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April 27, 2022updated 05 May 2023 3:50pm

What is Apache Tomcat?

The Apache Tomcat project is intended to be a collaboration of the best-of-breed developers from around the world.

By Tech Monitor Staff

Originally, Apache Tomcat implemented the first Java Server Pages and the Java Servlet API. Consequently, the versatility of Tomcat motivated developers to evolve and upgrade it.

But what exactly is Apache Tomcat, and what are its main features?

A virtual server with coding language to represent Apache Tomcat

Apache Tomcat mostly deals with Java coding. Image: whiteMocca/Shutterstock

What is Apache Tomcat?

Sun Microsystems first developed Tomcat in 1995, whose code base was then shared with the Apache Software Foundation three years later. In 2005, with the help of numerous volunteers, a top-level Apache project was started, which led to today, which sees Tomcat being downloaded millions of times. It is still one of the main projects at the Apache Software Foundation. 

Essentially, it is an open-source Java servlet and Java Server Page container that lets developers implement an array of enterprise Java applications. Tomcat also runs an HTTP web server environment in which Java code can run. Generally speaking, Java servlets are small programs that define how the server handles responses and requests. The servlet is usually written and Tomcat conducts all of the routing and behind-the-scenes work. 

The current Apache Tomcat version is 10.1.8, which was released in April 2023. Once this new version was launched, Tomcat 7 became obsolete and, when Tomcat 11 will take over, Tomcat 8 is expected to become unsupported. 

How does Tomcat work?

The use cases for Apache Tomcat are quite broad as it is one of the most widely used Java servers. Due to its open-source nature, Tomcat has been adapted and reshaped by numerous developers, such as Springsource’s Enterprise Ready Server (ERS).

In order to learn how to use Apache Tomcat, it is important to know the basics of Java web applications. Tomcat provides access through a browser, since Java apps are quite similar to websites, even if with some differences. The user only needs to locate the files containing the web application from the web apps folder and deploy it to the server.

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Tomcat acts as a base to host Java servlets, transferring the Java specifications on the web server which, consequently, works as the remote controller to the physical computer. This is why, also thanks to a secure Internet connection, one can access the data from the web server from anywhere and anytime. 

What Tomcat does is it runs and creates independent dynamic content which can handle multiple requests at the same time. However, it ships with fairly pared-back administrative powers and tooling. When using Tomcat in a large-scale production environment, most administrators implement additional monitoring management tactics. 

What are the main differences between Apache Tomcat and Apache Web Server?

Apache Web Server is also an open-source web server that displays and reads web content. Also known as Apache, it works with HTTP clients and, as described by its developers, it “is an effort to develop and maintain an open-source HTTP server for modern operating systems including UNIX and Microsoft’s Windows. The goal of this project is to provide a secure, efficient and extensible server that provides HTTP services in sync with the current HTTP standards”.

The HTTP server was first launched in 1995 and, since then, it has been the most popular web server on the Internet.

While the premise is similar, Tomcat and Apache Web Server have some key differences. For instance, the most immediate one is that Tomcat is a JSP, a servlet container system, while Apache Web Server is an HTTP server, handling the files via HTTP directions. In addition, while Tomcat mostly reads Java code, Apache is multi-language, meaning it hosts applications coded from any programming language, including Python.

When it comes to handling capabilities, the Tomcat server can manage both static and dynamic pages. Respectively, pages developed with HTML and pages developed using JSP and Servlet. Apache, on the other hand, is a bit broader: it can handle static pages and dynamic pages in various other languages, such as PHP

Tomcat is also significantly slower than Apache, especially when involving static content, and it is also not very dynamic itself, since it is not very easily configurable. Apache is the opposite in both instances.

There is no “best” among the two, it all depends on the use one needs to make of it. If the user needs speed, Apache is the right option, but if Java is the preferred language, everything points in Tomcat’s direction. 

Read more: Large language models will transform corporate cybersecurity – for good and ill

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