Know your server before you rotate

Posted on March 5, 2001

Understanding and knowing the details of every single type of server on the market today is not necessary to be successful on the Internet. In fact, I've gotten to this point without knowing much of anything concerning a variety of things, including server types, server names and dogsledding.

So for my benefit and your viewing enjoyment, I've put together things you might want to know in regard to your server. If you do not want to know this, please send me a self-addressed stamped envelope with the reason you don't want this information and I promise to glance at your letter and toss it behind my computer. You should also check out's The Truth About Servers.

There are three basic options of servers to use through a browser: http, ftp and gopher. I would bet the Twinkies in my pocket you are most familiar with http. Most Web pages are viewed using this option. The newest browsers are so smart you just have to type in the address and it automatically knows you are using that type of server. It acts much like a server at a restaurant -- you are supplied with a menu (the navigation on the page) and a table (your computer), and you must order something (choose an option with your mouse) to get something (a huge stack of pancakes). The server translates your order and processes it, unless he forgets the maple syrup by the time he reaches the kitchen. The computer server, on the other hand, will just time out, and you'll have to reorder.

FTP, which stands for File Transfer Protocol, is used most often when uploading and downloading files. Therefore, you need special privileges to do this, and rarely does one FTP files from a Web browser. If you are familiar with moving files, you probably use an FTP program instead of your browser.

The only people who use the gopher option probably think Ronald Regan is still president and are currently waiting for the "Where's the Beef?" commerical to air on TV. Gopher, the original Internet, started as a non-graphical way to transmit information via the World Wide Web. It doesn't get a lot of traffic now, so you might as well forget it exists. There's also mailto (to e-mail someone), news (newsgroups) and telnet (a way to login to a host on the Internet), but these are also used in another form than just typing it into a browser.

Back to the server (I've made it this far without a volleyball joke, so I will try to continue in a serious manner). The two types that power most Internet sites are application servers and web servers (for a list of types, visit Webopedia ). Web servers work in accordance with html pages and other scripting languages to spit out a page to the end user. Webopedia's overview explains this in more detail with examples, but no sign of pancakes. Application servers are more prevalent in database scenarios, to connect the information to a specific program or user. You may have heard of some of the more popular ones -- ColdFusion, Oracle, WebObjects -- and now you know what they are.

On top of all this, you need to know what platform you are running, whether it be Mac OS, Windows NT, Unix or something else. Changing platforms could cause a crisis. For instance, Unix servers are case-sensitive for calling html pages, whereas Windows NT and Mac OS systems are not. More importantly, some web and application servers can be run only on a specific type of platform.

The more you know, the better chance everything will work properly. You could set up your own server for about $750. Remember, a good jump server can beat another team single-handedly any given day as long as he makes it over the Net.