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The term client is a general term used in the context of what is called the client/realm relationship. By usual design there is generally 1 server and many clients that connect to it. The server acts as a central clearinghouse for much of the data exchanged and some of the processing of that data. The client should hold and process data that is only important to local usage.
World of Warcraft Edit
In World of Warcraft, the client is the actual game that a player installs and uses to connect to the realm. Each client can only be connected to 1 server at any one time, but a server may have thousands of clients connected to it. Some limit is determined by testing and when the number of clients reaches that limit, client connections are queued until others disconnect. These queues will be familiar to people who play on high population servers.
The client is not to be confused with the launcher which does some optional pre-checking of your system (mostly for malware and viruses, but Blizzard won't reveal the method or specifics) and downloads selected news for preview with a button to launch the actual client.
- What the client does
- Connects to the internet.
- Shows you the EULA, if you're new or got a patch.
- Checks for updates.
- Downloads updater and quits, if a patch appears.
- Verifies your login and password against your account.
- Allows you to select your realm (server).
- Presents the character creation/selection screen.
- Allows you to adjust your AddOn settings.
- Allows you to create a new character.
- Allows you to select an existing character.
- Allows you to rotate the rendered view of the currently selected character.
- Loads, renders and animates environment objects and textures.
- Handles all UI (although some may be controlled and created by AddOns).
- Manages UI settings. Some are saved locally, but most AddOn settings are saved locally.
- Loads, renders and animates all mobs, NPCs, and players.
- Manages requests to the server for actions and responds accordingly.
- Renders effects (blood, buffs, spells, etc.).
- Handles windows and their control (chat, combat log, paper doll, guild list, etc.).
- Handles zone (instances mostly) transitions.
- Additional info
- Most rendering bugs (i.e. white, textureless armor) are client bugs.
- As in many MMORPGs, you can download the client
Official Client Downloaders Edit
Although there are image files over the internet, you are advised NOT to download them, because there is no way in telling if they're virus free or that they don't contain any malware.
The above links are pointing to trial version of the client, which can be used to play WoW provided you have an active account
Alternative downloads and mirrors of the client programm and patches can be found on Patch mirrors.