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Understanding What Is IIS – Web Server Basics

by Marcin Wieclaw
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what is iis

IIS, also known as Internet Information Services, is a powerful web server developed by Microsoft for Windows systems. With IIS, web servers can easily serve HTML pages and deliver vital information to users. It acts as a bridge between remote client computers and requested web content.

When a user makes a request, IIS accepts it and delivers the appropriate response, making it a crucial component in the distribution of information across local area networks (LAN) and wide area networks (WAN). IIS supports various forms of content delivery, including static webpages coded in HTML, file exchanges, and text documents.

IIS is compatible with standard languages such as HTML, HTTP, HTTPS, FTP, SMTP, and NNTP, making it versatile and adaptable to different web-based applications. It also works seamlessly with the ASP.NET Core framework, enabling the creation of interactive webpages with ease.

Understanding IIS is essential for anyone involved in web development or managing web servers. In the next sections, we will explore how IIS works, its different versions, notable features in the latest version, IIS Express for testing purposes, security measures, and steps to install and configure IIS.

How IIS Works

IIS, as a web server, operates using a variety of standard languages and protocols to facilitate seamless communication between servers and users. Let’s explore how these components work together to deliver websites and web applications.

HTML: Creating Dynamic Webpages

HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) plays a crucial role in web development. It allows developers to create structured elements such as headings, paragraphs, images, and links that make up webpages. By defining the structure and layout of content, HTML brings websites to life.

HTTP: Connecting Web Servers and Users

HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) is the foundation of communication between web servers and users. When a user requests a webpage, their browser sends an HTTP request to the server, specifying what they want to access. The server processes the request and sends back an HTTP response containing the requested content, such as HTML files, images, or scripts.

HTTPS: Enhancing Security with Encryption

HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) provides an additional layer of security by encrypting the data exchanged between the user’s browser and the server. This encryption ensures that sensitive information, such as passwords or credit card details, remains private and secure during transmission.

FTP: Facilitating File Transfers

FTP (File Transfer Protocol) is a protocol used for transferring files between a client and a server. With IIS, FTP is utilized to upload and download files to and from a web server. It enables developers and administrators to easily manage website content and make updates.

SMTP and NNTP: Supporting Email and News Delivery

IIS also supports other protocols like SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) for email delivery and NNTP (Network News Transfer Protocol) for distributing articles on USENET and news servers. These protocols enable the seamless transmission of messages and facilitate efficient news distribution across the network.

ASP.NET Core: Building Interactive Webpages

ASP.NET Core is a powerful server-side script engine supported by IIS. It allows developers to build interactive webpages and web applications using .NET framework. When a request is received by the IIS server, it is passed to the ASP.NET Core application for processing. The application generates the dynamic content and sends the response back to the client, completing the request-response cycle.


Understanding how IIS utilizes these standard languages and protocols is crucial to grasp its functionality and appreciate its role as a powerful web server. The integration of HTML, HTTP, HTTPS, FTP, SMTP, NNTP, and ASP.NET Core allows IIS to deliver seamless web experiences and enable the development of robust web applications.

Versions of IIS

IIS, the web server from Microsoft, has evolved over the years in sync with the various versions of Windows. With each new iteration, Microsoft introduced new features and enhanced existing functionality to meet the evolving demands of web hosting and management.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the notable versions of IIS:

  1. IIS 1.0 – Launched with Windows NT 3.51
  2. IIS 6.0 – Accompanying Windows Server 2003
  3. IIS 7.0 – Released with Windows Server 2008
  4. IIS 8.0 – Introduced alongside Windows Server 2012
  5. IIS 10 – Aligned with Windows Server 2016 and Windows 10

Let’s delve into some key features introduced in a few of these versions:

IIS 6.0

IIS 6.0 brought significant improvements to the table. It introduced support for IPv6, allowing for the utilization and management of the newer version of the internet protocol. Additionally, IIS 6.0 focused on enhancing security and reliability, bolstering the stability of web hosting environments.

IIS 8.0

IIS 8.0 brought multicore scaling capabilities to the forefront, enabling web servers to effectively utilize multiple CPU cores for improved performance and efficiency. It also introduced centralized SSL certificate support, streamlining the management of secure connections for websites.

IIS versions

As you can see, each version of IIS is tailored to work harmoniously with its corresponding Windows server release, delivering specific enhancements and features to optimize web server performance and security.

Features in IIS 10

IIS 10, the latest version of IIS, introduces several significant features that enhance its functionality and performance. These features are designed to optimize web server operations and support a wide range of web applications.

1. HTTP/2 Protocol Support

One notable feature of IIS 10 is its support for the HTTP/2 protocol. This protocol offers improved resource utilization and reduced latency compared to the previous HTTP 1.1. With HTTP/2, web servers can handle multiple concurrently open connections, enabling faster and more efficient data transfer.

2. Minimal Server Deployment Model: Nano Server

IIS 10 can run on the minimal server deployment model called Nano Server. This lightweight version of Windows Server provides a minimalistic and highly efficient environment for hosting web applications. Nano Server offers better resource utilization, faster boot times, and increased security, making it an ideal choice for organizations looking for a streamlined server deployment model.

3. Support for ASP.NET Core, Apache Tomcat, and PHP Workloads

IIS 10 offers compatibility with various web development frameworks and platforms. It can run ASP.NET Core applications, enabling developers to leverage the latest features and improvements in Microsoft’s modern web development framework. Additionally, IIS 10 supports Apache Tomcat, a popular Java Servlet container, and can handle PHP workloads, making it versatile for different web application requirements.

4. Flexibility in Deployment Choices

IIS 10 provides flexibility in deployment options by supporting containers and virtual machines. Whether organizations prefer containerization for scalable application deployment or virtualization for resource isolation, IIS 10 accommodates both approaches. This flexibility enables developers to choose the most suitable deployment model for their web applications, ensuring optimal performance and scalability.

Overall, IIS 10 introduces a range of new features that enhance its capabilities as a web server. With support for the HTTP/2 protocol, a minimal server deployment model, compatibility with ASP.NET Core, Apache Tomcat, and PHP workloads, as well as flexibility in deployment choices, IIS 10 empowers developers and organizations to deliver efficient and scalable web applications.

IIS Express for Testing

For developers looking to test their websites, Microsoft offers a self-contained version of the IIS web server called IIS Express. This version provides all the major capabilities of the full IIS web server, allowing developers to conveniently perform tasks without requiring administrative privileges.

With IIS Express, developers can test and debug their websites locally before deploying them to a production environment. This self-contained version offers an efficient way to ensure that websites are working correctly and are ready for user access.

By using IIS Express, developers can confidently identify and resolve any issues or errors before making their websites available to the public. It provides an ideal platform for refining the functionality and usability of websites, ensuring a smooth and user-friendly experience.

In addition, IIS Express allows developers to take advantage of the major capabilities of the full IIS web server, enabling them to create and deploy complex web applications. This self-contained version offers the flexibility and convenience needed for efficient website testing and development.

Overall, IIS Express plays a vital role in the development and testing process for developers. It offers a comprehensive and user-friendly solution for testing websites, allowing developers to ensure their websites are fully functional and optimized before going live.

Security Measures in IIS

To ensure a website hosted on IIS is secure, organizations should implement various security measures. These measures include:

  1. Keeping the Windows operating system updated: Regularly applying security patches and updates is crucial to protect against vulnerabilities and emerging threats.
  2. Disabling unused features: By disabling any features of IIS that are not being used, potential attack vectors can be reduced, minimizing the potential for exploitation.
  3. Using firewalls: Implementing firewalls helps restrict access to the server, blocking unauthorized users and malicious traffic from reaching the web server.
  4. Controlling IP address and domain restrictions: By implementing IP address and domain restrictions, organizations can control which specific IP addresses and domains can access the web server, adding an extra layer of protection.
  5. Implementing URL authorization: URL authorization allows organizations to apply specific rules and permissions to control access to specific URLs or directories, ensuring that sensitive information cannot be accessed by unauthorized users.
  6. Enabling logging: Enabling logging allows organizations to monitor visitor access and detect any suspicious activity or potential security breaches. Detailed logs can aid in identifying and mitigating security incidents.
  7. Configuring error pages: Configuring error pages is important to display only relevant information to the user and avoid exposing sensitive details that could be exploited by attackers.

Implementing these security measures helps organizations enhance the overall security of their IIS web servers, protecting sensitive data and ensuring a safe browsing experience for users.

Steps to Install and Configure IIS

When setting up a Windows server, you have two options for installing and configuring Internet Information Services (IIS): using Server Manager or PowerShell. Both methods are equally effective, allowing you to tailor IIS to your specific needs.

Using Server Manager

Server Manager provides a user-friendly interface to guide you through the installation and configuration process. Follow these steps:

  1. Open Server Manager.
  2. Select “Add Roles and Features” from the dashboard.
  3. Click “Next” until you reach the “Server Roles” screen.
  4. Check the box next to “Web Server (IIS)” to add the IIS role.
  5. Click “Next” and then “Install” to begin the installation process.
  6. After the installation is complete, you can select the specific role services you need, such as FTP, SSL, or URL Rewrite.
  7. Click “Next” and then “Install” to finish the configuration.

Using PowerShell

If you prefer a command-line approach, you can use PowerShell to install and configure IIS. Follow these steps:

  1. Open PowerShell as an administrator.
  2. Run the following command to install the Web Server role:

Install-WindowsFeature -Name Web-Server

  1. If you need additional features, run the corresponding PowerShell command to install them. For example, to enable FTP support, use:

Install-WindowsFeature -Name Web-Ftp-Server

  1. Once the installation is complete, you can use PowerShell to further customize the IIS configuration to suit your needs.

After installing IIS, you can manage and configure it using the IIS Manager. Here are some key tasks you can perform:

  • Add websites: Use the IIS Manager to create and configure websites, specifying details such as hostnames, protocols, and physical paths.
  • Create virtual directories: Virtual directories allow you to map a folder from a different location to a subdirectory of a website.
  • Enable SSL: Secure Socket Layer (SSL) encryption can be enabled through the IIS Manager to establish secure connections between clients and the server.
  • Manage application pools: Application pools provide isolation for web applications, allowing them to run independently with their own worker processes, enhancing performance and security.

By following these steps, you can successfully install and configure IIS on your Windows server, ensuring a reliable and efficient web server environment.

IIS Installation and Configuration Steps
Step 1: Open Server Manager or PowerShell
Step 2: Install the Web Server (IIS) role
Step 3: Select additional role services (if needed)
Step 4: Complete the installation process
Step 5: Open IIS Manager
Step 6: Add websites and configure settings
Step 7: Create virtual directories
Step 8: Enable SSL for secure connections
Step 9: Manage application pools for better performance and security

IIS vs. Apache

When it comes to web servers, two popular options are IIS and Apache. These web servers have distinct differences that are important to consider when choosing the right one for your needs.

IIS, or Internet Information Services, is a web server specifically designed for the Microsoft .NET platform. It is tightly integrated with other Microsoft offerings such as .NET and the ASPX scripting language. As it is packaged with Windows, it provides a high level of security. On the other hand, Apache is an open-source web server that can run on various operating systems, including Linux. It has a large and active community support and is known for its compatibility with standard web interfaces worldwide.

While both IIS and Apache have their strengths, they are suitable for different environments and requirements. If you are working with Windows and the .NET platform, IIS might be the preferable option. On the other hand, if you are using Linux or prefer an open-source solution with a strong community support, Apache may be the better choice. Ultimately, it’s important to evaluate your specific needs and preferences to make an informed decision.

In conclusion, IIS and Apache are two popular web servers with distinct characteristics. Whether you choose IIS or Apache, both options offer reliable performance, but they cater to different platforms, security considerations, and levels of community support. By understanding these differences, you can select the web server that best aligns with your requirements and ensures optimal performance and security for your website.


What is IIS?

IIS stands for Internet Information Services. It is a flexible web server from Microsoft that runs on Windows systems and serves HTML pages or files.

How does IIS work?

IIS works with standard languages and protocols such as HTML, HTTP, HTTPS, FTP, SMTP, and NNTP. It accepts requests from remote client computers and delivers the appropriate response.

What are the different versions of IIS?

Some notable versions of IIS include IIS 1.0 with Windows NT 3.51, IIS 6.0 with Windows Server 2003, IIS 7.0 with Windows Server 2008, IIS 8.0 with Windows Server 2012, and IIS 10 with Windows Server 2016 and Windows 10.

What are the features in IIS 10?

IIS 10 offers support for the HTTP/2 protocol, can run on the Nano Server deployment model, and works with ASP.NET Core, Apache Tomcat, and PHP workloads.

What is IIS Express?

IIS Express is a self-contained version of IIS that developers can use to test and debug websites locally without administrative privileges.

What security measures should organizations implement in IIS?

Organizations should keep the Windows operating system updated, disable unused features, use firewalls, control access to the server, use URL authorization, enable logging, and configure the error page for security purposes.

How do I install and configure IIS?

You can install IIS using Server Manager or PowerShell. Configuration can be done through the IIS Manager, where you can add websites, create virtual directories, enable SSL, and manage application pools.

What are the differences between IIS and Apache?

IIS is a web server designed for the Microsoft .NET platform and is tightly integrated with other Microsoft offerings, while Apache is open-source and can run on various operating systems. Both have their strengths and are suitable for different environments and requirements.


  • Marcin Wieclaw

    Marcin Wieclaw, the founder and administrator of PC Site since 2019, is a dedicated technology writer and enthusiast. With a passion for the latest developments in the tech world, Marcin has crafted PC Site into a trusted resource for technology insights. His expertise and commitment to demystifying complex technology topics have made the website a favored destination for both tech aficionados and professionals seeking to stay informed.

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