Open source software server list

According to a recent study by Stanford University consulting professor Jonathon Koomey, there are approximately 31.6 million servers installed around the world, including about 11.5 million in the United States. If organizations had to use only proprietary software for all of those systems, the resulting costs would be astronomical.

Fortunately, the open source community has a huge selection of server software that can lower those costs significantly. For this list, we focused on some of the top open source tools that offer alternatives to proprietary server software. We’ve organized them into categories to make browsing the list easier.

As always, if you’d like to suggest additional open source server software that you think should have been included on the list, please feel free to add it in the comments section below.

Content Management Systems

1. Joomla Replaces OpenText,Sitecore CMS, Kentico

The “world’s most popular open source CMS,” Joomla runs 2.7 percent of the websites on the Internet, including sites for Harvard University, Citibank, IHOP and the Guggenheim Museum. It provides both a repository to manage your Web content and a platform to build your own Web applications. Operating System: OS Independent

2. Drupal Replaces OpenText,Sitecore CMS, Kentico

Well-known users of this very popular CMS include the White House, the Economist, Fast Company and the World Wildlife Fund. It’s highly flexible, robust and can be used for “everything from personal blogs to enterprise applications.” Operating System: OS Independent

3. XOOPS Replaces OpenText,Sitecore CMS, Kentico

This award-winning Web content management system offers ease of use and a modular design. It’s driven by a MySQL database and includes advanced user management features. Operating System: OS Independent

4. Alfresco Replaces SharePoint, Documentum, Open Text

Alfresco combines document management, Web content management, records management and collaboration into a single package. In addition to the free community version, it also comes in paid Enterprise and Cloud versions. Operating System: Windows, Linux

5. DotNetNuke Replaces OpenText,Sitecore CMS, Kentico

Used by 700,000 websites, DotNetNuke claims to be “the leading open source Web content management system for ASP.NET.” It comes in a free community edition and paid professional editions; in addition, more than 10,000 modules and skins are also available for purchase. Operating System: Windows

6. Get Simple Replaces OpenText,Sitecore CMS, Kentico

Downloaded more than 60,000 times, this CMS is growing in popularity, particularly among SMBs. As you might guess from the name, its claim to fame is its simplicity and intuitive interface. Operating System: Linux

7. Liferay Replaces SharePoint, WebSphere

Liferay includes content and document management, Web publishing, shared workspaces, collaboration, social networking and identity management capabilities. It advertises itself as simpler than WebSphere and more flexible than Sharepoint. It’s also available in a commercially supported enterprise edition. Operating System: OS Independent

8. Magnolia Replaces SharePoint, OpenText,Sitecore CMS, Kentico

Boasting Fortune 500 and government users in more than 100 countries, Magnolia was designed to make it easy for business users to enter and edit Web content. Commercially supported versions are available with prices that vary based on the SLA. Operating System: Windows, Linux

9. WebGUI Replaces OpenText,Sitecore CMS, Kentico

WebGUI calls itself an “all-in-one CMS,” and it offers both Web content management and a Web application development platform. In order to help users learn the software, the site offers a video tutorial and weekly training webinars. Operating System: Windows, Linux/Unix, OS X

10. Owl Intranet Knowledgebase Replaces: Interspire Knowledge Manager

Owl lets you create a knowledgebase or FAQ site. It’s available in both a regular version and an “ultralite” version that does not use a database. Operating System: Windows, Linux


11. MySQL Replaces Microsoft SQL Server

The “world’s most popular open source database,” Oracle-owned MySQL boasts high performance, high reliability and ease of use. In addition to the free community version, it’s available in paid standard, enterprise and cluster carrier grade versions. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X

12. PostgreSQL Replaces Microsoft SQL Server

PostgreSQL calls itself “the world’s most advanced open source database.” Key features include Multi-Version Concurrency Control (MVCC), point-in-time recovery, online/hot backups, asynchronous replication, nested transactions (savepoints) and write ahead logging for fault tolerance. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X

13. Firebird Replaces Microsoft SQL Server

Under development since 1981, Firebird is a mature RDBMS that boasts excellent concurrency, scalability and performance. Notable features include multi-generation architecture, high compatibility with ANSI SQL, logging and monitoring capabilities, online backup, full text search and more. Operating System: Windows, Linux, Unix, OS X, Solaris


14. Magento Replaces Big Commerce, Volusion, Yahoo Merchant

Magento is the e-commerce platform of choice for more than 100,000 merchants, including Dockers, Ford, the North Face, Samsung, Oneida and others. In addition to the free community version, it also comes in paid professional and enterprise versions, and it’s also available as a turn-key hosted solution for small businesses. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X

15. PrestaShop Replaces Big Commerce, Volusion, Yahoo Merchant

Award-winning PrestaShop is used by more than 95,000 Internet sites around the world. Commercial support and training are available, but prices are given in Euros. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X

16. Zen Cart Replaces Big Commerce, Volusion, Yahoo Merchant

Designed in part by ecommerce shop owners, Zen Cart is very user friendly, and the Web site offers simple instructions that begin with the basics: “Get a server.” It includes features like multiple payment methods, multiple shipping options, a newsletter manager, coupons, quantity discounts and more. Operating System: OS Independent

Mail Server

17. Zimbra Replaces Microsoft Exchange

Now owned by VMware, Zimbra offers a flexible but simple mail server with a low total cost of ownership. In addition to the free community version, it’s also available in paid appliance and network editions, and a desktop e-mail client is available as well. Operating System: Linux, Unix, OS X

18. Citadel Replaces Microsoft Exchange

This turn-key mail server supports e-mail, group calendars, contacts, IM, a wiki and more, all accessible through a Web interface. It’s also available on a hosted basis. Operating System: Linux

19. Postfix Replaces Microsoft Exchange

Estimates suggest that around 20 percent of all mail servers use Posftix, making it the most popular currently. Postfix was originally created by IBM Research as a better alternative to Sendmail, and it has also been known as “IBM Secure Mailer” and “VMailer.” Operating System: Linux, Unix, OS X, Solaris

20. Sendmail Replaces Microsoft Exchange

Although its popularity has declined in recent years, Sendmail still accounts for about 16 percent of the mail servers in use. Supported hard appliances and virtual appliances are also available under the brand name Sentrion. Operating System: Linux

21. Exim Replaces Microsoft Exchange

Developed at the University of Cambridge, Exim is a highly configurable mail transport agent. It can handle thousands of e-mails per hour, but if queues are exceptionally large, it does not perform as well as some of the other options on the list. Operating System: Linux, Unix

File Transfer

22. FileZilla Replaces CuteFTP, FTP Commander

FileZilla allows you to set up your own FTP server on a Windows machine. It supports FTP, FTPS and SFTP, and the same project also offers a cross-platform FTP client. Operating System: Windows

Statistics show us that well over 80% of web applications and websites are powered by open source web servers. In this article, I look at the most popular open source web servers, and briefly review their history, technology, features, and more. I will also provide some tips so you can easily deploy one of the popular web servers yourself.

According to Wikipedia, a web server is “a computer system that processes requests via HTTP, the basic network protocol used to distribute information on the World Wide Web. The term can refer to the entire system, or specifically to the software that accepts and supervises the HTTP requests.” In this article, we address the software which specifically processes web requests from end users.

Apache HTTP Server

The Apache HTTP Server—often referred to as httpd, or simply Apache—was first launched in 1995, and celebrated its 20th birthday in February 2015. Apache powers 52% of all websites globally, and is by far the most popular web server.

While Apache httpd is most often seen running on Linux, you can also deploy Apache on OS X and Windows. Apache is, unsurprisingly, licensed under the Apache License version 2. The web server itself uses a modular architecture, in which extra modules can be loaded to extend its features. For example, loading the mod_proxy will allow for a proxy/gateway on your server, and mod_proxy_balancer will enable load balancing for all supported protocols. As of version 2.4, Apache also supports HTTP/2 through a new module, mod_http2.

As the Apache HTTP Server has been the most popular web server since 1996, it “benefits from great documentation and integrated support from other software projects.” You can find more information on the Apache Foundation project page.


Igor Sysoev began developing NGINX back in 2002, with its first public release in 2004. NGINX was developed as an answer to the so-called C10K problem, which is shorthand for “how do you design a web server which can handle ten thousand concurrent connections?” NGINX is second on a list of open source web servers by usage, running just over 30% of all websites.

NGINX relies on an asynchronous event-driven architecture to help power its goal of handling massive concurrent sessions. It has become a very popular web server among administrators due to its light resource utilization and its ability to scale easily.

NGINX is released under a BSD-like license, and can not only be deployed as web server, but also as proxy server or load-balancer. You can find more information on the NGINX community site.

Apache Tomcat

Apache Tomcat is an open source Java servlet container that functions as a web server. A Java servlet is a Java program that extends the capabilities of a server. Although servlets can respond to any types of requests, they most commonly implement applications hosted on Web servers. Such web servlets are the Java counterpart to other dynamic web content technologies such as PHP and ASP.NET. Tomcat’s code base was donated by Sun Microsystems to the Apache Software Foundation in 1999, and became a top-level Apache project in 2005. It currently powers just under 1% of all websites.

Apache Tomcat, released under the Apache License version 2, is typically used to run Java applications. It can, however, be extended with Coyote, to also perform the role of a normal web server that serves local files as HTTP documents. More information can be found on the project website.

Apache Tomcat is often listed among other open source Java application servers. Some examples are JBoss, Wildfly, and Glassfish.


Node.js is a server-side JavaScript environment for network applications such as web servers. With a smaller market position, Node.js powers 0.2% of all websites. Node.js was originally written in 2009 by Ryan Dahl. The Node.js project, governed by the Node.js Foundation, is facilitated by the Linux Foundation’s Collaborative Projects program.

The difference between Node.js and other popular web servers is that it is primarily a cross-platform runtime environment to build network applications with. Node.js applies an event-driven architecture capable of asynchronous I/O. These design choices optimize throughput and scalability in web applications allowing to run real-time communication and browser games. Node.js also highlights the difference in web development stacks, where Node.js is clearly part of the HTML, CSS, and JavaScript stack, as opposed to Apache or NGINX which are a part of many different software stacks.

Node.js is released under a mix of licenses; more information is available on the project’s website.


Lighttpd—pronounced “lightly”—saw its initial release in March 2003. It currently powers approximately 0.1% of all websites and is distributed under a BSD license.

Lighttpd distinguishes itself with its low memory footprint, small CPU load, and speed optimizations. It uses an event-driven architecture, is optimized for a large number of parallel connections, and supports FastCGI, SCGI, Auth, Output-compression, URL-rewriting and many more features. Lighttpd is a popular web server for the Catalyst and Ruby on Rails web frameworks. Find more information on the project homepage.


If you are looking to try one of the popular web servers, I can highly recommend downloading a LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) or LEMP (Linux, NGINX, MySQL, PHP) stack. There are plenty of such stacks available, providing different flavors in for example Apache and PHP versions. They are usually provided as one-click installers, or available in your package/software manager on Linux.

Once you have successfully gone through the installation process, you can start your web server, and try out a Hello World example. It’s a great way to start discovering the ins and outs of your web server, and how web servers work more generally.


This is by no means an exhaustive list of web servers. I have included some of the most popular web servers and looked at their supported technologies. If you are interested in more detail, particularly with the differences of Apache and NGINX, I recommend reading this article on practical considerations for choosing a web server.

And of course, we are always curious what your choice of web server is, for your web development or hosting needs. Let us know in the comments.

Written by Jane