The history of the Apache HTTP Server, how it all came together

31.01.2019 1,519 0

Apache is quite the widespread word in the world of IT and not because of the military helicopter. It’s because of the Apache HTTP Server which over the years has become one of the most popular web server software platforms in the world.

According to the December 2018 survey by Netcraft, Apache has an average market share of 18.94%. This means that there are 313 million websites which use it as their server software. Actually, this is quite the decline. Just 12 months earlier it had 446 million domains or 25.74% share. It’s losing a bit of share to Microsoft’s platforms, but there’s no denying that Apache has had a vast impact on the IT industry.

How it came together

The Apache HTTP Server Project was officially launched in February 1995. It became the most popular web server by April 1996 and stayed on top for quite some time. It started as a collaborative project which aimed to fix the issues of the public domain HTTP daemon. The software had a lot of bugs and many webmasters had to fix stuff themselves. All of this had the potential to create a serious fragmentation and not all webmasters were skilled enough to fix the software.

So, eight of these more skilled webmasters joined forces and formed the original Apache Group. Using NCSA httpd 1.3 as a base, they made the official public release of the Apace server in April 1995. It featured all of the published bug fixes and lots of improvements. The goal was simple – to put together all of the improvements in an easy to use package. Needless to say, the webmasters loved it and wanted more of it.

So, the core team started to work not only on adding bug fixes, but also on actively overhauling the code and improving it. Other webmasters from the community also pitched in with their work. Robert Thau for example created the Shambhala architecture with a modular structure and a new API. Then in December 1995, Apache 1.0 was officially released.

What happened afterwards

The popularity of Apache quickly skyrocketed. It was the most popular web server by Spring 1996 and stayed like that until the Summer of 2014 when Microsoft’s platform overtook for a bit. Apache then regained its top position until Q1 of 2016 when Microsoft’s platform again took the lead and didn’t let it go.

In 1999 the Apache Group members formed the Apache Software Foundation to better organize the Apache HTTP Server. This was a good move as it kept things in order and propelled the popularity of the platform. It had everything it needed and it was open-source. Thanks to the steady stream of updates it was also relatively easy to live with and even novice webmasters could quickly get used to setting up an Apache server in 20 or so minutes.

Apache is also versatile and while the majority of installations are on Linux distributions, you can easily set it up on Windows and Mac systems. It’s also free, supports SSL, virtual hosting, and has lots of features.

Of course, it’s not all perfect. The Web is changing and these days there are a lot of alternatives. NGINX and Microsoft’s offerings are currently more popular than Apache and continue to take away its users. The alternatives usually offer better speed, easily handle more load and heavier sites and improve the average response time.

As a result, Apache will probably continue to lose share to the younger and better competitors out there. But as a platform which has been around for more than 20 years, Apache has redefined and reshaped the base of the Internet. For that Apache will always have a special place in the hearts of webmasters everywhere.

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