In computing, a server is a computer program or a device that provides functionality for other programs or devices, called “clients”. This architecture is called the client–server model, and a single overall computation is distributed across multiple processes or devices. Servers can provide various functionalities, often called “services”, such as sharing data or resources among multiple clients, or performing computation for a client. A single server can serve multiple clients, and a single client can use multiple servers. A client process may run on the same device or may connect over a network to a server on a different device. Typical servers are database servers, file servers, mail servers, print servers, web servers, game servers, and application servers.
Client–server systems are today most frequently implemented by (and often identified with) the request–response model: a client sends a request to the server, which performs some action and sends a response back to the client, typically with a result or acknowledgement. Designating a computer as “server-class hardware” implies that it is specialized for running servers on it. This often implies that it is more powerful and reliable than standard personal computers, but alternatively, large computing clusters may be composed of many relatively simple, replaceable server components.
The use of the word server in computing comes from queuing theory, where it dates to the mid 20th century, being notably used in Kendall (1953) (along with “service”), the paper that introduced Kendall’s notation. In earlier papers, such as the Erlang (1909), more concrete terms such as “[telephone] operators” are used.
In computing, “server” dates at least to RFC 5 (1969), one of the earliest documents describing ARPANET (the predecessor of Internet), and is contrasted with “user”, distinguishing two types of host: “server-host” and “user-host”. The use of “serving” also dates to early documents, such as RFC 4, contrasting “serving-host” with “using-host”.
The Jargon File defines “server” in the common sense of a process performing service for requests, usually remote, with the 1981 (1.1.0) version reading:
SERVER n. A kind of DAEMON which performs a service for the requester, which often runs on a computer other than the one on which the server runs.