in the future that relies on a particular web
server, then obviously you should build your website on that type of web
server today. For example, more and more businesses use the extensive
abilities of the latest versions of Word and Excel to interact directly with
Beware the radicals
If nothing else, I hope you've gotten the feeling that there are
pros and cons to both IIS and Apache. (And be aware that if you're
talking to techies who claim that one web server, and its associated
technology, is wildly superior to the other, and they can't summarize the good
and bad points of both, then that's a sign they aren't very objective.) You
know what they say about the carpenter who only knows how to use a hammer,
right? Everything looks like a nail to him. It's the same thing with computer
The bottom line is to be aware of your options. If you are planning to have
a website built, learn a little about the pros and cons of both IIS and
Apache, and how your choice will affect what you want to do with your website
now and also down the road. Call us and we will be happy to go through the
options with you and help guide you in the proper decisions based on your