What Is a Headless Server?

An IT administrator installs a rack-mount server in a data center.Arjuna Kodisinghe / Shutterstock.com

A headless server is a computer without a monitor, keyboard, mouse, or other device. Headless computers are normally controlled over the network. For example, imagine computers sitting on racks in data centers while powering websites. They are headless servers.

What does “headless” mean?

A “headless” computer system is just a system without a local interface. No monitor (“head”) is connected. There is also no keyboard, mouse, touch screen or other local interface to control it.

These systems are not computers that you sit and use like a desktop computer. They do not have a graphical interface configured. You access and manage them remotely, usually via a network. For example, you can control a headless server through a web control panel or through SSH, which provides you with a secure command line shell that you can access over a network. You can even access a graphical desktop on the network with a solution like Remote office or VNC.

You will see the term “headless” appear in a variety of different contexts, but it still means the same thing. “Headless Linux” refers to a Linux system without a monitor or keyboard. A “headless Minecraft server” is a computer without a monitor or keyboard running a Minecraft server. You connect to the server via the network.

What is a headless server for?

Not all computer systems require a monitor, keyboard, and mouse. Many computers are servers designed for remote access. Data centers are overflowing with “mounted supportComputers, combining as many computing powers in as little space as possible. They will save space, electricity and money by not connecting each server computer to a separate monitor.

Headless systems aren’t just for data centers. For example, you can choose to host a Multimedia server on an old computer you’re dragging on, allowing you to stream multimedia content from any device on your local network. Once you have, you can decide that you can simply remove the monitor, keyboard and mouse from the media server computer. After all, you simply access it via the network. You can keep your server PC in a cupboard somewhere and control it without sitting in front of it. You now have a headless server.

These systems can be controlled and managed remotely without disturbing the peripherals. If there is a reason why you need a monitor and keyboard with a headless server – perhaps to fix a problem – you can always connect these devices when you need them.

For example, Gartner valued In July 2016, Google had approximately 2.5 million servers in its data centers worldwide. These are largely headless servers – Google doesn’t need 2.5 million monitors and keyboards as well.

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