What Computer Servers Are and What They Do

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When it comes to computer technology, there are several concepts that may be difficult to grasp, like the cloud and Big Data. You might lump computer servers right in there with the likes of machine learning and data algorithms. In reality, what servers are and how they work are probably simpler than you’d expect.

What Are Computer Servers?

A server is actually just a big, powerful computer, but a commercial server isn’t like the kind of computer you might use to read this. A server doesn’t have the screen or keyboard. And although your computer stores files and data you’ve put on it, a server stores all the data associated with the websites that are hosted by it and shares that info with all computers and mobile devices (like yours) that need to access them. Your personal computer is designed to communicate with humans, but servers are designed to communicate with other computers.

How Do Servers Work?

On the most basic level, when you type in a URL in your Internet browser (like Chrome, Safari or Explorer), your computer communicates with the server hosting that website to get the data to pull the site up on your machine.

How Servers Connect to the Internet

First, your browser breaks down a URL into three parts:

  1. The protocol (“http”): The hypertext transfer protocol, or HTTP, is the language that browsers and Web servers use to speak to each other.
  2. The server name (“www.chartercollege.edu”): The Domain Name System, or DNS, translates the domain name that you know into a numerical internet protocol (IP) address.
  3. The file name (“web-server.html”): The file name relates to all files like images, computer language stylesheets (like CSS and HTML), fonts and more, that are relevant to a particular website.

The browser translates the server name into an IP address and the IP address is how a browser connects to the Web server. Your browser connects to the server at that specific IP address.

Your IP address is assigned by your Internet service provider and most change each time you log on. But a server always has the same IP address. This is how your browser uses a Web server’s IP address to access a website’s specific HTML code so that you can pull up the site.

Once your machine and the Web server connect, your browser sends a request to the server asking for the particular file. This is the specific page within a website that you’ve included in the URL you typed in your browser.

When your browser has connected to the server at the right IP address, the server sends all the HTML text for the Web page you requested to your browser. From there, your browser converts the data into the Web page that pops up on your screen. What’s amazing is that this all happens in seconds!

All that information is exchanged and you land on the exact Web page you want.

If you’re fascinated by the behind-the-scenes work that computers do and want to learn more about it, you might want to consider a career as a computer technician or another IT professional. Contact Charter College today to learn how we might be able to help you get there.