What Does a Server Do?

By: HowStuffWorks.com Contributors  | 
An image of an exposed server mother board. 
An image of an exposed server mother board.

Technology runs the world. As such, you've likely seen, used, or enjoyed the benefits of servers. But what does a server do? At it's core, a server is a powerful computer or computer program that provides data, resources, or services to other "client" computers across a network.

Servers can be counted on to perform several key functions including hosting, processing, storing, and managing data files. Enterprising consumers can, with a little bit of instructional help, turn their unused PC into a makeshift server too.


It's time to explore the various types of servers, and explore why they remain a foundational component of modern technological advancement.

Types of Servers

Servers come in various forms, each designated to perform specific roles within a network. Understanding the different types of servers is the first step towards understanding the intricacies of digital services and application operations [source: Lowe]. There's a lot to unpack, but to start, here is a brief overview of the most common types of servers available:

Web Servers

A web server hosts and delivers web pages to clients upon request. When a user accesses a website, their browser sends a request to the web server, which then fetches and serves the requested page.


Application Servers

An application server provides an environment for running and managing web applications. They support the installation and operation of web apps, allowing for complex transactions and database access. They're key components in software development and deployment, bridging the gap between database servers and the end-user.

Database Servers

Specialized to provide database services, a database server is designed for data storage, retrieval, and management. They handle queries from client machines and applications, allowing for the manipulation and analysis of stored data.

File Servers

A file server is used to store and manage files in a network, allowing users to share and access files across different devices. They play a crucial role in collaborative environments, facilitating easy access and management of shared resources.

Mail Servers

A mail server handles the sending, receiving, and storing of email messages. They are essential components of email communication systems, comprising two main types: SMTP servers for sending emails and POP3/IMAP servers for receiving emails.

Proxy Servers

A proxy server acts as an intermediary between a client and the internet, providing security, anonymity, and content filtering. They can cache data to speed up common requests, control internet usage, and block access to specific websites or services.


Virtual Servers

A virtual server is a software based server that emulates physical servers. They allow for the creation of multiple, isolated server environments on a single physical server, optimizing resource use and providing flexibility in hosting environments.

Again, servers are the backbone of the internet and network computing. From web and application servers that power your daily internet use to specialized servers like mail, game, and DNS servers, understanding each type helps us better understand our underlying tech-centric infrastructure.


What Does a Server Do?

To reiterate what was touched on above, server hardware enables a range of tasks depending on the it's design. More specifically, engineers rely on the various server types to:

  • Host websites and applications
  • Store, back up, and manage data
  • Process requests and deliver services
  • Enable email and communication services
  • Supporting multiplayer online games
  • Facilitate file sharing and collaboration

It's ability to host, process, store, and manage data makes it fundamental to the operation of the internet and the myriad of services it offers. As technology advances, the capabilities and importance of servers are only set to increase, further solidifying their position a t the heart of our connected world.


Turning an Unused Computer Into a Dedicated Server

If you have a computer that you're no longer using due to its slow speed, you can turn it into a network server for other computers in your household [source: Murphy].

You'll have to make sure you have a big enough hard drive (at least 100 GB) to store all the data you'll be putting on it, especially if you'll be using it to store videos, images, music or other files that take up a lot of room. It's better not to use a wireless connection to attach the computers to each other.


Plug your computer into a home networking router, and while your computer is running, click on the start button, then Settings. Click Control Panel, and double click Network Setup Wizard (icon of a house with a red roof).

On the first two screens that the Wizard will offer you, click Next; then click the second choice, "This computer connects to the Internet through a residential gateway or through another computer on my network." Then click Next.

You'll then get a screen that prompts you to enter a computer description; then click Next. The next screen you get says to name your network by specifying a workgroup name, which you should leave as MSHOME, unless the other computers in your house are using a different workgroup name. Click Next.

The next screen gives you the option of turning on or off file and printer sharing, so click the top choice (turn on file and printer sharing). Click Next twice more, and then wait for the Wizard to finish.

Click the last option in the dialog box (Just finish the Wizard) and click Next. Click Finish to close the Wizard. Repeat this process for any other computer that you want to hook up to your home network server.


The Essential Role of Servers in Modern Computing

From the moment we browse the web, send an email, stream a video, or engage in online games, servers are working tirelessly in the background to ensure that content and services are delivered quickly, reliably, and securely. Understanding the diverse roles and types of servers gives us a deeper appreciation for the complexity and sophistication of the digital infrastructure that underpins our modern society.

The intricate dance between different servers — web, application, database, mail, and more — highlights a highly coordinated ecosystem designed to optimize performance and user experience. These servers not only store and manage vast amounts of data but also perform critical computations, facilitate communication, and enable collaborate across the globe.


As technology continues to advance, the evolution of server capabilities and functionalities promises to further enhance our ability to access, share, and manipulate information in ways we can only begin to imagine. And, by learning more about how servers work, we gain insight into the infrastructure that enables the digital experiences that we so often take for granted.

Frequently Answered Questions

What is network server with example?
A network server is a computer system that manages network resources. For example, a file server is a computer system that stores files and makes them available to users on the network. A print server is a computer system that manages printers and print jobs.