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 Windows.

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!). keepingeye

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 IIS.

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 tools.

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 needs. 734-992-2828.

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