Understanding Client Server Relationships

One important concept which most people overlook when it comes to website hosting or computing in general is the concept of client server relationships.

You’ll hear our support team talking about the mail client or web client being at fault, or the server crashing. Now, some of you will instinctively know what these relate to and mean. But for a lot people, it all sounds like gibberish. So, if you are in the latter camp, this tech tip is for you!

Imagine you’re at a restaurant. It’s an odd restaurant, with not much in the way of customer service. You’re the ‘client’ and you walk in and sit down. A waiter or waitress comes over and stands patiently waiting for you to ask a question – they’re the server. Now, you can ask the server a question, but if you don’t ask it in the right way they won’t understand what on earth you’re talking about. This way in which the communication takes place is called the protocol. Now, depending on what you want there’s a different protocol. These protocols are established by a committee somewhere else, but we’ll leave that there for now as that would be a whole other blog post! So for biscuits, the protocol that you would need to say is: ‘Hi. Give me biscuits’. The server would then provide you with biscuits. However, if you were to say, ‘Hi. Give me my favourite snack’, then the server obviously wouldn’t have a clue what you’re on about.

It’s a similar relationship in computing. Your ‘client’ is a program on your computer that talks to a ‘server’ which is located in a data centre somewhere in the world. Your application requests the information it wants via a protocol depending on the type of information. Here are some examples of some protocols you could have: http (hypertext transfer protocol) which allows websites to be displayed; FTP (file transfer protocol) which allows files to be sent and received to and from a server; SMTP (simple mail transfer protocol) which is the protocol used for sending emails etc. So, going back to an earlier example, your ‘email client’ would be the program you use to read your emails and your ‘web client’ is the browser that you use to view websites.

Hopefully it now all makes sense. Stay tuned for more pearls of wisdom!

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