Servers, OS’s & Web Server Software
When it comes to web hosting, there are a few servers, operating systems & software stacks to consider. We’ll discuss a few of the main ones here.
A server is another name for a computer and generally comes in 2 types. There are Virtual Servers (Cloud or VPS) and Dedicated Servers (Physical Metal Servers).
Virtual servers run on Dedicated servers. You can have many virtual servers running on one powerful dedicated server. You would usually want a virtual server if you did not want your website to share a dedicated server with other website users (shared hosting).
Dedicated servers are physical metal servers and are usually much more powerful than virtual servers. You would want a dedicated server if you did not want a virtual server sharing a dedicated server with other server users, or if you did not want your website to share a dedicated server with other website users (shared hosting), or if your website or application demands a lot of processing power.
Server providers will usually offer servers with the following responsibilities:
Unmanaged Servers – The provider is responsible for providing power and internet access to the server. Tools are provided for quick OS installs, however, it is the users responsibility to manage the OS and any software installed on it.
Fully Managed Servers – The provider will manage every aspect of the server on an ongoing basis. The provider will also help with any website issues such as speed, security and errors. The customer is only responsible for managing their own website content.
Now let’s look at the different OS’s to install on the server.
The first thing to consider when choosing an OS is what you are trying to do.
The server OS will determine the web server software that is used. The web server software is responsible for processing and serving your websites for your website visitors. Each has their own merits. If your websites are written in PHP, such as most modern CMS (WordPress, Joomla!, Drupal) then you’ll also need PHP and database server software such as MySQL. We’ll touch on this in more detail later.
Generally speaking, Linux will provide more flexibility at less cost to host almost anything.
There are 2 main server OS types:
Linux Hosting runs on the Linux Operating System. Linux is free to use and is also open source, meaning you can change it as you see fit. Linux can use many web server softwares and control panels.
Here are a few examples:
Web Server Software:
LAMP – Linux (OS), Apache (Web Server), MySQL (database), PHP
LEMP – Linux (OS), NGINX (Web Server), MySQL (database), PHP
LLMP – Linux (OS), LightSpeed (Web Server), MySQL (database), PHP
Web Hosting Control Panels:
and many, many more…
Windows Hosting runs on the Windows Server Operating System and uses the IIS web server software. Windows OS is not free nor open source. Windows Hosting supports everything you need to host a website. You would likely use Windows if you use MS-SQL databases, ASP.NET, or . NET Core on your website. These all require Windows OS running on your server.
Web Hosting Control Panels:
and a few more less mainstream panels.
Web Server Software (stack)
There are many web server types available, and as above, which one you choose will depend on what you are trying to achieve. If you’re not sure, please feel free to get in touch. You’ll usually need to combine a few pieces of software to be able to serve websites. You’ll need the Web Server software that is running on the Server OS and most likely a database server software and PHP software as well. When you combine all of these together, they are referred to as a software stack. We’ll cover some here.
LAMP – Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP
The Apache web server software is by far the most common type. It’s both free and open source and has been tried and tested since 1995. It makes use of .htaccess files for controlling how Apache loads your site for redirects etc. and is included with most web hosting control panels as standard. Nearly all website software will work with Apache out-of-the-box with no extra configuration needed. Apache offers no form of website caching. We’ll cover this later on, however, the the gist of caching is to save the website content being processed so that it is available right away without the web server software having to process the same content over and over for each website visitor, which takes time. So caching essentially speeds up websites. There are a few 3rd party softwares such as Redis & Varnish which can be installed onto the server to enable caching.
LEMP – Linux, NGINX, MySQL, PHP
The NGINX “engine-x” web server software was introduced in 2002 to be a more efficient server software. It can, out-of-the-box, outperform Apache in almost every way. It’s both free and open source and is now starting to be included with some web hosting control panels. It does not use Apache .htaccess files which in turn requires users to perform additional steps to setup include files for redirects etc. which are usually included in the website softwares .htaccess file. NGINX also offers inbuilt caching. NGINX specially offers caching of static files such as text based files: html, xml, json, css, js and also media type files such as jpg, gif, png, ico, mp4, ogg etc.
LLMP – Linux, LightSpeed, MySQL, PHP
The LiteSpeed web server (LSWS) software was introduced in 2002. LiteSpeed is a proprietary, paid for web server software for which an open source variant is also available. With the paid for software you also get commercial support from LiteSpeed, rather than community support from the free software. LiteSpeed is what is called a binary replacement for Apache. This means you can simply drop LiteSpeed on the server to replace Apache with no configuration needed. LiteSpeed also honors the Apache .htaccess files. LiteSpeed is debatably faster than Apache and NGINX and also offers inbuilt caching of static files and dynamic files to make a ‘full page cache’. A dynamic file could be described as shopping cart web page, where the content of the web page being served to your website visitor depends on what the visitor searched for. In contrast, if you ‘full page’ cached this page, no matter what the next visitors were searching for, they would always see the ‘full page’ that resulted from the first visitors search. LiteSpeed is able to overcome these issues using modern caching techniques such as public & private caches and ESI Hole Punching. This can be achieved by installing the LiteSpeed cache plugin into your website or using the .htaccess file. For this reason, LiteSpeed is the go to web server for Ecommerce stores or anyone looking for the fastest websites. We offer LiteSpeed on our shared web hosting packages and as a add-on for Fully Managed Servers.
Take a look at some real world benchmark comparisons here: https://www.litespeedtech.com/benchmarks
IIS (Internet Information Server) is one of the most powerful web servers from Microsoft that is used to host your website. You would generally use IIS if your website or application was written in ASP.NET, or . NET or you wanted to use MS-SQL.