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20 Different Types of Servers and How Each Works

Introduction: Understanding Different Types of Servers
Servers are crucial components in computing and networking. A server is a computer system that provides services and resources to other devices on a network, known as clients. There are many types of servers optimized for various functions. Getting to know the different categories of servers is important, as choosing the right server type can impact performance, security, costs, and other key factors.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore 20+ major server types, their roles, and popular platforms in each category.

Web Servers
Web servers host websites, web apps, APIs, and other online content. They handle HTTP/HTTPS requests from clients like web browsers.

Popular web server platforms:

  • Apache – Most widely used, open-source
  • Nginx – High-performance for busy sites
  • Microsoft IIS

Web servers run over 35% of active websites on the internet.

File Servers
File servers provide centralized file storage/sharing services to users on a network. This eliminates need for local storage on each computer.

Common file server types:

  • Windows File Server
  • Linux Samba – Open source file sharing
  • FreeNAS – Powerful open source platform

Database Servers
Database servers host and manage structured data that support applications and services. They allow clients to query, insert, update, and delete data through a DBMS.

Leading database server software:

  • MySQL
  • Microsoft SQL Server
  • Oracle Database

Databases drive everything from ecommerce to banking apps.

Application Servers
Application servers host and deliver web applications and services. They handle application logic/processing instead of just static content.

Major platforms:

  • IBM WebSphere
  • Oracle WebLogic
  • Red Hat JBoss

Application servers are critical for delivering modern web apps at scale.

Mail Servers
Mail servers specialize in managing email communication. They handle sending/receiving/storing email messages by integrating with other mail servers and email clients.

Well-known mail servers:

  • Microsoft Exchange Server
  • Postfix
  • Sendmail

Centralized enterprise mail servers can manage 10,000+ employee inboxes.

Print Servers
Print servers allow many network users to share printers and other printing devices. They can improve security and monitoring for printer fleets.


  • Windows Print Server
  • CUPS printing system
  • PaperCut

DNS Servers
DNS servers translate domain names into IP addresses to route internet traffic. The distributed global DNS system is essential for finding websites and services through human-readable names.

Top DNS platforms:

  • Microsoft DNS
  • Public DNS services (Google, Cloudflare)

Without DNS servers the internet as we know it would not function.

Proxy Servers
Proxy servers act as an intermediary between clients and external servers to improve security, speed, reliability and monitoring capabilities.

Well-known proxies:

  • Squid
  • Apache Traffic Server
  • Nginx

Proxies are leveraged by a large portion of enterprises.

FTP Servers
FTP (file transfer protocol) servers allow users to upload/download files. FTP remains popular for distributing large files and providing remote file access.

Prominent FTP solutions:

  • FileZilla Server
  • ProFTPD
  • vsftpd

Game Servers
Game servers enable multiplayer online gaming by hosting game worlds persistently. They synchronize states and communicate between players over the internet.

Game servers support massively popular titles like:

  • Minecraft
  • World of Warcraft
  • Counter-Strike franchises

Virtual Servers / VPS
Virtual private servers (VPS) partition physical servers into isolated virtual machines using hypervisors. This provides security/customization of dedicated hardware at lower costs.

Top virtualization platforms:

  • VMware
  • VirtualBox
  • Hyper-V
  • OpenStack

The global VPS market is projected to grow over 20% per year.

Chat Servers
Chat servers facilitate real-time text, voice and video communication between users over networks. They are critical to modern team chat apps.

Well-known chat platforms:

  • Internet Relay Chat (IRC)
  • Discord – Gamer-focused chat
  • Slack – Business collaborative chat

Media Servers
Media servers store and stream audio, video and photos to connected devices. Features like transcoding make your media accessible on more devices.

Leading media server software:

  • Plex
  • Emby
  • VideoLAN

Backup Servers
Backup servers provide specialized storage to protect critical data. They take backups from other servers and endpoints for disaster recovery.


  • Veeam Backup & Replication
  • Commvault software
  • Many cloud backup services

Security Servers
Security servers protect infrastructure and data through tools like firewalls, intrusion detection, malware scanning and VPN gateways.

Major security server offerings:

  • Cisco firewalls
  • Symantec Endpoint Protection
  • McAfee ePolicy Orchestrator (ePO)
  • IBM QRadar SIEM

VoIP Servers
VoIP servers enable routing of voice/video calls over IP networks instead of analog phone infrastructure. This facilitates unified comms and call management features.

Well-known VoIP platforms:

DHCP Servers
DHCP servers automatically assign IP addresses and network configurations to devices, simplifying connectivity.

Common DHCP solutions:

  • Microsoft DHCP Server
  • ISC DHCP Server
  • Dnsmasq

Time Servers
Time servers provide precise time over networks using NTP. Accurate time is essential for time-sensitive operations in sectors like finance and healthcare.

Prominent NTP platforms:

  • NTP Pool Project
  • chrony
  • Meinberg NTP

Remote Access Servers
Remote access servers allow users to securely access private networks and resources over the public internet through protocols like VPNs and RDP. This facilitates remote work.

Widely used remote access servers:

  • Windows Remote Desktop Services
  • Citrix solutions
  • OpenVPN

IoT Servers
IoT servers provide a hub for internet-connected devices to communicate data that can then be analyzed and put into action. IoT promises to enhance many sectors through connected sensors and automation.

With knowledge of the various types of servers available, one can architect solutions tailored for specific use cases that maximize performance, security and costs. Servers form the foundation powering modern digital infrastructure and services that organizations and individuals rely upon daily. Choosing appropriate server technology is crucial for any IT environment.