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Write a Simple Web Server in C

In this guide, we'll walk you through the process of building a basic web server in the C programming language. You don't need to worry about templating or advanced features – we'll focus on the fundamental concepts and steps to get you started. Whether you're a beginner looking to understand the core principles of web server development or an experienced programmer seeking a refresher, this guide will provide you with a solid foundation to explore more advanced server-side technologies in the future.

Building Your First C Web Server

Explore the comprehensive guide on how to write a simple web server in C on our website. Whether you're a beginner learning the ropes of C programming or need to write your C assignment related to web server development, this step-by-step guide will provide you with the essential knowledge and code examples to get started. Build your own web server and gain practical experience for your C programming assignments.


Before we dive into the world of web server development, here are the prerequisites you'll need:

  • Basic C Knowledge: A foundation in the C programming language is essential to follow along with this guide.
  • C Compiler: Ensure you have a C compiler installed on your system (such as GCC) to compile your code.
  • Text Editor or IDE: You'll need a text editor or integrated development environment (IDE) to write and edit your C code.

Step 1: Setting Up the Environment

In this step, we're preparing the foundation for our web server. We include essential header files and define some constants. These header files provide functions and data types required for socket programming and standard input/output operations. The constants we define include the port number where the server will listen for incoming requests (in this case, it's set to 8080) and the maximum size for an HTTP request.

```c #include #include #include #include #include #include #define PORT 8080 #define MAX_REQUEST_SIZE 1024 ```

Step 2: Creating the send_file Function

In this step, we define a function called `send_file`. This function is critical for our web server, as it will be responsible for sending files as HTTP responses to clients. The `send_file` function takes two parameters: the client socket (where we'll send the data) and the filename of the file to be sent.

```c void send_file(int client_socket, const char *filename) { // Implementation of send_file function (see the full code) } ```

This function will open the specified file, construct an HTTP response header, read the file's contents, and send them in chunks to the client. It encapsulates all the necessary details for handling file transmission.

Step 3: Main Function

The main function is the heart of our web server. In this step, we create and configure the server socket, listen for incoming connections, and handle each client request. This is where the core functionality of our server comes to life.

```c int main() { // Implementation of the main function (see the full code) } ```

Within the main function, we set up the server socket, bind it to a specific address and port, and start listening for incoming connections. When a client connects, we accept the connection, read the client's HTTP request, extract the requested filename, and use the `send_file` function to send the file back as an HTTP response. This loop continues to handle incoming client requests.

Step 4: Running the Server

Once you've completed the code for your web server, you're ready to compile and run it. Use your C compiler to compile the code, and then execute the resulting executable. This action starts your web server, and it will begin listening for incoming connections on port 8080 (or the port you specified).

```shell gcc webserver.c -o webserver ./webserver ```

Your web server is now running and ready to serve files to clients. You can access it by opening a web browser and navigating to `http://localhost:8080` (or the appropriate address and port you configured).


You've successfully built a basic web server in C that can serve copies of files to clients. While our server is minimalistic and lacks advanced features, it lays the foundation for understanding how web servers work. Feel free to explore and customize this code to suit your needs. In real-world scenarios, additional features and security measures would be essential for a production-ready server. We hope you found this guide helpful in your programming journey.