We consider cluster-based network servers in which a front-end directs incoming requests to one of a number of back-ends. Specifically, we consider content-based request distribution: the front-end uses the content requested, in addition to information about the load on the back-end nodes, to choose which back-end will handle this request. Content-based request distribution can improve locality in the back-ends’ main memory caches, increase secondary storage scalability by partitioning the server’s database, and provide the ability to employ back-end nodes that are specialized for certain types of requests. As a specific policy for content-based request distribution, we introduce a simple, practical strategy for locality-aware request distribution (LARD). With LARD, the front-end distributes incoming requests in a manner that achieves high locality in the back-ends’ main memory caches as well as load balancing. Locality is increased by dynamically subdividing the server’s working set over the back-ends. Trace-based simulation results and measurements on a prototype implementation demonstrate substantial performance improvements over state-of-the-art approaches that use only load information to distribute requests. On workloads with working sets that do not fit in a single server node’s main memory cache, the achieved throughput exceeds that of the state-of-the-art approach by a factor of two to four. With content-based distribution, incoming requests must be handed off to a back-end in a manner transparent to the client, after the front-end has inspected the content of the request. To this end, we introduce an efficient TCP handoflprotocol that can hand off an established TCP connection in a client-transparent manner.