In computing, a client is a computer hardware or software that interfaces with a server to access services, thus forming part of the client-server model.
There are many examples and applications of a client. A web browser such as Google Chrome or Safari from Apple is a web client that interfaces with a web server to retrieve and display web pages. Moreover, an email client, including free email services such as Gmail and Yahoo! Mail, retrieves email messages from a mail server.
In general, there are two classifications or types of client. These are thick client and thin client. A hybrid client is a third classification that combines the characteristics of both thick client and thin client.
Thick client vs. thin client: The difference
A thick client, also known as a fat client or rich client, is a client that is able to perform functions independent of a server. These functions include storing and retrieving data and programs or apps, and local processing.
Personal computers that connected to a local network, virtual network or cloud servers, or the Internet are a prime example of a thick client. Note that to be considered as such, a personal computer must be used primarily in a networked environment. Collaboration and subscription-based programs or apps are other examples of a thick client, particularly if they are installed and processed in a particular computing device. Some examples of these apps include Microsoft Office 365 and Adobe Creative Cloud.
On the other hand, a thin client is a client that is heavily dependent on a server for accessing data and running programs or apps. This server does most of the workload ranging from storage and retrieval, to processing. Hence, a thin client is critically dependent on the hardware resources of a server.
A personal computer can also work as a thin client, particularly if it is used for accessing programs stored on a server. Most thin client computers are lightweight in terms of hardware specifications. Web browsers and web-based apps such as WordPress, Google Docs, and web-based online games are also examples of a thin client. Devices used for media streaming such as Chromecast and Apple TV installed with streaming apps such as Netflix or Spotify are technically examples of thin clients as well.
Essentially, designing and implementing a client-server architecture requires choosing between a thick client and a thin client or in other words, deciding if the client or server will handle the majority of the workload. Note that a client-server architecture based on thin clients can also be called a cloud-based architecture.
Advantages of thick client: The drawbacks of thin clients
Below is a list of benefits or advantages of thick clients. Note that these advantages also correspond to the drawbacks or disadvantages of thin clients.
1. Rich graphic user interface: One of the notable advantages of thick client involves the capability to deliver a rich graphic user interface. Examples of such interface include a fully featured operating system, immersive computer program or applications, and graphic intensive video games. Note that thin clients are unable to rich graphics due to limitations in processing or computing capabilities, and available storage space.
2. Better data and program processing: Note that a prominent drawback of thin clients is their inability to locally process their own data and/or programs. On the other hand, similar to the capability to deliver rich graphic user interface, thick clients can perform resource-intensive data or program processing. Examples include running a video or music-editing app, playing video games, data analysis, and computer simulation, among others
3. Server performance efficiency: A client-server architecture based on thick clients does not need high-performing servers. This is because processing and other hardware functionalities transpire at the local or individual level rather than a central level. This advantage means cheaper servers. Furthermore, this advantage also means that the server can support more users, thus translating to higher server capacity.
4. Can work offline: Another advantage of thick clients is its independence from their servers or a networked environment. They are usable and remains functional even while offline. To be specific, they do not require constant and consistent network connection, unlike thin clients that are heavily dependent on continuously interfacing with their servers. Of course, thick clients still need to interface with their servers, especially for sharing or synchronizing data with the entire network.
Advantages of thin client: The drawbacks of thick clients
Below is a list of benefits or advantages of thin clients. Note that these advantages also correspond to the drawbacks or disadvantages of thick clients.
1. Optimization of hardware resources: Fewer hardware requirements are one of the main advantages of thin clients when compared to thick clients. Remember that client clients depend solely on the hardware resources of the server. Furthermore, in a client-server architecture based on thin clients, there are fewer needs for cabling, bussing, and switching. Note that this advantage also translates to cost-effectiveness. Essentially, thin clients are more inexpensive to implement than thick clients.
2. Reduced hardware and software maintenance: Note that thick clients are standalone computer terminals with their own hardware resources and fully-featured operating system and programs or app. This can be a disadvantage because maintaining these computers would involve attending to each computer, thus consuming time and possible, additional costs. Hence, another benefit of thick clients includes easier hardware and software administration, troubleshooting, system or app patching, security updates, and data migration.
3. Lesser security vulnerability: The fact that software or apps and files or data reside in a centralized location, specifically the server, means that they are easily administered, monitored, and protected through firewall applications. There is a lesser chance of compromising software and data assets in case a single or several computer terminals malfunctioned or are stolen.
4. Cost effectiveness and efficiency: It is important to emphasize inexpensiveness as a notable advantage of thin clients. Remember that hardware resource optimization, reduced maintenance, and better security translate to cost effectiveness and efficiency, particularly when compared to thick clients. This inexpensiveness is the reason why client-server architectures based on thin clients are commonly used in education and business environments where financial resources are of critical importance.