ELI5: Apache Tomcat

Explain Like I'm Five: What is Apache Tomcat, what does it do, and--particular to my situation--how would one use it to power a document search engine (I inherited a broken document search application that is run on Tomcat, and I don't know enough about it to even ask the appropriate questions for help)?
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R. Toby RichardsNetwork AdministratorAsked:
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grahamnonweilerCommented:
In the most simplest terms "Apache Tomcat" is method of delivering applications written/developed in Java to a standard Internet browser.

Normally referred to as "Tomcat", it comprises of the Apache server software running in a form of reverse proxy mode, together with the various sub-modules (servlets / JEEE applications) that do the work in terms of Java execution. These sub-modules handle the delivery to Apache, which in turn delivers the result to the browser over standard HTTP and HTTPS protocols.

There are a variety of versions of Tomcat, and depending on which version of Java your search application is developed under, you would need to select the applicable version of Apache Tomcat.

Now, the to penultimate part of your question, and this is purely personal advice speaking from past experience, if you have a deep/extensive knowledge and capability in terms of Java development and applications, then it is probably worth attempting to take on the tasks that will be required to "fix" your broken document search application. And then subsequently, bring Tomcat up to date and running.

Conversely, if you do not have that level of capability when it comes to Java, then the learning curve will be steep and long, and bringing Tomcat alive and running an even harder task. There are way too many very capable document search applications in the wild these days, from completely free open source offerings that are for the most part simple to install (both in an Internet and Intranet form) to highly capable and well supported commercial paid-for applications, that make the task of taking on an "unknown" application an unwise decision.

So depending on your personal skill set (and determination) if you decide to proceed with supporting the inherited document search application) the first place to start would be by downloading a version of Apache Tomcat (from the Apache Foundation site) applicable for your server environment, and then get that running. Once you have reached that point, you could then set-about contacting the original application developer and attempting to iron out its issues.

If you need a little more insight please feel free to ask (and sorry I couldn't quite make the answer truly ELI5).
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R. Toby RichardsNetwork AdministratorAuthor Commented:
That was exactly what I was looking for. Unfortunately, it means that I can't support the application, but at least I know it now. The original developer is unavailable.
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