Cutting Through The Jargon: What Is A Thin Client?

POSTED BY Heather Johnson, UPDATED ON March 24th, 2023
What is a Thin Client?

Are you sometimes baffled by computer jargon? With the speed of technological development, new terms emerge before old terms are fully defined. Definitions change as products evolve, but fear not, explanations are at hand. Today we’re going to simplify one of the newest concepts in computing today: thin clients. Before we jump into the land of servers, take a moment to look at the computer sitting at home on your desk. Maybe it’s in your hand (mobile phones have computers in them, too). That machine contains many parts, each of which contributes to the “smartness” of the instrument. Desktop computers are often thick, as they contain a multitude of components that facilitates the many actions they can undertake. However, when it comes to the internet, how much are our individual computers actually responsible for? Let’s take a deep look at what is a thin client:

Whenever you connect to the Internet, you see images and pictures flashing in front of you on the screen. It might be the news, it might be the weather. If you go to a website – either by clicking on a link or by typing in a web address, a computer somewhere else in the world goes and looks for what you’re trying to find. When it finds it, it then sends the picture of what it finds to your computer. You then see this picture in your web browser.

Let’s get a concrete example here. I turn on my computer, log in and open up my web browser (it could be Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Opera, or another one – these all do pretty much the same thing, they let you see pictures sent from the internet). I type in ‘’.

The address that I typed is sent from my computer, over the internet, to another computer (probably on the other side of the world). That computer looks inside itself and sends me back what I’m looking for – in this case, the webpage ‘Google’. The page is then received by my computer and displayed through my browser.

The name of my computer in this interaction is the ‘client’. The name of the other computer is the ‘server’. To simplify, when I type ‘’ and then hit ‘Enter’ (or ‘return’), my client sends a request to the server for a particular webpage. The server finds the webpage, then returns the page to my client’s computer, which shows it to me. And that’s the interaction!

Well, where does this ‘thin’ bit come in, then? Let’s take a look at what my computer – the client in our example – actually has to do in the interaction above. Firstly, it has to send a request for a page. I tell it what page it is going to request by typing in a page address, so it doesn’t really have to work too hard to just send that request. Secondly, it has to receive the reply from the server and show it to me.

That might be a bit harder, but it’s still not too taxing on the client machine. All the actual work – all the looking for the webpage – is done by the server, not by the client.

Remember earlier, when we said that your computer is a thick machine because it’s full of brains? Those brains mean that they can do all of their own work. But in our example, the client machine – our computer – doesn’t really need to do any work at all! So why do we need all those brains?

The truth is, we don’t! We can take out a huge bunch of the computer’s brains – parts inside it – and make it not only ‘thin’ in real life, but ‘thin’ in smarts – we’re reducing the number of parts we need inside our computer. In fact, we can take out nearly all of the parts. This would make our computer a thin client when it’s dealing with servers, who do nearly all the work.

Title Image Source: Raysonho @ Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine via Wikimedia Commons

One Comment

  1. Ali Inam says:

    really helpful explained in very easy way thanks

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