What is a Web Browser?
It’s impossible to use the internet in the modern world without a web browser. This powerful tool takes you across the web and shows you images, text, videos, and any other content type.
Maybe you don’t know it yet, but you’re using a web browser right now to read this article! There are plenty of browsers out there and they all work using (more or less) the same technology that we will explain below.
- A web browser is a software application, acting as a user interface, that allows users to access, navigate, and interact with internet content through HTTP, often in the form of web pages.
- Browsers also provide critical features like bookmarking, privacy modes, extensions for added functionalities, and security measures like phishing and malware detection to ensure safe and efficient web browsing.
What is a Web Browser?
A web browser can be defined as a computer program that the user relies on to access information or sites on the World Wide Web or similar networks.
So how does a web browser work?
Not all web browsers work the same way. Some of them may interpret different formats in different ways. This is bad news for the user, given that a website may look different to them depending on the browser they use. That’s why it’s important to create consistency between different browser applications. For this reason, there are certain web standards that are used.
Web browsers work by talking to a server and asking for particular pages users want to visit. The browser program will retrieve or fetch the code that’s often written in HyperText Markup Language (HTML) or similar languages.
Once it does that, the browser will interpret the code behind the script or language and show it as a web page the user wants to see.
Most of the time, this action requires user interaction in order for the browser to know which website or page to show. This means that you as a user have to use the address bar of the browser and enter the URL of the website you want to visit.
But what exactly is a URL and why is it important? Learn more below.
The Story of URLs
A web address of a website is provided in its URL form. The acronym “URL” stands for “Uniform Resource Locator,” and it’s the type of information that lets the browser know which site you want to visit.
For example, when you enter the following URL into the address bar of a browser: http://www.google.com, a browser will take you to the Google search engine.
What the browser did was study the URL in two ways.
First, it studied the “http://” section that refers to HyperText Transfer Protocol. This is the protocol used for requesting and transmitting files on the internet, and it can be found on most web pages. It defines how images, text, and other content are transmitted on the internet.
It’s important for this type of information to be transmitted consistently so anyone using a browser can access the information. A browser will know how to interpret the data located on the right of the forward slashes because it knows the HTTP protocol.
Next, the browser will examine the domain name, which is www.google.com in this example. The domain name lets the browser know the location of the server from which it will have to retrieve a page.
If you were to use a web browser ten or more years ago, you would have to type in the whole domain name http://www.google.com. But web browsers are smarter today and no longer require you to specify the protocol. You can now simply type google.com and be taken to the desired page.
You can often find additional information or parameters at the end of a page. For example, if you were to visit the Nike website, you can find parameters such as http://www.nike.com/women that share more information about a particular web page on one website. For example, the “women” parameter lets the browser know you’re asking to see a women’s section on Nike’s website.
Browsers let users open multiple links or URLs at the same time. This is possible thanks to tabs. A tab creates a dedicated space for a website inside the same browser window. This prevents the program from cluttering your screen with different windows. It’s meant to emulate an old-fashioned cabinet of file folders.
Bookmarks and History
Web browsers have a great functionality that lets users access websites they want to visit at a later date. Users can do so with the help of bookmarks that allow saving pages inside a browser.
There’s also an easy way to access a list of all your previously visited pages that can be found in the “History” section.
If you ever visited a website on the web, you must have seen a cookie notice at the bottom of the page. Unfortunately, this isn’t a notice about the yummy cookies hidden on your kitchen shelf.
In the world of web browsers, cookies relate to information that websites save about their users. These files are saved locally on your computer so when you visit the site again, your browser can open the page faster. Also, the website will recognize that it’s you who wants to visit and may remember your login credentials.
There are also more advanced cookies that are made to remember detailed information about users. This can be the browsing pattern, personal interests, and more. This behavior is performed to provide a more customized experience, and it’s mostly used by businesses that promote their services.
You can also encounter third-party cookies that come from different websites you aren’t using. They can track your activity on another site and sell the information they get to companies. You can block this kind of behavior, but not all browsers will let you do that.
Now that we have covered the basics of what a browser is and its main features, let’s introduce some of the most popular browsers available today.
Web Browser Examples
There are dozens of web browsers to choose from today. Each example has its own nuance that makes some users prefer it over another.
The best programs out there are completely free. The options regarding interface, security, shortcuts, and other elements are different, so you can choose the one that works best for you.
Here’s an overview of the most popular browsers.
Google Chrome is arguably the most popular browser today. It’s developed by Google, and it has the biggest web browser market share, with a whopping 65.87% as of June 2023. If you were to look for the best browsers on the internet, you’d find Chrome to be the winner in the Best Overall category.
This browser works with all operating systems, it’s fast and expandable, and allows cross-syncing between devices. This cross-platform browser is easy to use and has a dedicated feature for using less data. You can browse without saving the browsing history and use the incognito mode.
Some other notable features include an offline download manager, security alerts, and personalized recommendations.
Safari, or Apple Safari, has the second-biggest market share among web browsers with 18.61%, and it’s the default browser for Apple devices.
If you’re an Apple user, you’ll find the Safari browser to be powerful, efficient, and secure.
Safari is the first browser to introduce a reading mode to its users. This option will clear unnecessary elements from the page so you can focus on reading or watching a video without distractions.
The browser was also the first to introduce fingerprinting protection. This feature prevents web trackers from identifying you according to your system specifications, which is a very common issue found in most other browsers.
New versions of Safari also allow for added customization options and provide a very modern browsing experience. You can use the company’s Handoff feature and continue your browsing sessions between devices.
This browser only operates on Apple devices, which is its main downside for non-Apple users.
The Opera browser is great for collecting content. It works on all operating systems, and it’s completely free. Some of the best reasons to use Opera include its built-in proxy, excellent security, and great interface.
There’s a built-in ad blocker, as well as a VPN, so you can use the browser for a safer internet experience. This is especially important if you enter sensitive information on the web such as your phone number, address, crypto wallet information, and other personal or financial data.
Gamers will love the special browser version designed solely for gamers – Opera GX. The browser includes Twitch integration, Razer Chroma support, and other features most gamers appreciate.
Chrome and Opera use the same Chromium-based technology, so you can use the Chrome store to add different integrations and add-ons to Opera.
The Mozilla browser is one of the best applications for private browsing, as well as for power users. It’s one of the most flexible browsers out there and comes with cross-platform syncing. This means you can use the browser on your computer, mobile device, and tablet, and save your log-in information, passwords, or browsing history across devices.
This browser also has excellent privacy protection, and it’s endlessly customizable in terms of plug-ins, extensions, and theme support.
Some downsides include the app being a bit slower compared to the competitors. The program also uses more system memory than other browsers.
Microsoft Edge is the cousin of a once extremely popular browser called Internet Explorer designed by Microsoft. Edge is now the default browser for Windows devices. The browser uses the same code for rendering pages as Chrome, called Chromium, which means you can download add-ons, extensions, and integrations using the Chrome Store.
Edge runs just as well on macOS devices, so you can try it out if you’re a Mac user. This browser performs great when it comes to thrifty memory, disk usage, and overall performance. The developers use a new Startup Boost technology to reduce the time for opening a browser and its sleeping tabs.
Smaller Players Worth Noting
In the overview above, we listed some of the biggest players in the web browser world. There are many smaller names that offer quality services.
Vivaldi is the best alternative browser when it comes to customization options. It works on Chromium, so it’s closely related to Google Chrome. The best part about the experience is that it lets users change even the smallest details about the program. The interface is similar to Opera, so the tab previews, start page, buttons, and other tools look very familiar.
Some of the browser’s unique features include an Image Properties view with histogram, clutter-free printing, screenshot options, and more.
Brave is a popular alternative web browser that strives to reshape the web economy from the ground up. The browser blocks web ads by default, and it introduces an innovative way for websites to monetize users’ attention. It rewards users for browsing by offering them their own company-made cryptocurrency. This makes Brave a popular option for users interested in the crypto world and tokens.
Like many other browsers on the list, this one is also based on Chromium, so you can find similarities with Google Chrome, Opera, and other browsers from the same family.
Tor is a great browser for users concerned about privacy who are not interested in the world of ads. The software offers access to the dark web, which is the ad- and tracking-free world of the internet. Any traffic users make on Tor is encrypted in a company-specific way that makes it impossible to track.
The browser is based on Firefox, and it opens most websites just fine despite some privacy extensions and settings being locked.
A major downside of this browser is that the heavy encryption significantly slows down the speed of internet browsing.
Web Browsers Explained
Web browsers are powerful tools all internet users rely on for easy access to websites, web pages, images, text, and any other content. It’s important to understand how web browsers work to be able to get the most out of them, and this is exactly what this article aims to explain.
Now that you understand how browsers work, you can choose the best browser for your particular needs to make your daily internet experience better and more customized.
How to stay safe online:
- Practice Strong Password Hygiene: Use a unique and complex password for each account. A password manager can help generate and store them. In addition, enable two-factor authentication (2FA) whenever available.
- Invest in Your Safety: Buying the best antivirus for Windows 11 is key for your online security. A high-quality antivirus like Norton, McAfee, or Bitdefender will safeguard your PC from various online threats, including malware, ransomware, and spyware.
- Be Wary of Phishing Attempts: Be cautious when receiving suspicious communications that ask for personal information. Legitimate businesses will never ask for sensitive details via email or text. Before clicking on any links, ensure the sender's authenticity.
- Stay Informed. We cover a wide range of cybersecurity topics on our blog. And there are several credible sources offering threat reports and recommendations, such as NIST, CISA, FBI, ENISA, Symantec, Verizon, Cisco, Crowdstrike, and many more.
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are the most frequently asked questions.
Is Google a web browser or not?
Google is an example of a search engine, not a web browser. You can use Google on different web browsers to perform your internet search. Google Chrome, however, is a web browser of the same company.
How do I open a web browser?
Web browsers can be downloaded to your local computer or mobile device space and used from there. All you have to do is install the program and launch it whenever you need to use it.
What are the most popular web browsers?
The most popular web browsers include Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari and Microsoft Edge.
Author: Tibor Moes
Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab
Tibor is a Dutch engineer and entrepreneur. He has tested security software since 2014.
This website is hosted on a Digital Ocean server via Cloudways and is built with DIVI on WordPress.
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