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What is a Host Computer?

By Bryon Turcotte
Updated May 16, 2024
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A host computer is a centralized workstation, server, or mainframe computing device located within a networked environment that manages tasks, communicates instructions, or delivers specific services to other networked computers known as clients. Most often, the computer acting as a host allows client computers to access and run specific software applications, which enable users to perform database administration, documentation editing, publishing, web development and video processing. The host computer quite frequently serves as the central hub of data deployment and task management in a networked community.

A database or an information store often resides on a host computer or centralized workstation. Depending on the software application and specific usage, this device will be the primary distribution center responsible for feeding important data to several or hundreds of client computers. This data might include customer information, inventory, product specifications, or media files the client may need to view as part of a company wide broadcast. Most often this device runs an administrative version of the software allowing administrative tasks to be performed while the client computer runs a similar version only allowing data entry and viewing of specific information. The operator of each client depends on the performance and stability of the host computer to access information accurately and quickly.

In a small publishing environment, this type of system may be used to catalog existing content, marketing materials, graphics and photography that are constantly used by writers, editors and designers when building a collection of information for distribution. Writers may create beginning drafts and copy them to a specific folder on the host computer where an editor may retrieve, edit and return the drafts with needed changes. As the process continues, the content might be transferred to a secondary location or folder where the publication designers then work with the content to determine the concept, design the pages, and build the publication to be ready for distribution.

When licensing software, sometimes a host computer is required to house a data file, which contains specific hardware and network information about each client, assigned to run the software application for its user. Often this computer is called the licensing server or key server because it will provide remote authorization from its location for a predetermined amount of users or software seats to be used legally in a networked environment. Along with many other uses a host computer can serve a multitude of purposes to aid in the efficient operation of a working network.

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Discussion Comments
By Charred — On Jun 10, 2011

One of the most extravagant uses of Internet connected host computers is the SETI@home project. SETI is the organization that is searching for signals from space to determine if life exists elsewhere in the universe.

They allow Internet users to download SETI software to assist in listening to, or rather processing, signals that come through the SETI project.

Thousands of signals come through and when the user’s software detects anything unusual it notifies SETI and they investigate further. It’s basically one big, massive distributed computing project, or what is commonly nowadays called cloud computing.

I have this software installed on my home computer, and it operates in the background displaying these weird sine waves. I don't know if we've found ET yet, but I'm glad to play a small part regardless.

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