What is the Difference Between Thick Client and Thin Client?

In the computing field, the term client refers to computer software or hardware that interfaces with a server for accessing services. It is an important part of the client-server model. For instance, web browsers such as Apple Safari or Google Chrome acts as a web client that interfaces with the webserver for retrieving and displaying the web pages. Other examples are email clients like Gmail and Yahoo. Clients are classified into two types, thick client and thin client. An architecture comprising of both thick client and the thin client is known as a hybrid client.

thick client v/s thin client
image credits: wikimedia.com

What is the Thick Client?

A thick client performs the operation independent of the server. It implements its own features. The other names for a thick client are ‘fat client’ or ‘rich client’. The prime example of the thick client is personal computers connected to LAN (Local Area Network), cloud computing or virtual network servers, etc. Other examples of the thick client are subscription featured programs and apps such as Adobe Creative Cloud, MS Office 365, etc. installed in a computing device. However, despite the ability of the thick clients to function without a central server, it still requires a periodic network server connection.

Features of Thick Client:

  • High-Level Graphics User Interface
  • Efficient Program and Data Processing
  • Ability to Work Offline
  • Highly Efficient Server Performance

What is Thin Client?

Unlike a thick client, the thin client needs a server to function properly. It is heavily depended on the central server for data processing or retrieving files. With a thin client, the server performs sensitive functions like storage, retrieving the files and data processing. The perfect example of a thin client is a web browser. They don’t seem to be interesting unless they are connected to the web servers. Once they get access to the webserver, they provide a wide range of functionality and services.

Features of Thin Client:

  • Less maintenance of Hardware and Software
  • Reduced risk of malfunction as the files and apps are stored in the central server
  • Cost-effective
  • Fewer hardware requirements as compared to thick clients.

A Quick Comparison Between Thick Client and Thin Client

  Thick Client   Thin Client  
  Can function independently of a central server   Heavily dependent on the server
  Expensive as they need more IT work to deploy them   Cost-effective as they are easy to deploy without any extra installation software
  Utilizes more local resources   Utilizes less local resources
  Data is stored locally   Data is stored on the server
  Can function efficiently in offline mode   Cannot function efficiently in offline mode
  Example: Personal Computers connected to LAN.   Example: Web Browsers like Google Chrome and Apple Safari

What Is Thin Client Computing?

The term thin client aka slim or lean client stands for a lightweight computer designed to establish a remote connection with server-based computers. It is a networked computer that contains some locally stored programs and depends heavily on network resources. Thin client computing systems are the components of a larger computing architecture. These computers possess very fewer resources of their own such as conducting operations without CD-DVD and auxiliary drives or software apps. The hardware of a such computers has low-cost and has very few moving parts. As compared to rich or fat client computers, thin client functions well in a hostile environment. However, in terms of extensibility, thin-client computers lag behind desktop PCs. 

Thin client image
Image credits : Wikimedia commons

What are the Characteristics of a Thin Client?

1. Simplicity

Simplicity is one of the important features of thin client computing. These computers reduce the footprint of client-side software thereby simplifying the desktop endpoints. Because of the lightweight feature, there is a reduction in the read-only operating system, administration, and client-side setup. Since cloud access is the main role of thin clients, there is the elimination of data storage and local user applications. 

2. Graphics

The latest thin client computing services are meeting the demands of today’s graphical computing requirements. The combination of low energy chipset and Central Processing Unit increases the graphical capabilities and processing power. 

3. Hardware

As compared to a traditional PC, the client hardware needs of a thin computing system are very less. Many thin clients are comprised of minimal or no moving parts, less memory, and low energy processors. Also, there is less risk of theft in these computers as they don’t store sensitive data locally.

What are the Uses of Thin Clients?

Thin clients are typically used in 3 ways:

  • Shared Terminal Services

Shared terminal services, the users at thin client stations that can share server-based apps and OS (operating system). The users via share terminal services have limited tasks such as, creating folders and running IT applications. 

  • Desktop Virtualization

Also known as UI processing, in desktop virtualization, each desktop lives in a virtual machine. Although the OS and apps are not shared resources, they are visibly present on a remote server. 

  • Using Browser-Based Approach

Using Browser-based approach with a thin client, when an ordinary device is connected to the internet, instead on a remote server, the device functions within a website browser.