Definition

browser

A browser is an application program that provides a way to look at and interact with all the information on the World Wide Web. This includes Web pages, videos and images. The word "browser" originated prior to the Web as a generic term for user interfaces that let you browse (navigate through and read) text files online. Many people will use web browsers today for access to the internet and is seen almost as a necessity in how many navigate their daily life.

A Web browser is a client program that uses HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) to make requests of Web servers throughout the Internet on behalf of the browser user. Most browsers support e-mail and the File Transfer Protocol (FTP), but a Web browser is not required for those Internet protocols and more specialized client programs are more popular.

Web browser history

The first Web browser, called WorldWideWeb, was created in 1990. That browser's name was changed to Nexus to avoid confusion with the developing information space known as the World Wide Web. The first Web browser with a graphical user interface was Mosaic, which appeared in 1993. Many of the user interface features in Mosaic went into Netscape Navigator. Microsoft followed with its Internet Explorer (IE).

Common Web browser features

Most Web browsers share standard features such as:

  • A home button- which, when selected, will bring a user to a pre-defined homepage.
  • A Web address bar, which allows users to input a Web address and visit a website.
  • Back and forward buttons- which will take the user to the previous or the next page they were on.
  • Refresh- a button which can be used to reload a Web page.
  • Stop- a button which makes a Web cease communication with a Web server, stopping a page from loading.
  • Tabs- which allow users to open multiple websites in a single window.
  • Bookmarks- which allow a user to select specific, predefined-by-the-user websites.

Many browsers also offer plug-ins, which extend the capabilities of the browser. These plug-ins can allow users to, for example, make use of tasks such as adding security features.  

How a Web browser works

Web browsers work as part of a client/server model. The client is the browser which runs on the user’s device and makes requests to the Web server, while the server-side is the Web server which sends information back to the browser. The browser then interprets and displays the information on the user’s device.

Web browsers are normally made up of a number of interworking parts. This includes the user interface (UI), which is the level in which the user interacts with the browser. The browser engine is what queries the rendering engine, and the rendering engine is what renders the requested web page—interpreting the HTML or XML documents. Networking is what handles internet security and communication. A JavaScript interpreter is used to interpret and execute JavaScript code in a Website. The UI backend is used to make widgets such as windows. Additionally, a persistence layer, called data persistence or storage, manages data such as bookmarks, caches and cookies.

Popular web browsers

Google Chrome is currently one of the most commonly used browsers. Other browsers include:

  • Firefox- which was developed by Mozilla.
  • Microsoft Edge- used a replacement for Internet Explorer, with Windows 10.
  • Internet explorer- relegated to the past, Microsoft has mostly replaced Internet Explorer with Edge.
  • Safari- a browser for Apple computers and mobile devices.
  • Lynx- a text-only browser for UNIX shell and VMS users.
  • Opera- a fast and stable browser that's compatible with most relatively operating systems.
  • Flock- an open source browser based on Firefox and optimized for Web 2.0 features such as blogging and social bookmarking.
This was last updated in September 2019

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