What is a Browser?

Posted By BrokenClaw on September 3, 2007

A browser is a computer program which allows you to see and read information on the Web and makes navigation around the Internet easy. It’s the program that you are using right now to read this article.

The first browser that gained widespread use was called Netscape Navigator. Most people who buy a computer today with Microsoft Windows® use the browser that is included, called Internet Explorer. If you’re reading this article, then that’s probably what you’re using right now. Others prefer a new browser called Mozilla Firefox. There are other browsers, such as Opera and Safari, as well as some specialized browsers for specific types of users.

Whenever you start your browser, the first webpage that appears is called your home page. If you are using the default browser that came with your computer, they will set your home page to their website. If you sign up for a new Internet Service Provider, they will often change your home page to their website. If you are using a business, school, or library computer, they will make their website the home page. However, you can make your home page any page on the Internet. Some websites will have a link that automatically makes them your home page. The browser also has a setting under Tools:Options which allows you to make any webpage your home page. If you are a member of a social networking site, and that’s where you always go, you could make that your home page.

At the top of the browser is a long blank space called the address bar. It displays the web address of the webpage currently showing in the browser. If you look there now, you will see

http://blog.brokenclaw.net/archives/browser

Most of the time you get to a webpage via a link, but you can also use the address bar to get to a website yourself. For example, if someone tells you about a website, and you want to go there, you can simply delete the current address, using the backspace or delete key, and then type the web address in the address bar and press Enter.

Be aware that a lot of websites purposely use names that are close to the spelling of well-known sites, in hopes of catching people who misspell them in the address bar.

Because search engines like Google, Yahoo, Ask, etc. are so efficient, most people prefer to type a website name in the search box and click through the results, rather than typing the website in the address bar themselves. Browsers, too, are becoming more sophisticated at guessing where you really want to go.

How Browsers Work

What you see on your computer screen is not what actually gets sent to your computer. Instead, the website sends a set of instructions, which your browser interprets to display the webpage. The text, of course, is carried word for word, but the other elements are handled by the browser. For example, the colored words on a page aren’t actually sent to your computer as colored words. Instead, the webpage might tell your browser to change certain categories of words on the webpage to the color coded as “C2DDEF”. It is up to your browser to interpret that instruction and change the color.

You can think of it as a recipe. Instead of sending Aunt Tillie in Wisconsin your pumpkin pie in a box, you just send her the recipe in a letter, and she makes it herself. The advantages and disadvantages are the same. If you send her the pie, it will be just as you intended it, but it will cost more to ship, take longer to get there, and may not arrive in the same condition. If you send her the recipe, it will cost less to mail, arrive sooner, but you can’t be sure that her pie will taste just like yours. The same is true of websites and browsers. The essence is the same, but they look just a little different in each browser.

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