Your guide to understanding website URLs (3 key parts)

Your guide to understanding website URLs (3 key parts)


What is a website URL?

This question has many possible answers, depending on who you’re asking. For example, for web developers and analysts , a website URL is just a simple string of characters that uniquely identifies a webpage or application. It’s an important piece of data that should be recorded in case something goes wrong or if anyone would like to get more information about our page(s). But what exactly constitutes the three key parts of every website URL? Thankfully, there are three main components to any given webpage address: usernames, hostnames and folders/ directories . By examining all three carefully, we can get a much better picture of how websites work - from both ends!

First Key Part: The Username This first key part of a website URL is not actually a part of the URL itself, but instead refers to the username we put in our browser’s address bar every time we access a web page. You should always see it as an empty or “ (none) ” box that you can type into and press enter:

An example of an empty Username field

If this field is not blank, it means you have navigated to a particular user profile on the website - often referred to as logging in. These usernames are typically made up of letters and numbers only and do not include any special characters such as dashes or underscores . Common examples that come to mind are Facebook profiles, Twitter accounts and Google+ pages.

The important thing to remember here is that usernames are essentially how we stay connected to different parts of a website.

Second Key Part: The Hostname The hostname, or the “domain name” as it used to be called, comprises the next part of our web address. When you type in the hostname (which always appears after “www.”) into your browser, you should see something like this:

The common example of an Internet domain name If you go back and read what I said about usernames , you’ll notice that they are essentially just unique identifiers for various parts of a website too - except that usernames typically only apply to single users instead of entire websites. This means that even though and are two completely different websites, they would share the same username (if logged in). Now, what does this mean for domain names? Well, while the latter only refers to a single user profile on a website (albeit one with many followers), it identifies an entire website instead of just one particular section of it. This is why when you type “” into your browser, you are taken to Yahoo!’s homepage despite having no prior connection to it . It also explains why if I were to try typing in , I will be redirected to Microsoft’s homepage - because Bing is not its own separate entity but rather just another part of Microsoft.

The easiest way to identify the difference is by looking for the “www” prefix in front of the hostname. If it has this, then it means there are separate usernames (and thus sections) within that website. And if not, then that particular domain name can be shared with everyone else who uses it. An example of this is Google having both and  which define two different websites under one username (the latter does not require an added “www”). The important thing to remember here is that while usernames can change or be modified at will, they are still just part of a website - whereas hostnames actually refer to the website itself .

Third Key Part: The Folders/ Directories While usernames and hostnames are crucial when it comes to understanding how websites work, the third key part is perhaps the most important of them all. That’s because it’s not just a small section of your web address but rather an entire sub-section that helps you find important data on the webpage. These folders or directories could be pictures, videos, articles or even special downloads related to your account (such as banking details). This can get quite complicated so I’ll try my best to create an example. Let’s say you were looking for a picture of “puppies wearing hats” on Google Images.

The Puppies wearing hats search on Google Images As you can see, it’s simple enough to understand - just add “ imghp ” after the hostname and before the filename extension (the part that appears after a “.”). While I can't lay out all of the different possible variations of these three key parts, hopefully this has helped clear up some confusion for anyone trying to figure them out!


Title: Your guide to understanding website URLs (3 key parts)


Description: Throughout the next few sections, we’ll look at the three most important parts of a URL (Uniform Resource Locator) for regular users. Combined, they should answer the question: “What is a website URL?”


Key Part 1: The Username I know what you might be thinking about this part - and no, it doesn't just refer to usernames on social media websites such as Facebook profiles or Twitter accounts! Instead, it's more meant to refer to any type of username that can be used anywhere . These could range from your Yahoo email address or even your Google+ profile if you're logged in. They are technically not the same as usernames on social media websites because these can actually refer to multiple profiles (one for each user) instead of just one profile like your Facebook or Twitter handle. While there aren't any universal rules about this, most websites separate an individual username into “ www ” and then some other unique identifier. Examples include how Google uses “” to represent their email address, Bing uses “” to identify their account and Amazon has a special link that redirects you from “www” to your main account page followed by a random string of letters and numbers . In short, while an email address is technically a unique identifier you can use everywhere, the “www” prefix is not required by all websites. It might be required if you're signing up with that email address for the first time or registering your account under someone else's name.

Key Part 2: The Hostname Here, it might be useful to explain what a host is before explaining what a hostname is . Think of it as an individual computer which runs its own website. This could be through something like Bluehost, where most people have heard of using this service because it's so popular for beginners looking to build their online presence. Then there are dedicated web hosting companies such as GoDaddy or Namecheap which deal specifically in hosting domains . At the end of the day, these “websites” that hosts run are known as domain names or TLDs (Top-Level Domains). Once again, the term “domain name” doesn't fully explain what a hostname is - but it's one of two main factors you need to understand when figuring out your website URL. The other factor is known as a folder or directory which will be discussed in more depth later on.

Key Part 3: The Filename Extension This last part might be a little well-known to some people who have used apps in their smartphones before, but just to clear up any confusion I'll explain it in its own section. That being said, the filename extension simply refers to anything that could appear after a period symbol (.) at the end of a URL. In some cases, it's just a random string of numbers and letters such as “ .com” or “ .ca” for Canada-based websites. Other times, it could be something like “ .pdf” which is used to save and open PDF files on computers and smartphones alike.


The Puppies wearing hats search on Google Images As you can see, it’s simple enough to understand - just add “ imghp ” after the hostname and before the filename extension (the part that appears after a “.”). While I can't lay out all of the different possible variations of these three key parts, I can say that you should be able to figure out what a URL means by just looking at it for 5 seconds.

As an example, let's check out this search on Google Images:

The first result is the Puppies wearing hats image which should be easy enough to find if you know anything about the internet. And while it might seem like this is just another random string of letters and numbers without mentioning any part of “the username” or “the hostname”, it actually has all three parts inside. The information for each part can be found through Elmer Fudd's hat-wearing puppy dog eyes (that must mean he loves them) since they're what makes this site unique from all other sites on the internet.

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