Websites on the World Wide Web (WWW) use Uniform Resource Locators (URLs). A URL is a description of how to find some information over the web. URLs are a fundamental part of the web and have to follow a strict format. This article explains what URLs are, why they were created and how you can best use them.
What is a URL?
A Uniform Resource Locator (URL) specifies location information for a resource available or potentially available via the Internet. The most common way you might see this is when you type in an address that has numbers after it, such as "http://www.google.com". The numbers tell your browser where on the internet to look for something (the specific webpage). Without these numbers, websites wouldn't be accessible at all! For example: If you typed in www.google.com/everything , what would happen? Well, without knowing what number to look for, your browser wouldn't know what to do and would usually show you an error message.
What resources can URLs point to?
Most commonly, websites have URLs because they are webpages that have been assigned a specific address on the internet. In fact, every single website has a unique URL that tells your computer where it is located online. This location is called its "server." You can think of a server as being very similar to a computer hard drive in the physical world - it contains all of the information related to a site. There are other resources - such as images or videos - which also live on servers and have their own special URLs too!
Above: The Flickr image sharing website assigns each uploaded photo a unique URL
How do URLs work?
URLs alone won't do anything. You can type in a website's URL into your browser, but this only tells the browser where to find the information you want - it doesn't display it! In order to make websites accessible for humans and computer programs, web browsers need to know how to turn servers into something that they can understand. This is done using a protocol called HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol). There are a few different versions of this protocol, but we'll focus on the most commonly used one: HTTP/1.1.
HTTP works with your web browser by carrying out two important jobs:
It requests information from a server It interprets the response from the server and displays it on your browser
Above: The process of requesting and receiving information from a server
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When written in sentence form, "a Uniform Resource Locator" is simply known as a URL. A URL can point to any number of things because there are several different protocols that it can be assigned to associate with (such as FTP). For example, when typing www.google.com into your address bar (and hitting enter) you will get directed to Google's homepage if the HTTP protocol is associated with that website; this will work even if you've never been on Google before or if Google has recently been updated.
URLs are generally shown as a series of four or five words. These individual words, however, need to be separated by "forward slashes" in order for you to properly access a website. For example: www.google.com/howtogethere/. This is known as a URL path and the final word that comes after the last slash is what identifies the specific webpage that will load when you visit this particular address within your browser's address bar.
There are three main protocols used by websites on the Internet today, which include Http (Hypertext Transfer Protocol), FTP (File Transfer Protocol) and SSH (Secure Shell). The most commonly used protocol is http://www.google.com which directs you to Google's homepage. FTP, on the other hand, is generally used for uploading files onto a server while SSH refers to an encrypted connection between your computer and another device (such as a server).
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