How Internet URL Addresses Work

Young woman lying on sofa with laptop computer
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Part 1) 20 Years of URL Addresses, and Already There Are Billions.

URL's are computer addresses on the Internet. The intent behind URL's is to make it easier to type the location of a particular web page or computing device.  Because there so many millions of pages and devices on the internet, URL's can become quite long, and are usually best typed through copy-pasting.

Today, an estimated 150+ billion public web pages are addressed using URL names.

Here are examples of the most-common URL appearances:

Example: http://www.whitehouse.gov
Example: https://www.nbnz.co.nz/login.asp
Example: http://forums.about.com/ab-guitar/messages/?msg=6198.1
Example: ftp://ftp.download.com/public
Example: telnet://freenet.ecn.ca
Example: gopher://204.17.0.108
Example: http://english.pravda.ru/
Example: https://citizensbank.ca/login
Example: ftp://211.14.19.101
Example: telnet://hollis.harvard.edu

Where Did URL's Come From? And Why Not Just Say 'Web Addresses'?


In 1995, Tim Berners-Lee, the father of the World Wide Web, implemented a standard of "URIs" (Uniform Resource Identifiers), sometimes called Universal Resource Identifiers. The name later changed to "URL's" for Uniform Resource Locators. The intent was to take the idea of telephone numbers, and apply them to addressing millions of web pages and machines.The name is solely a matter of being technically specific.



This may sound cryptic and complex at first, but once you get past the strange acronyms, URL's are really no more complex than an international long-distance telephone number with a country code, area code, and the phone number itself.

You'll find that URL's actually make a lot of sense.  Next are several URL examples, where we will disassemble the URL's into their component parts...


(tutorial continued from previous page)

A URL Spelling Lesson: How We Spell URL Web Addresses

Here are some simplified rules that explain how URL's are spelled.

  1. URL is synonymous with "internet address" or "web address". Feel free to interchange those words in conversation.
  2. URL's never have any spaces in their final spelling. In cases where people make web pages with spaces in the names, those spaces get automatically replaced with technical characters like   or the % sign.
  3. URL, for the most part, is all lower case. Mixing upper and lower case letters doesn't make a difference to the everyperson.
  4. URL is NOT the same as an email address.
  5. URL's always start with a protocol prefix like "http://", but most browsers will type those characters for you. Nerdy point to note: some other common Internet protocols are ftp://gopher://telnet://, and irc://. Explanations of these protocols follow later in another tutorial.
  6. URL's use forward slashes (/) and dots to separate its parts.
  7. URL's are usually in some kind of English or other written language, but numbers are also allowed.


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