Thin client

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A thin client (sometimes also called a lean or slim client) is a computer or a computer program which depends heavily on some other computer (its server) to fulfill its traditional computational roles. This stands in contrast to the traditional fat client, a computer designed to take on these roles by itself. The exact roles assumed by the server may vary, from providing data persistence (for example, for diskless nodes) to actual information processing on the client's behalf.

Thin clients occur as components of a broader computer infrastructure, where many clients share their computations with the same server. As such, thin client infrastructures can be viewed as the amortization of some computing service across several user-interfaces. This is desirable in contexts where individual fat clients have much more functionality or power than the infrastructure either requires or uses. This can be contrasted, for example, with grid computing.

The most common type of modern thin client is a low-end computer terminal which concentrates solely on providing a graphical user interface to the end-user. The remaining functionality, in particular the operating system, is provided by the server.

Contents

History

Thin clients have their roots in multi-user systems, traditionally mainframes accessed by some sort of terminal computer. As computer graphics matured, these terminals transitioned from providing a command-line interface to a full graphical user interface, as is common on modern thin clients. The prototypical multiuser environment along these lines was Unix, and fully graphical X terminals were relatively popular thin clients in the 1990s. Modern Unix derivatives like BSD and GNU/Linux continue this multi-user tradition.

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