Seven of the best open source web servers for your organisation

Web servers have come a long way since the CERN httpd was developed by Tim Berners-Lee in 1990 as part of the project that resulted in the first ever web browser.

Some of the leading suppliers of web servers today provide closed-source options for enterprises, but many others retain the open values embodied by Tim Berners-Lee. The source code for the CERN httpd was released into the public domain in 1993.

Computerworld UKlooks at the best open source web servers currently available for enterprises.

Read next: What are the advantages of open source software?

NGINX HTTP Server

NGINX HTTP Server

NGINXwas developed by Russian engineer Igor Syosev in 2002 in response to the growth in website traffic and broadband internet and the resulting need to manage 10,000 simultaneous connections. His solution is an asynchronous, event-driven architecture renowned for its high-performance and efficiency.

The company has enjoyed rapid growth since then. More than 300 million sites and applications are now on its platform, more than double the number of one year ago, and it has become the engine of choice for the majority of world's 100,000 busiest sites.

It's particularly popular for its scalability and the minimal resources it requires to handle heavy user loads. It can also function as a reverse proxy and as a mail proxy server.

Read next: NGINX moves towards web server dominance with European expansion

Apache HTTP Server

Apache HTTP Server

Apachewas founded in 1995 and became the most used HTTP server the next year, a title it went on to hold for almost 20 years.

Microsoft surpassed its market share in July 2014, and Apache has been losing ground to its competitors since then. It still powered a total of more than 374 million sites and had the largest market share of active sites at 42.4 percent as of April 2018.

The name Apache was long thought to be a pun on the words "A Patchy Server", until one of the creators revealed that it was in fact chosen in homage to the aggressive strategy of the Native American tribe that shares its name.

Apache uses a modular architecture to meet the differing demands of each individual piece of infrastructure. It's known for its reliability, an impressive range of features and support for numerous server-side programming languages.

Lighttpd
© Lighttpd

Lighttpd

"Lighttpd" is a portmanteau of "light" and "httpd" but pronounced "lighty" to describe its speed, flexibility and stability. The lightweight server is optimised for high-performance speed-critical environments and is ideally suited to servers with a high load.

Jan Kneschke developed the server with the same ambition as that of NGINX founder Igor Syosev: to solve the c10k problem of handling 10,000 concurrent connections on one server. The proof-of-concept design he began to develop while writing his university thesis in 2003 is now one of the most popular web servers available.

Lighttpd has a comparatively low memory footprint, small CPU-load and advanced set of features. Its high-level of integrability provides support for interfaces to external programmes and for web applications written in any programming language to be used with the server.

Hiawatha

Hiawatha

Hiawathawas developed by Hugo Leisink in 2002 while he was studying computer science in the Netherlands and wanted to support internet servers in the student houses. His objective was to develop a system that addressed the vulnerabilities found in other servers around security limitations and confusing configuration tools.

The server he wrote adds a number of unique security features to all the regular measures found in other leading web servers. It also uses a readable configuration syntax that can be used without the need for expertise in HTTP or CGI.

Hiawatha's strengths lie in its small size, impressive security and ease of installation. It's ideally suited for people seeking a lightweight alternative to Apache who prioritise security usability, speed and performance over advanced features.

Cherokee

Cherokee

Cherokeeis the third entry on our list to take its name from a Native American tribe. This one was created in 2001 by Akamai Technologies engineering director Alvaro Lopez Ortega, who wanted to combine speed and functionality in a modular and lightweight design.

Cherokee has since gained prominence as a scalable, high-performance, and user-friendly web server with a low memory footprint and load balancing facilities.

An impressive range of features includes a web-based administration interface called cherokee-admin that supports a straightforward configuration of the server and all its features. Cherokee runs natively on Linux, Mac OS X, BSD and Solaris, but not on Windows.

Monkey HTTP Server

Monkey HTTP Server

Monkey HTTP is a lightweight server and development stack that was originally optimised for Linux but is now also compatible with Mac OS X. It was designed for embedded devices, and as a result is highly scalable, with low memory and low CPU consumption.

The project began life in 2001 with few ambitions beyond learning through experimentation but took a turn towards professional applications in 2008 when it was rewritten as an event-driven system.

The server functions through a hybrid mechanism that provides each thread with the capacity to attend thousands of clients. It offers high-performance under heavy load in a minuscule server that is easy to install and ideal for embedded devices.

Apache Tomcat

Apache Tomcat

Apache Tomcat is a Servlet and Java Server Pages container developed under the Apache license that can act as both a standalone server and an add-on to an existing web server such as Apache.

While the Apache HTTP Server functions as a traditional server for static web pages, Tomcat is primarily designed to deploy Java servlets and JSPs in dynamic websites and used by Java developers to run web applications.

Tomcat can be used in conjunction with the Apache HTTP server, but also functions as a capable web server in its own right thanks to its own internal HTTP server.

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