The Ultimate Guide to Website Speed - Part 1: Why Speed Makes a Better Server

November 6, 2020

The Backend Analogy

Welcome to the Web Express (WebEx). The only ticket to enjoy a ride here, is your imagination!

Remember the whole speed train analogy? If you don’t, have no fear; the train hasn’t left the station yet. The speed train is our imaginary ride to show just how much we love speed and it is going to help us crack the algebra behind web servers.

This whole article aims to simplify the ordeal of web servers, hosting and why we at Rarefy Hosting have chosen the fastest train there is, OpenLiteSpeed Web Server. Come along now!

Imagine, you are aboard WebEx’s speed train and it’s a two ways trip. You are to deliver a message. The train takes off from WebEx station and is headed for Biz city. On getting to Biz city however, you need a card with a code to show the city guards. This gives you access to the city and lets you deliver the message. The train then heads back to the take-off point. You got the response to the message.

This other-worldly scenario is just like how the web operates. There is a lot of backend activities that happens when we surf the web. The base of all these web operations is the HTTP. This means Hypertext Transfer Protocol.

The HTTP is just like you; it carries messages across the internet. It is sent from one address which is like WebEx station, our take-off point, to another address which is like our destination, Biz city. Every site has a unique address (IP address) on the internet usually in form of numbers, 112.341.29. Something like that. These addresses help the HTTP do an effective job of delivering the messages to the right sites.    

There is protocol however to delivering the message, like with the card that guarantees you access to the city. Protocol is just a fancy word for the right way things should be done. The message the HTTP carries has to be delivered just in the right way at the destination address to get an actual response.

To bring the story home, the message of the HTTP is a bunch of codes. These codes are automatically generated (which is quite the relief!) when you try to browse a site. Behind the scene, the code is generated from your web browser and then sent to the address of the site you are trying to look up. This code though, can only access the site if it is sent in the correct format. The observance of protocols by the internet is what gives it its ordered structure.

Let’s imagine that sites have city gates just like Biz city. The internet has predefined guidelines that specify how the requests and response codes should look like. These gates are there to check these codes and if all protocols are observed, a response is gotten. The website you are trying to access is then brought up on your screen.

Web Servers are just like these gates.

They inspect the HTTP message and you get a response depending on what’s inside the server’s lockbox. The response of the web server comes most times in the form of an HTML document which determines the structure and display of what you eventually get to see on your browser.

This analogy is just a brief visualization of that whole lot of backend activities. There are many publicly available in-depth materials that explain more on the world of HTTP and the inner workings of the internet. It’s thrilling to go through it all but we are here though, to explore web servers.

Web Server

Now, technical time!

A server is a computer or computer program used to manage network resources. It can be set up to control access to networks, send and receive emails or host a website.

A web server, on the other hand, is a software installed on a server to receive, process and respond to HTTP requests made over the internet. It displays a website’s contents through processing, delivering and storing webpages. On the backend, the response usually comes in HTML format from the server.

A web server might employ other programs such as PHP for output.

These web servers support other protocols though. The Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) and the File Transfer Protocol (FTP) for email and file transfer and storage respectively are examples. Don’t worry, we are not delving into all these. We are gunning for speed. Let’s go!

The whole structure to how web servers work has been explained using our city analogy but an additional interesting fact to note is that the IP address to request sites are found through a Domain Name System (DNS) translation or a search of the site’s cache.

One more interesting fact is that a web server can be static or dynamic.

A Static Web Server, usually a computer and an HTTP software only, sends out hosted files as input originally to a browser. This is just garbage in, garbage out. The source files uploaded by the site owner for the viewers does not change over time and the website content is always constant.

A Dynamic Web Server however has a web server along with an application server and a database. The PHP previously mentioned plays a role here. The presence of the application server allows for flexibility as the hosted files can be updated before being sent out and the database allows the server generate contents.

The price of this flexibility is a little more complexity as opposed to the ease of the static web browser.

While all this may seem as an adequate break down of web servers, there is more to it.

Over the years, various companies and individuals have come to invest time and resources in developing better web servers. The developments have brought evolution, as each server rolled out seeks to be better than its predecessors. This has led to a vast collection of web servers, some being more common than others. This provides an ample price range and a better hosting experience for businesses. The deeper dive into this vast collection of web servers is the track our speed train is on now!

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