The customer side of a client/server setup. To confuse matters, when you log on to a server, the word client can refer to you, to your computer, or to the software running on your computer. For example, to download something from an ftp site, you use ftp client software.

Client comes from the root meaning "to hear", and this sets the tone of its meaning in a variety of contexts:

  • Networking.

    In the field of computers, a client is anything which must connect to a server to function. A web browser is a prime example - to view Everything2, you must connect to the E2 server. A web browser is useless without servers to connect to, since it has in and of itself little use.

    IM software is also of the client variety. You run your AIM or ICQ or MSN or Yahoo, and you connect to a central server. The server does all the work, and you get the sweet fruits of its labour - ie, messages from your buddies.

    There are also thick clients and thin clients. Generally speaking, a thin client is a simple piece of software (or hardware) that serves to directly relay the server's output to you (and your data back to the server). Telnet and SSH are thin clients, because they can represent any sort of application. It is up to the server to deal with your input. Thick clients, however, are more focused on working within the client itself. For instance, Outlook is a thick client - you do most of your work independently of the server, only connecting to transfer mail messages.

    There is also client hardware. Most American libraries used to have WYSE Terminals available for you to access their card catalogs with; these devices were known as clients (thin clients particularly) because they served only to relay the server's output to the user, and the user's input back to the server. The advantage here was that the public only had access to (relativevly) cheap, robust pieces of hardware - they didn't have to interact with the expensive, fragile server directly.

    Client-server is the most popular networking model currently in use. Peer to peer is a competing model, which is growing in popularity in certain avenues of computing, especially file sharing and distributed computing. For a further discussion of clients and how they relate to servers, client server is a good place to start.

  • Business.

    In the business world, a client is one who is hiring a business, consultant, or other entity to provide some goods or services. Amusingly, the root meaning of client - to hear - is reversed in this situation, because it is usually the business that listens to the client, not the other way around. Often, customer and client are used interchangeably, although customer is generally used more abstractly - a grocery store has customers, while a law firm has clients.

Cli"ent (?), n. [L. cliens, -emtis, for cluens, one who hears (in relation to his protector), a client, fr. L. cluere to be named or called; akin to Gr. to hear, Skr. ssry, and E. loud: cf. F. client. See Loud.]

1. Rom. Antiq.

A citizen who put himself under the protection of a man of distinction and influence, who was called his patron.


A dependent; one under the protection of another.

I do think they are your friends and clients, And fearful to disturb you. B. Jonson.

3. Law

One who consults a legal adviser, or submits his cause to his management.


© Webster 1913.

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