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A client refers to a piece of computer hardware or software designed to access a service made available through a server. As the server is usually on another computer system, the client accesses the service by way of a network; thus they are often known as Internet clients.

A client connects to and uses the resources of a remote computer or server. This generally involves hardware and software, but we're concentrating on the software in this guide. In its simplest form, a client might be represented as a computer assigned to an employee in a corporate network. Each client computer is connected to the corporate server, which provides resources like files, information, external processing power, and Internet or Intranet access. Any work done on the server is referred to as server-side work, while work done on the local client is client-side.

More pertinent to this guide, a client is a software program that is used to connect to the server, but the idea is the same. Originally, the term was used to refer to devices that were incapable of running their own programs and were connected, through a network, to remote computers that could run their own programs.

A software client can be a simple application or a system of programs that access the services provided by a server. Clients can connect to servers through a variety of means, including domain sockets, shared memory or, more commonly, Internet protocols. There are four types of clients: thin clients, thick or fat clients, hybrid clients, and rich clients.

A thin client is a software application with minimal functions. Using resources provided by the host computer, its function is usually limited to displaying results processed by the server. The server does most or all of the processing. Web browsers and browser-based games are examples of thin clients.

As you might expect, a thick or fat client is the opposite of a thin client. It can do most of its own processing, and is not reliant on a central server, although it may need to connect to one for information, uploading, or updates. Antivirus programs are an example of this type of client, as the software does not have to connect to a server in order to operate, although it does have to download new virus definitions and upload data.

Hybrid clients exhibit characteristics from both thin and thick clients, being able to complete most processes on its own, yet rely on servers for critical data or storage.

Also known as smart clients, rich clients are comparatively new. They came about as a result of a transition from traditional client/server architecture to web-based models. More similar to thick clients than to thin ones, rich clients are Internet-connected devices that allow a user's local applications to interact with server-based applications via web services. Rich clients can operate offline, but they have the ability to be deployed and updated in real-time over the network from a centralized server, and support multiple platforms and languages because they are built on web services.

The focus of this category is on client software, although many of the resources listed here may include hardware as well.


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