The client-server software architecture model distinguishes client systems from server systems, which communicate over a computer network. A client-server application is a distributed system comprising of both client and server software. A client software process may initiate a communication session, while the server waits for requests from any client.
Client/server describes the relationship between two computer programs in which one program, the client, makes a service request from another program, the server. Standard networked functions such as email exchange, web access and database access, are based on the client/server model. For example, a web browser is a client program at the user computer that may access information at any web server in the world. To check your bank account from your computer, a web browser client program in your computer forwards your request to a web server program at the bank. That program may in turn forward the request to its own database client program that sends a request to a database server at another bank computer to retrieve your account balance. The balance is returned back to the bank database client, which in turn serves it back to the web browser client in your personal computer, which displays the information for you.
The client/server model has become one of the central ideas of network computing. Most business applications being written today use the client/server model. So do the Internet's main application protocols, such as , SMTP, , DNS, etc. In marketing, the term has been used to distinguish distributed computing by smaller dispersed computers from the "monolithic" centralized computing of mainframe computers. But this distinction has largely disappeared as mainframes and their applications have also turned to the client/server model and become part of network computing.
Each instance of the client software can send data requests to one or more connected servers. In turn, the servers can accept these requests, process them, and return the requested information to the client. Although this concept can be applied for a variety of reasons to many different kinds of applications, the architecture remains fundamentally the same.
The most basic type of client-server architecture employs only two types of hosts: clients and servers. This type of architecture is sometimes referred to as two-tier. It allows devices to share files and resources.
These days, clients are most often web browsers, although that has not always been the case. Servers typically include web servers, database servers and mail servers. Online gaming is usually client-server too. In the specific case of MMORPG, the servers are typically operated by the company selling the game; for other games one of the players will act as the host by setting his game in server mode.
The interaction between client and server is often described using sequence diagrams. Sequence diagrams are standardized in the Unified Modeling Language.
When both the client- and server-software are running on the same computer, this is called a single seat setup.
Characteristics of a client
- Initiates requests
- Waits for replies
- Receives replies
- Usually connects to a small number of servers at one time
- Typically interacts directly with end-users using a graphical user interface
Characteristics of a server
- Never initiates requests or activities
- Listens to network and responds only to requests from connected, authorized clients
- Waits for and replies to requests from connected clients
- A server can remotely install/uninstall applications and transfer data to clients
Comparison to Peer-to-Peer architecture
Another type of network architecture is known as peer-to-peer
, because each host or instance of the program can simultaneously act as both a client and a server, and because each has equivalent responsibilities and status. Peer-to-peer architectures are often abbreviated using the acronym P2P
Both client-server and P2P architectures are in wide usage today.
Comparison to Client-Queue-Client architecture
While classic Client-Server architecture requires one of the communication endpoints to act as a server, which is much harder to implement, Client-Queue-Client
allows all endpoints to be simple clients, while the server consists of some external software, which also acts as passive queue (one software instance passes its query to another instance to queue, e.g. database, and then this other instance pulls it from database, makes a response, passes it to database etc.). This architecture allows greatly simplified software implementation. Peer-to-Peer architecture was originally based on Client-Queue-Client concept.
- In most cases, a client-server architecture enables the roles and responsibilities of a computing system to be distributed among several independent computers that are known to each other only through a network. This creates an additional advantage to this architecture: greater ease of maintenance. For example, it is possible to replace, repair, upgrade, or even relocate a server while its clients remain both unaware and unaffected by that change. This independence from change is also referred to as encapsulation.
- All the data is stored on the servers, which generally have far greater security controls than most clients. Servers can better control access and resources, to guarantee that only those clients with the appropriate permissions may access and change data.
- Since data storage is centralized, updates to that data are far easier to administer than what would be possible under a P2P paradigm. Under a P2P architecture, data updates may need to be distributed and applied to each "peer" in the network, which is both time-consuming and error-prone, as there can be thousands or even millions of peers.
- Many mature client-server technologies are already available which were designed to ensure security, 'friendliness' of the user interface, and ease of use.
- It functions with multiple different clients of different capabilities.
- Traffic congestion on the network has been an issue since the inception of the client-server paradigm. As the number of simultaneous client requests to a given server increases, the server can become severely overloaded. Contrast that to a P2P network, where its bandwidth actually increases as more nodes are added, since the P2P network's overall bandwidth can be roughly computed as the sum of the bandwidths of every node in that network.
- The client-server paradigm lacks the robustness of a good P2P network. Under client-server, should a critical server fail, clients’ requests cannot be fulfilled. In P2P networks, resources are usually distributed among many nodes. Even if one or more nodes depart and abandon a downloading file, for example, the remaining nodes should still have the data needed to complete the download.
Specific types of clients include web browsers, email clients, and online chat clients.
Specific types of servers include web servers, [server]s, application servers, database servers, mail servers, file servers, print servers, and terminal servers. Most web services are also types of servers.