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What is a Webserver?
Last updated: March 28, 2011
A web server is a program that serves content (web pages) using HTTP protocol.
The content can either be static or dynamic. Every webserver in the internet has a public IP address and one or more domain names resolving to that IP address. When you enter the URL http://www.example.com/index.html in your browser, a request will be sent from the browser to the server hosting "example.com" (the server is identified using the DNS resolution mechanism). The server then fetches the page named index.html, parses it (using the handler of the programming language in which the content is coded) and sends it to your browser and the browser will display the content.
Some common web servers are:
The term web server is also commonly used in reference to the computer on which the web server program is running.
How Do I Choose a Linux Distribution?
Last updated: March 28, 2011
So you're pretty sure you want give Linux a spin, but you don't know where to start. Perhaps you are thinking about signing up for a Virtual Server here at Network Redux and you don't know which of our Linux offerings to choose. First and foremost, your choice of Linux distribution should be tailored to your needs as a user. "Great! But how do I know what my needs as a user are?" This article aims to help you figure out what your needs are and, thus by extension, which Linux distribution to try.
The first thing you'll want to think about when choosing a Linux distribution is what you'll be using your computer for. It may help you narrow down your search if, for example, you know that you'll mostly be browsing the web and using e-mail, or mostly serving files with very little graphical stuff going on. Of course Linux distributions exist for your mobile phone, iPod and pretty much any other device you can think of, but those things are outside the scope of this article. For now, we'll stick to a server vs. desktop paradigm, as these two areas have been the focus of much Linux development.
When we talk about desktop computing, we just mean computers (which may be "desktops" or "laptops") which reside in the home and are used for day-to-day tasks such as Internet access, media, games, and so on. For many years Linux was considered to be second-rate when it came to desktop environments, but much development in recent years has focused on improving the desktop Linux experience, with a lot of great results. What you're looking for in a desktop edition of Linux is something which is easy to install and easy to use. You generally don't need the kind of raw power and extreme customization that tend to be important in business-oriented environments (though of course you can also get that for the desktop, if you want it).
Perhaps the leading desktop Linux distribution at this time of this writing is Ubuntu, which is developed by Canonical, Ltd. Ubuntu prides itself on being incredibly easy to use even to the first time Linux user. It is also very graphically slick and attractive, and comes with a full suite of applications already installed. Other popular desktop Linux distributions which may have a steeper learning curve for the novice user are Debian, Fedora, openSUSE, and Mandriva. Laptop users will have additional needs for the operating system to address. Linux on the laptop needs to be good at configuring wireless internet connectivity, the trackpad, and battery management right out of the box. Ubuntu, particularly, has made this kind of thing a mission, and has performed admirably.
When we talk about servers we are talking not only of specialized hardware, but also special uses to which that hardware is put. Servers typically reside outside of the home in offices and data centers, and tend to need to be constantly powered up and online. They are most often used to share resources such as files, web sites, printers, databases and so on. Some important considerations for servers are availability (the ability of the server to stay up and running and doing its job for as much of the time as possible), stability (the absence of any problematic hardware and software that would crash or otherwise interrupt the server and thus damage its availability), and pure performance (the raw power that allows a server to crunch lots of data). Servers tend not to need fancy graphics, or any graphics at all. Many servers run in a "headless" (meaning not connected to a monitor) mode with a remote command-line interface only.
If you are running a server, or renting a chunk of a server, it is likely that you already have something of an idea of what kind of Linux distribution you want. Just in case you need an enterprise-level solution but have no idea what to choose, we'll throw out some names for you to check out. There are a handful of really good free and non-free Linux distributions designed specifically for enterprise-level use. You may went to look at Red Hat Enterprise Linux, SUSE Linux Enterprise, and Oracle Enterprise Linux if you've got a budget and you want a powerful and well-supported product. If you're looking for an enterprise Linux but don't have the money, or don't need a support team, you can get a just-as-powerful free enterprise distribution such as CentOS, OpenSUSE, and Ubuntu Server Edition. The caveat with these free options is that the only support they offer is what you can find in the form of online documentation and user community forums (which is often a considerable amount--and not to be underestimated).
If you are thinking of becoming a Network Redux client in one of our VS plans, you may be interested in a related article called How Do I Choose a Distro for my VS? where we go through each of our Linux offerings in a little more detail.