The Anatomy of Internet URL's

How Internet Addresses Work

Woman relaxing and using laptop in lounge.
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Part 1) 21 Years of URLs, and Already There Are Billions.

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 "URLs" 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.



Today, an estimated 80 billion web pages and internet transmitters are addressed using URL names.


Here are six 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


Cryptic? Perhaps, but outside of the strange acronyms, URLs are really no more cryptic than an international long-distance telephone number.

Let's take a closer look at several examples, where we will disassemble the URLs into their component parts...

Next Page...

Related: What Is an 'IP Address'?

Part 2) A URL Spelling Lesson

Here are some simplified rules to start your URL habits right:

1) URL is synonymous with "internet address". Feel free to interchange those words in conversation, although URL makes you sound more high-tech!

2) URL never has any spaces in it. Internet addressing does not like spaces; if it finds spaces, your computer will sometimes replace each space with the three chracters '%20' as a substitute.

3) A URL, for the most part, is all lower case.  Uppercase usually does not make a difference in how the URL works.

4) A URL is NOT the same as an email address.

5) A URL always starts with a protocol prefix, like "http://" or 'https://'.
Most browsers will type those characters for you.

Tech point: other common internet protocols are ftp://, gopher://, telnet://, and irc://. Explanations of these protocols follow later in another tutorial.

 

6) A URL uses forward slashes (/) and dots to separate its parts.

7) A URL is usually in some kind of English, but numbers are also allowed.


Some examples for you:

http://english.pravda.ru/
https://citizensbank.ca/login
ftp://211.14.19.101
telnet://hollis.harvard.edu

Part 3) Decrypted URL Samples

Graphic Example 1: the explanation of a commercial web site URL.

Graphic Example 2: the explanation of a country-specific web site URL, with dynamic content.

Graphic Example 3: the explanation of a "Secure-Sockets" URL with dynamic content.

Back to IE Browser Handbook

Related: "What is an 'IP Address'?"