What Is a URL? Web Addresses Explained
When you want to go to a website online, you enter its URL (Uniform Resource Locator) into your address bar. Whether it's a home page or a top level domain, URLs are necessary for the functioning and flow of the web. In this article, learn what a URL link is, what a hyperlink is, the components of a URL, and how we as users interact with them.
What is URL?
URL stands for Uniform Resource Locator, which is the technical term for a web address. It's a unique identifier that identifies the location of a resource on the Internet.
URLs are often referred to as web addresses or website addresses because web pages are the most common resource that end users use URLs to find. Other resources include CSS documents, videos, and images. Every file stored on a server has a unique URL, which tells a web browser how and where to retrieve that resource.
We actively use web addresses by typing them into the web browser's address bar. End users also interact with web addresses when they click a hyperlink on web pages, bookmark lists, or emails.
What are the components of a URL?
There are several parts of a URL; some are present in all web addresses and others are optional. However, each part has a specific purpose to hep you access anything online. Consider the following URL structure:
In this web address:
- Protocol: https://
- Subdomain: www
- Domain: example.com
- Port: :8080
- Path: /products/page1.html
- Query parameters: ?search=keyword
- Fragment identifier: #section1
The first part of the web address is the protocol or scheme. It indicates the method or rules for accessing a resource on the Internet. Common URL protocols include "http" for standard web pages and "https" for secure, encrypted connections, but HTTPS is what most websites use today.
Domain name (hostname)
The domain name follows the protocol. It's a unique name that identifies the specific website or server hosting the resource.
A domain name is a human-readable address of a resource; they typically end with extensions like .com, .org, or .edu.
Some websites use subdomains to organize content. The subdomain comes before the domain and has a period for separation, like blog.website.com or www.website.com.
The path denotes the specific location or directory on the web server where the resource is located. For example, "/products/page1.html" specifies a path to a web page named "page1.html" in the "products" directory.
A web address can have more than one path to resources. In such a case, the forward-slash sign will separate each of them.
Though they're not visible in web addresses, port names are necessary. They specify a port on the web server for communication. If not provided, it defaults to the standard port for the chosen protocol.
Often found in the web address of dynamic pages, the query allows for passing additional parameters to the server. A question mark separates it from the web address, and it can include key-value pairs, such as ?search=keyword.
Parameters are query strings of URLs. They contain extra information for the page, like search terms. Ampersands separate multiple parameters.
Fragment identifiers are optional. They refer to a specific section within the resource itself. A fragment identifier indicates a specific section or anchor within a web page separated from the web address by a hash symbol.
Common URL schemes
URLs come in a few common schemes that identify the type of resource accessed. They include the following:
HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) is the protocol that tells a web browser to display a requested webpage. It allows communication between a client and a server. Web addresses starting with http:// are used for non-secure web browsing.
HTTPS stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure. This scheme uses a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate to encrypt the information you send and receive from a website. Therefore, any website that handles sensitive data like logins, payments, or personal information should use HTTPS.
FTP (File Transfer Protocol) is used to transfer files between computers over a TCP-based network. The scheme is commonly used to upload and download files from a web server.
On top of providing a secure way to transfer files, FTP allows users to authenticate themselves with login credentials.
The mailto URL scheme is used to create hyperlinks that will open the user's email client with a new email message. When you click on a mailto hyperlink, it automatically opens their default email client and populates the recipient's email address, subject, and body fields.
Types of URLs
In general, web addresses are either absolute or relative. An absolute URL provides the complete web address. It includes all the necessary information to locate the resource, such as the protocol, the domain name, and the specific path.
These types of URLs are used when you want to specify the exact location of a resource. You can use them to link to an external website or to a specific page within a website.
A relative URL, on the other hand, specifies the path to a resource relative to the current location. It doesn't include the complete web address like an absolute URL does.
It only includes the path to resources. Instead, it relies on the current page's web address as a reference point. Relative web addresses are often used within the same website to link to other pages within that website.
Relative links by definition are more convenient to use within a site because they assume the same domain and protocol as the current page.
How do users interact with URLs?
Users interact with URLs in various ways:
- Typing: Users can manually enter a URL into the address bar of a web browser to access a specific website, clarifying the protocol and the domain name.
- Clicking links: Users can click on hyperlinks on webpages, emails, or other documents. These hyperlinks contain URLs that point to other web resources.
- Bookmarks: Users can save URLs as bookmarks in their browser for quick access to their favorite websites. Bookmarks are saved links that can be organized into folders and accessed with a single click.
- Application interaction: URLs can also operate within software applications to request data or resources from web servers.
You use URLs in one of these ways depending on your online needs.
What is URL encoding?
URL encoding is necessary because URLs can only contain a limited set of characters. Certain characters, like special characters, can create issues, so they're often encoded to make them web-friendly. Therefore, web address encoding converts these characters into a format that can safely transmit over the Internet. This is achieved by replacing the problematic characters with a percentage sign followed by two hexadecimal digits.
URL decoding, on the other hand, is the process of converting percent-encoded characters back into their original form. It's necessary to properly interpret and display the address. It's helpful in web development to handle user input.
The future of URLs
As the web continues to evolve, so do web addresses. Here are a few trends that may continue as the Internet progresses:
- Shorter URLs. Long, complex URLs are not user-friendly. Many services now offer customized shorter URLs that are easier to remember.
- Increased responsiveness. More websites are optimized for mobile so that web address may adapt to the screen size.
- Personalization. Personalized web addresses may become more popular in the near future. For example, if you log into a website, the web address could change to include your username or account info.
- Stronger security. There is an increased focus on privacy, security, and encryption on the web. We may see more websites using secure HTTPS URLs instead of HTTP.
The web is always changing, so URLs are bound to evolve. However, no matter what the future holds, web addresses will remain a crucial part of how we access information online.
Why are some URLs so long?
Lengthy, complex URLs often help with search engine optimization, or SEO. Extra keywords and phrases added to a web address help with search ranking. Additionally, some websites add extra parameters to track the source of visitors or advertising campaigns.
Frequently asked questions
What is a hyperlink?
A hyperlink is a clickable link that connects one webpage to another. It can be text, an image, or any other media that directs the user to a different location on the Internet.
What is URL shortening?
URL shortening is a technique in which a long URL is converted into a shorter, more manageable version. This shortened address serves as an alias for the original. When you click it, you're redirected to the intended page.
What is URL redirect?
A URL redirect is a web server function that makes a web page accessible under a different URL. It helps point your old web address to a new page in a process called a URL redirection.
What is the URL meaning?
It means Uniform Resource Locator.
Do I have to type the whole URL to go to a website?
No, typically you only need to enter the domain name. The browser will automatically add the http:// and any additional parts needed.
What is the difference between URL and URI?
A URL means a common type of URI designed for web resource location, while a URI refers to a sequence of characters used to identify a resource on the Internet.