CeePrompt! Computer Connection

Server-client relationshipat the heart of all networks

Originally published Monday, March 10, 1997

by Cathi Schuler

The notion of a computer network has historically been reserved for corporate and business entities that utilize mainframe processors with various connected devices and workstations.

Concepts such as Local Area Networks, Wide Area Networks, and servers were generally foreign to anyone except systems managers and network administrators.

But with the development of the Information Superhighway and the proliferation of the Internet, anyone with on-line connectivity is engaged in a network relationship of one kind or another. Whether you're chatting on America Online, picking up free e-mail from Juno, or telecommuting from home, you're networking.

A computer network is a collection of hardware including computers, terminals and connecting devices that utilize communications channels to share information, hardware and software.

Networks that cover a limited geographic area, such as an office building or a school, are called Local Area Networks, or LANs. LAN systems are usually hard-wired together or may utilize phone lines for their connectivity.

Wide Area Networks, or WANs, in contrast, are more global in nature and use a combination of phone lines, satellites and microwaves as communication channels. The Internet is by far the largest and best-known example of a WAN.

At the heart of all networks is the client-server relationship. The server is a program which provides a service to other programs, called clients. Server programs usually reside on a dedicated computer that is often referred to as "the server." Each PC or terminal that connects to the server has the corresponding client software necessary to make the communication work.

The computer client-server relationship is not unlike the relationship between a customer and a restaurant food-server. A customer enters the restaurant, sits at a table and peruses the menu. Once a decision is made, the customer gives the request to a food server who then completes the necessary tasks required to deliver the entree to the customer -- hopefully in a reasonable period of time.

At the Internet restaurant, however, you never have to leave the comfort of your home or office when ordering from the vast cybermenu. As a customer, you make your on-line connection and once linked, your orders are delivered to thousands of servers around the world, anxious to fulfill your requests.

Servers and clients have a proscribed set of rules or protocols that are built into their respective programs. Web servers on the Internet utilize Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) for information exchange and software applications such as Netscape and Explorer are the client applications that support HTTP and allow you to view documents on the World Wide Web.

To transfer or download files from the Internet, you must have an FTP client, or software that supports File Transfer Protocol and e-mail as well as its own protocols. Usually, client software for Internet connectivity is bundled together in applications such as Netscape, Explorer, America Online and CompuServe to enable Web browsing, e-mail and file transfers all from one program.

The Eudora e-mail and CUTE FTP clients are examples of stand-alone programs that can be used with your Internet connection, independent of applications such as Netscape. Microsoft Exchange is another example of client software that Windows 95 users will recognize by the inbox icon that's installed by default on the 95 desktop. This is an e-mail and messaging client, but it requires an outbox as well -- a network server connection on the other end to enable the flow of electronic messaging.

Small businesses running on a LAN often believe, mistakenly, that they can exchange inter-office e-mail utilizing the default Exchange client. What's missing here is the Exchange server counterpart. This software is not included with Windows 95 and the licenses must be purchased separately. Additionally, one of the PC's on the network must be designated as the mailbox or mail server to process the office messages.

For the sharing and exchange of information on a network, both sides of the client-server equation must be in place. Server software must be installed on a computer dedicated to processing the demands of other computers on the network and client software allows individual PCs to communicate with the server and make requests for information and resources.

Understanding this client server relationship will empower the user with the tools to troubleshoot problem areas and gain maximum benefit from the biggest network of all -- the Internet.
Feedback? E-Mail cschuler@ceeprompt.com

Cathi Schuler owns a computer literacy training/consulting company, Cee Prompt! She is a co-author of computer textbooks and can be reached by e-mail at cschuler@uop.edu or cschuler@ceeprompt.com or by mail c/o The Record, P.O. Box 900, Stockton, CA 95201. She is on the Internet at: http://www.ceeprompt.com. Click here for past archived columns.
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