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What Is A Web Browser?

What Is A Web Browser
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Date First Published: 17th July 2022

Topic: Web Design & Development

Subtopic: Web Applications

Computer Terms & Definitions

Difficulty: Easy

Difficulty Level: 1/10

Learn more about what a web browser is in this article.

A web browser, also known as an internet browser, or a browser, is a software application used to access, display, navigate, and view websites from the World Wide Web. When the client requests a webpage, either by clicking on a link or manually typing the URL, it retrieves the information from the web server and downloads it to display the content in the web browser. Web browsers are used all the time to perform online tasks. In fact, you are using a web browser to read this article.

HTTP defines how content is transferred over the World Wide Web. Most web browsers support FTP, but more specialised FTP clients are much more popular for that internet protocol and a web browser is not required for FTP purposes.

All that is needed for a web browser to work is a desktop computer, tablet, or smartphone that meets the browser requirements and an internet connection to browse webpages. Without an internet connection, it is still possible to open a web browser. However, it will return errors and the user will be unable to access any webpages on the World Wide Web.

Web Browser Features

Most web browsers include the following features:

  • Address bar – This shows the current URL that identifies the user's location on the World Wide Web. The user can manually type a URL to navigate to a website. Most address bars include additional features, such as suggestions whilst the address is being typed, autocomplete, and a padlock icon, which is used to differentiate between insecure HTTP and secure HTTPS along with an Extended Validation Certificate that some companies use to verify their identity.
  • Settings – Used to customise how the web browser works, the appearance, the default homepage, search engine, accessibility features, and more.
  • Back button – Used to quickly return to the previously visited page in the web browser.
  • Forward button – Used to return back to the page the user was browsing. For example, if the user was browsing 'Website B', and clicked the back button to return to 'Website A', the forward button would be clickable when browsing 'Website A' to return the user back to 'Website B'.
  • Refresh button – Used to reload the current page and retrieve the most updated version of a webpage.
  • Home button – Used to return to the homepage the user specified in the settings of their web browser. For example, if the user set their homepage to '', which is the default page the web browser displays when first opening it and clicked the home button, they would return back to ''.
  • Bookmark buttons – Used to save the URL of a webpage in a web browser for future reference. They are often used to quickly access frequently visited websites.
  • Search history – Displays a full list of all the webpages the user has visited in that web browser along with the date and time. Used to return to previously visited pages and reflect the interests of users.
  • Downloads – Displays a list of files the user has downloaded in their web browser to their computer. Information, such as the website the file was downloaded from, the date and time the file was downloaded, and more is included.

How Does A Web Browser Work?

Web browsers can take users anywhere on the World Wide Web and work as part of the client/server model. They process HTML, a markup language used to achieve font, colour, graphics, and hyperlinks on the World Wide Web. HTML consists of hundreds of different elements and tags, all of which instructs the web browser on how to display content. The HTML may include links to other files, such as CSS, which is used to define how HTML elements are displayed in a web browser. CSS can be used to adjust the layout, text size, font colour, background colour, and more. HTML can link to JavaScript files, which are used to create interactive effects within web browsers. The web browser processes all of these items in the window and delivers them to the user.

When entering a URL into a web browser, DNS (Domain Name System) is used to translate it to an IP address. At first, the browser establishes a connection with the web server, sends a HTTP request and the web server then handles the request and sends a HTTP response. After all the steps are successful, the webpage is then delivered to the web browser.

Cookies are stored in web browsers in order for them to remember certain information. For example, when setting preferences on a website, such as dark mode, that website will generate a cookie that is stored in the web browser so that it remembers that information and users do not have to keep manually enabling dark mode every time they reload the webpage or visit another webpage.

Different web browsers interpret code and markup language in slightly different ways, meaning that one website might work properly in one web browser, but in another web browser, it might malfunction. That is the main reason why it is important to test a website in multiple browsers in order to ensure its compatibility.

Web Browser Applications

  • Google Chrome – A web browser developed by Google. It is currently one of the most commonly used browsers with a usage share of 72.96% as of October 2021.
  • Microsoft Edge – The default browser for Windows 10 devices developed by Microsoft with a usage share of 12.61% as of October 2021. It has replaced Internet Explorer.
  • Internet Explorer – A discontinued web browser that was replaced by Microsoft Edge. It was originally the most commonly used web browser in 2003, having a 95% usage share. As of October 2021, its usage share is 2.45%.
  • Mozilla Firefox – An open-source web browser developed by the Mozilla Foundation. Often used as an alternative to other web browsers and has a usage share of 5.54% as of October 2021.
  • Opera – A web browser based on Chromium, but with differentiated features from other Chromium-based browsers, such as Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge through its user interface. As of October 2021, its usage share is 1.01%.
  • Safari – A web browser used by devices developed by Apple. These include Macintosh computers, iPhones, and iPads.
  • Tor browser – A web browser that anonymises traffic by connecting to different Tor servers. This encrypts online communications, preventing users from being tracked. Used by people that are concerned about their privacy.


The first web browser was created in 1990 by Tim Berners-Lee whilst working at CERN. It was called WorldWideWeb.

In 1993, a web browser called Mosaic was released. It is a discontinued web browser which was one of the first to be widely available. The leader of the Mosaic team, Marc Andreessen, started his own company, called Netscape and released Netscape Navigator in 1994. Soon, it became the most widely used web browser.

Internet Explorer was created by Microsoft in 1995, causing the two web browsers, Netscape and Internet Explorer to be in competition with each other. However, Internet Explorer became more popular due to Microsoft bundling it with the Windows operating system and releasing it as freeware.

In 2003, the Safari browser was released by Apple. Even though it never became popular on other operating systems, it remained the most widely used browser for Apple devices.


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