If you want to learn what’s behind those combinations of letters, numbers, and symbols at the top of your web browser, this guide is for you. URLs, or Uniform Resource Locators, are the addresses that help you find and access websites on the internet. In this article, we’ll take look at the anatomy of a URL and break it down into its various parts. Let’s get started.
What is a URL?
Before we dive into the details, let’s start with the basics. A URL is like an address for a webpage on the internet. It tells your web browser where to find the information you’re looking for. Just like you need an address to find a specific house, you need a URL to find a specific website.
The Main Parts of a URL
A typical URL consists of several main parts, each serving a specific purpose. These parts are:
The protocol is the first part of a URL, and it tells your web browser how to retrieve the webpage. The most common protocols are “http” and “https.” “HTTP” stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol, while “HTTPS” is the secure version of it. You may also come across other protocols like “ftp” (File Transfer Protocol) or “mailto” (for sending emails).
The domain is the second part of a URL, and it’s like the name of the website or server you’re trying to reach. For example, in the URL https://example.com, example.com is the domain. The domain helps your browser locate the right place on the internet.
Sometimes, a URL may have a subdomain before the main domain. A subdomain is a way to organize and categorize different sections of a website. For instance, “blog.example.com” has “blog” as the subdomain and “example.com” as the main domain.
The port is an optional part of a URL that comes after the domain and a colon. It specifies a particular door to access a service on the server. Most websites use the default port, which is 80 for “http” and 443 for “https.” You don’t often see the port in URLs because browsers assume the default ports if they are not specified.
The path is the part of the URL that comes after the domain (or subdomain) and any port. It represents the specific page or location within the website. For example, in the URL “https://www.example.com/products/shoes,” “/products/shoes” is the path, indicating that you want to access the “shoes” page on the “example.com” website.
The query is another optional part of a URL that comes after a question mark. It’s used to pass information to the website’s server, typically for searching or filtering purposes. For example, in the URL “https://www.example.com/search?query=shoes,” “?query=shoes” is the query, indicating that you’re searching for “shoes” on the “example.com” website.
The fragment is the last part of a URL and comes after a hash symbol (#). It’s used to navigate to a specific section or anchor point within a webpage. For instance, in the URL https://www.example.com/about#team, “#team” is the fragment, directing your browser to the “team” section of the “about” page on the “example.com” website.
Putting It All Together
Now that we’ve broken down the main parts of a URL, let’s see how they all come together in a complete web address. Here’s an example URL with all the parts:
In this example:
- Protocol: “https”
- Subdomain: “www”
- Domain: “example.com”
- Port: “8080”
- Path: “/products/shoes”
- Query: “?color=blue”
- Fragment: “#top”
When you enter this URL into your web browser, it knows to use the “https” protocol, go to the “example.com” website, use port “8080,” access the “shoes” page under “/products,” apply a query for the color “blue,” and scroll down to the section with the “top” anchor point.
WWW vs. Non-WWW
You might have noticed that some websites use “www” as part of their domain, while others don’t. For example, you might see both “https://www.example.com” and “https://example.com” for the same website. Let’s look at what’s the difference between the two, and which one should you use?
WWW (With “www”)
www stands for World Wide Web and has been a traditional prefix in URLs for a long time. In the early days of the web, websites were often set up with “www” as a standard.
Non-WWW (Without “www”)
Now, many modern websites prefer the non-WWW version because it’s simpler and easier to remember. It shortens the URL and makes it cleaner.
Which One to Use?
The choice between “www” and non-WWW is largely a matter of preference. Most websites today set up redirects, so if you enter one version of the URL, you’ll automatically be redirected to the other. In other words, if you type “https://example.com,” you might be redirected to “https://www.example.com,” or vice versa.
From a user’s perspective, it doesn’t usually matter which version you use, as long as you arrive at the intended website. However, if you’re setting up a website, you can choose the version you prefer during the domain setup process. Just make sure to set up proper redirects so that visitors always land on your chosen version, regardless of how they type it.
Common URL Mistakes
While URLs may seem straightforward, there are some common mistakes that can lead to errors when trying to access a website:
- Misspelling: Typos in the domain or path can lead to “Page Not Found” errors. Always double-check the URL for accuracy.
- Missing Protocol: Forgetting to include “http://” or “https://” can result in your browser not knowing how to connect to the website.
- Unfamiliar Characters: URLs should consist of alphanumeric characters and a few special symbols. Avoid using spaces or special characters that aren’t allowed in URLs.
- Case Sensitivity: Most URLs are not case-sensitive, but it’s a good practice to use lowercase letters to avoid potential issues.
In addition to regular URLs, you may have encountered shortened URLs, such as those generated by services like bit.ly or TinyURL. These services take long and complex URLs and create shorter versions for easier sharing. Behind the scenes, they use a database to map the short URL to the full URL, so when you click on a shortened link, it redirects you to the intended webpage.
Understanding the anatomy of a URL is important for navigating the web and accessing the information you need. So, the next time you see a URL in your browser’s address bar, you’ll know exactly what each part means and how it gets you to your desired destination on the internet.
Thank you for reading.