What Is the Wayback Machine?

See what a website used to look like, way back when

World map illustrated on an endless supply of virtual folders

Maciej Frolow / Photographer's Choice / Getty Images Plus

Take a walk down the virtual memory lane provided by Internet Archive's Wayback Machine. This website is dedicated solely to storing web pages so that you can look through them again later.

Wayback Machine has catalogued more than 380 billion web pages from as far back as 1996, so there's a good chance that the website you want to see can be found on Wayback Machine. As long as the site allows for crawlers and isn't password protected or blocked, you can even manually archive any page you want so that you can always have access to it in the future.

The Wayback Machine won't help if you can't access the internet as a whole. In other words, the Wayback Machine's web page snapshots aren't a substitute for real access to the web; you still need a valid internet connection to view the website.

What's the Wayback Machine For?

The Wayback Machine was created to provide a place to preserve digital artifacts for researchers, historians, etc., but can just as easily be used for entertainment to see what a page used to look like, like Google way back in 2001. Another reason might be to access a page from a website that no longer exists and was shut down.

Internet Archive can also be useful for finding abandonware or other old software programs. If you use Wayback Machine to access a website that has been shut down, you might still be able to download files that used to exist on the live page.

Wayback Machine is a great way to find really, really old pages, but if you're looking for more recent versions of a website that you can't access, try using Google's cached page option.

How to Use Wayback Machine

There are a few different features on the Wayback Machine, but the most prominent is the search tool for finding what a website looked like at a prior date.

VIEW A WEB PAGE ARCHIVE

  1. Visit Wayback Machine on the Internet Archive website.

  2. Do a Wayback Machine search by pasting or typing a URL into the text box.

  3. Use the timeline at the top of the calendar to pick a year.

    Wayback Machine about.com archives
  4. Select any of the circles from the calendar for that year. Only the days highlighted with a circle contain an archive.

    Wayback Machine snapshot selection

    If available, you can choose a different snapshot taken on that day. The bigger circles indicate that more snapshots were taken that day versus the days represented with a smaller circle.

  5. View the archived web page as if it were live today. You can click through links normally (if there are archives for those pages), download files, etc.

    About.com Wayback Machine snapshot from 2005
  6. To jump to a different day for the same URL, use the timeline at the top.

VIEW CHANGES BETWEEN TWO DATES

The Changes area of the website — which you see after using the Wayback Machine search tool — provides a way to compare two dates of the same website to visually see what changed between the dates.

Wayback Machine compare feature for Lifewire.com

SEE A SUMMARY OF THE SITE

The Wayback Machine includes a Summary section for the URL you search for, which details the various documents on the page between two years. The tool gives a count of HTML files, images, and other file types.

Wayback Machine summary for Lifewire.com

Wayback Machine Examples

Here are some examples of how well-known websites looked a long time ago:

GOOGLE IN 1999

Google Wayback Machine snapshot from 2009

YOUTUBE IN 2005

YouTube Wayback Machine snapshot from 2005

TWITTER IN 2007

Twitter Wayback Machine snapshot from 2007

FACEBOOK IN 2006

Facebook Wayback Machine snapshot from 2006

Submit a Page to Wayback Machine

You can add a page to Wayback Machine if it's not already there. To archive a specific page as it stands right now, whether for a legitimate citation or just a personal reference, visit the Wayback Machine home page and paste the link into the Save Page Now text box.

Save Page Now option on Wayback Machine

To save time and have Wayback Machine save even the links that the page points to, put the URL into this text box and enable the Save outlinks option.

Another way to use Wayback Machine to archive a web page is with a bookmarklet. Use the JavaScript code below as the location of a new bookmark/favorite in your browser, and select it when on any web page to instantly send it to Wayback Machine for archiving.

javascript:location.href='http://web.archive.org/save/'+location.href

Another option for submitting pages to the Wayback Machine is with the Wayback Machine Chrome extension. This extension actually does a lot more than just save pages to their website—you can use it to view the page on the Wayback Machine and automatically load an archived page if the live one is broken.

Wayback Machine Chrome extension

If you make a free user account at Internet Archive, you can access this special Save Page Now section that includes other features like the option to save the links that the page is pointing to, save error pages, and even capture password protected web pages.

Some tools exist that will auto-add to Wayback Machine every web page you visit. Wayback Machine Auto-Archiver is a Chrome extension that works in the background to archive web pages, and the AutoSave to Internet Archive script is another example that works with Tampermonkey in Chrome and Greasemonkey in Firefox.

More Information on Wayback Machine

The pages shown on Wayback Machine only reflect the ones that were archived by the service, not the page's update frequency. In other words, while one page that you've visited might have been updated once every single day for a whole month, Wayback Machine might have only archived it a few times.

Not every single web page in existence is archived by Wayback Machine. They don't add chat or email websites to their archive and neither can they include websites that explicitly block Wayback Machine, websites that are hidden behind passwords, and other private sites that aren't publicly accessible.

Wayback Machine will capture a URL as frequently as every five minutes. If you try archiving an identical page sooner than that, you'll get an error.

If you have more questions about Wayback Machine, you can most likely find the answers through the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine FAQ page.