Is Apache Tomcat the right Java application server for you?

What is the best application server? The answer depends on what an enterprise is looking for. Compare Apache Tomcat to these four offerings to see which Java app server fits.

Developers in search of a Java application server have no shortage of options to consider. But before any enterprise selects and ultimately adopts a Java application server for development and deployment, there are multiple variables that need to be considered.

Development teams will need to know what exactly the application server will be used for in deployment. Is the main goal to act as a basic file server? And if that's the case, what sorts of file formats will be used the most?

Let's compare Apache Tomcat with other servers on the market and examine which one will make the most sense for your situation.

Tomcat tidbits and specs

Apache Tomcat is more than capable as a basic file server. While it isn't optimized to handle file formats such as HTML, PDF, mp3 or mp4, it's a strong file server that's very popular in enterprises.

Tomcat is a product of the Apache Software Foundation (ASF), which also deploys Apache HTTP Server. While the two come from the same overarching foundation, they are fundamentally different.

Tomcat vs. Apache HTTP Server

The biggest difference between Tomcat and Apache HTTP Server is that Tomcat runs on a JVM. Apache HTTP Server -- also known as the Apache web server --requires only a modern Windows, Linux distribution or Unix to run. Tomcat users will need to deploy a JDK and properly configure the JAVA_HOME variable to run.

Both Java application servers are open source and are served by the ASF, but only Tomcat requires the additional resources and requirements that enterprises will need to manage.

Tomcat vs. Jetty

As a Java application server, Tomcat supports both the Servlet and JSP API along with other web-based APIs, such as WebSockets and Jasper Reports. Another Java application server with these characteristics is Jetty from the Eclipse Foundation.

Both are also open source projects, but neither support the full Java EE Web Profile Stack. Tomcat and Jetty are similar, but the biggest difference between the two is their primary objective.

Tomcat's primary goal is to act as a standard for the latest Servlet and JSP API releases. For example, when a new Servlet specification is released, Tomcat is usually the first open source Java server to implement it.

Jetty, on the other hand, is more concerned with performance and optimization instead of the latest specification.

Tomcat vs. JBoss

If developers believe that their applications will require a full Java EE stack, then another open source option to consider along with Tomcat is JBoss.

There are a couple of major differences between Tomcat and JBoss, specifically in regard to licensing and support. JBoss is licensed under the GNU Lesser General Public License, while Tomcat uses its own Apache license. While there are some differences, both licenses are permissive and usually won't be a dealbreaker for organizations considering one or the other.

JBoss supports multiple APIs -- including REST, Java Web Services, CDI, JSK and JPA -- out of the box. Tomcat also supports these APIs, but they need different configurations and requirements.

Another difference between the two is product support. JBoss comes with paid subscription support from Red Hat. On the contrary, Tomcat users can't contact ASF for support on problem solving and instead rely on open source means to solve issues.

Tomcat vs. WebSphere

If a long history of production success and a backing from one of the largest software companies in the world are important factors in a Java application server choice, WebSphere Application Server from IBM is another option.

WebSphere is fully Java EE certified and one of the first application servers on the market to support the Jakarta EE release. If organizations already have invested with IBM or use other products such as MQ Series, DB2 or Watson AI, then WebSphere might make more sense than Tomcat.

If a full WebSphere deployment doesn't fit, there's also a lighter option called WebSphere Liberty. With its performance optimization and microservices-focused servers, this offering competes more so with Tomcat and Jetty.

The Java community is flush with formidable options for Java application servers. Organizations should compare Tomcat with other offerings from ASF, Eclipse, Red Hat and IBM to find the best option for their requirements.

Tomcat vs. WildFly

Another open source option to consider is WildFly. JBoss is actually a package offering based on the WildFly project.

Developers should think of WildFly as the incubation center for new JBoss features. All the features that go into new JBoss releases are originally tested through the WildFly project. Also, WildFly practices continuous deployment techniques, which means that new builds and releases happen more frequently than its JBoss counterpart.

Red Hat doesn't sell subscription support for WildFly, but development teams that want more frequent releases and the opportunity to work with new features -- with the tradeoff of no paid subscription support -- should consider WildFly as an alternative to Tomcat.

Dig Deeper on Development tools for continuous software delivery

App Architecture
Software Quality
Cloud Computing