A content-aware flow switch intercepts a client content request in an IP network, and transparently directs the content request to a best-fit server. The best-fit server is chosen based on the type of content requested, the quality of service requirements implied by the content request, the degree of load on available servers, network congestion information, and the proximity of the client to available servers. The flow switch detects client-server flows based on the arrival of TCP SYNs and/or HTTP GETs from the client. The flow switch implicitly deduces the quality of service requirements of a flow based on the content of the flow. The flow switch also provides the functionality of multiple physical web servers on a single web server in a way that is transparent to the client, through the use of virtual web hosts and flow pipes.