Client and server role
The client-server characteristic describes the relationship of cooperating programs in an application. The server component provides a function or service to one or many clients, which initiate requests for such services. Servers are classified by the services they provide. For example, a web server serves web pages and a file server serves computer files. A shared resource may be any of the server computer’s software and electronic components, from programs and data to processors and storage devices. The sharing of resources of a server constitutes a service.
Whether a computer is a client, a server, or both, is determined by the nature of the application that requires the service functions. For example, a single computer can run a web servers and file server software at the same time to serve different data to clients making different kinds of requests. Client software can also communicate with server software within the same computer. Communication between servers, such as to synchronize data, is sometimes called inter-server or server-to-server communication.
Client and server communication
In general, a service is an abstraction of computer resources and a client does not have to be concerned with how the server performs while fulfilling the request and delivering the response. The client only has to understand the response based on the well-known application protocol, i.e. the content and the formatting of the data for the requested service.
Clients and servers exchange messages in a request–response messaging pattern. The client sends a request, and the server returns a response. This exchange of messages is an example of inter-process communication. To communicate, the computers must have a common language, and they must follow rules so that both the client and the server know what to expect. The language and rules of communication are defined in a communications protocol. All client-server protocols operate in the application layer. The application layer protocol defines the basic patterns of the dialogue. To formalize the data exchange even further, the server may implement an application programming interface (API). The API is an abstraction layer for accessing a service. By restricting communication to a specific content format, it facilitates parsing. By abstracting access, it facilitates cross-platform data exchange.
A server may receive requests from many distinct clients in a short period of time. A computer can only perform a limited number of tasks at any moment, and relies on a scheduling system to prioritize incoming requests from clients to accommodate them. To prevent abuse and maximize availability, the server software may limit the availability to clients. Denial of service attacks are designed to exploit a server’s obligation to process requests by overloading it with excessive request rates. Encryption should be applied if sensitive information is to be communicated between the client and the server.