The computer helper: Internet jargon simplified
By Jay Dougherty May 3, 2006, 22:56 GMT
Washington - Many of us use the Internet every day and hear words like 'server' and 'URL' without really understanding what they mean. It's no wonder. The word 'server' can have multiple meanings, and the acronym 'URL' is not exactly something that made its way onto vocabularly lists in school. But you can speak with confidence about servers and URLs in no time. Read on to find out how.
Q: What's a server?
A: You hear the word server frequently when the subject of the Internet comes up because without servers the Internet couldn't exist.
A server is a service that allows client machines (including your computer) to run particular programs or perform particular tasks. It 'serves' information, files, or capabilities to other computers, like yours. Servers run on computers that themselves are called servers, so you might say there's confusion built in to the term.
Let's break it down to make it simpler. There are many types of servers. A Web server is a machine that feeds us Web pages when we browse the Internet. When you type in a Web address into your Web browser, a computer (server) set up with a Web server service feeds you the page you requested.
You also probably rely upon an e-mail server on a daily basis. Whenever you check your e-mail or send e-mail, an e-mail server is responsible for making sure your mail is sent and that you get the mail that was sent to you.
You may also hear the terms 'file server' and 'print server.' Just as with other types of servers, these services give our networked personal computers capabilities that by themselves they may not have. File servers are used to store files for access by others on a network. That network may be local, as in your office at work, or remote, as on the Internet. A print server is used in a network environment to manage requests to print to a particular printer available to all.
So when people talk about a 'server,' how do you know when they're talking about the computer that hosts a service or the computer used as a server itself? Often when people use the word 'server' without a modifier such as 'print' or 'web,' they're talking about the computer that hosts the service.
These server computers, by the way, are not necessarily the fancy mega-computers you imagine at big data centres. A server can be a simple notebook computer or desktop machine.
Q: What's a URL?
A: A URL is the official term for a Web address. URL is short for 'uniform resource locator,' and it's pronounced 'U,' 'R,' 'L,' with each letter uttered separately, not like 'earl.' A URL is an addressing scheme that Web browsers use to find and request information from a Web server.
It's easiest to explain the term by breaking down a common URL. Let's take, for instance, http://www.microsoft.com/windows/default.mspx. Taken as a whole, the Web address above is a URL - everything from 'http' to 'mspx.'
The 'http' part of the URL is known as the 'protocol.' A protocol is the communications standard by which a document on the Internet is retrieved. Most Internet URLs begin with 'http,' but some use 'https,' a protocol that offers increased security.
The 'www' part of the URL is what's known as the subdomain. Most World Wide Web servers use 'www,' but some use others. The 'microsoft' part of our sample URL is, taken together with the '.com' or other suffix, what's referred to as a domain name. This must be unique, and it is registered with a domain registry service. The '.com' part of the Internet address is what's known as the 'high level domain.' High-level domains can identify the type of organization, entity, or country. Common high-level domains include '.com,' for company, '.edu,' for 'education,' and '.org,' for 'organisation.'
The '/windows' part of our URL is a directory or folder on the server where the document we're trying to reach is located, and the 'default.mspx' is the actual document, or Web page, that we want.
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