In the sentences :

The file is placed in the server.

The file is placed on the server.

The file is placed at the server.

Which is the best option?

  • 2
    How about you google each of these 3 phrases (in double-quotes) separately, and come back and tell us which got the most hits, and by what margin, and what conclusions you've tentatively drawn from that research? Remember, when you come back with that information, don't just leave it as a comment, edit your question to integrate it.
    – Dan Bron
    Apr 28 '15 at 13:51
  • possible duplicate of What preposition should be used with "cache"? Apr 28 '15 at 14:08
  • I think that all three of those sentences can be used depending on what you mean to say.
    – user85526
    Apr 28 '15 at 17:09
  • 1
    @George is entirely right. Did you read the tag wiki for the "prepositions" tag?
    – Andrew Leach
    Apr 28 '15 at 20:33
  • 1
    Normal computer jargon would be "placed on the server". (Note that other things may be going on "in the server" or "at the server", but they're probably not "placed" there.)
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 28 '15 at 22:16

A Google Books search for the phrases "at the server (green line), "in the server" (red line", and "on the server" (blue line) over the years 1980–2008 yields the following Ngram chart:

The chart is interesting in several ways. First it indicates that usage of all three phrases was near zero until the late 1980s, which indicates that the level of interference from instances of previously established noncomputer usage is negligible. Second, it shows a clear preference for "on the server" overall. And third it shows impressive persistence of the other two forms. This third point is especially noteworthy because it suggests that under certain circumstances "at" or "in" may actually be preferable to "on" as the preposition preceding "the server."

The matches for "at the server" (and for the alternative phrases) include numerous examples from computer magazines and computer book publishers, whose staffers are likely to be attuned to fine idiomatic distinctions. The results suggest that "at the server" is used primarily in descriptions of actions taking place or features operating at the network location in question (the server). For example, from "Fax servers send a cost-effective message," in Network World (January 25, 1993):

Users should keep in mind that outbound faxes are sent to the fax server as native files and converted to Group III images at the server, thus keeping bandwidth needs to a minimum.

And from Kevvie Fowler, SQL Server Forensic Analysis (2008):

The two main security gates—at the server and at the database—are common across all SQL Server versions.

Th phrase "in the server" is especially common in discussions of hardware components or operating software located within the server box, as in this example from Frank Derfler, "Testing the Hottest and the Fastest," in PC Mag (December 11, 1990):

After you make sure that your server has a fast hard disk and enough memory for disk caching, put two or more network adapter boards in the server and split the network cabling to even the average load.

And from Rand Morimoto, Michael Noel & Omar Droubi, Windows Server 2008 Unleashed (2008):

The patch surface of a server is the code in the server that requires patches to be applied.

The phrase "on the server" dominates descriptions of data storage. For example, from Mark Stephens, "Pulling Together: Multiprocessing network servers set records through teamwork," in InfoWorld (April 23, 1990):

Before client/server computing, networked databases ran the application in the workstation PC, keeping only raw data on the server.

And from Barry Gerber, Mastering Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 (2006):

To better understand this option, you need to understand that POP3 clients download each message that is on the server.

From these examples, it seems clear that the most suitable preposition to use in front of "the server" in a sentence describing where an electronic file goes is "on":

The file is placed on the server.


ON, definitely. To me, "in" would suggest you are hiding a document inside the cabinet of the machine, like in a spy film. "At" suggests a table beside the machine where refreshments are laid out – the canapes are at the server.


On. And quite literally. The file is a specific collection of bits that are on the surface of the storage disk.

  • 1
    This is false if you take a physical file and unscrew the top of the server and place it inside. Then the first one would be fine.
    – user85526
    Apr 28 '15 at 17:07
  • I'm also a programmer but I can for sure imagine opening a server and placing a file inside. Your imagination must not be very good.
    – user85526
    Apr 29 '15 at 19:01
  • How could a hyperbole be friendly and how could you put a pure fact on your mental state? None of those things are physical, much less sentient.
    – user85526
    Apr 29 '15 at 19:10
  • With what? I'm just sitting in my chair at home.
    – user85526
    Apr 29 '15 at 19:14

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.