What is URL? How it Works?

If you have ever used the Internet, which you have probably done considering that you are reading this blog right now, you have almost certainly typed in a Uniform Resource Locator or URL to get where you are going online, but while some are simple like “Suratnow.com” or “pmindia.gov.in”.

Full length URLs can look awfully confusing. Why do we need HTTP in there and what are all those ampersands, question marks and hash signs doing? It is a good question. Let’s demystify the ingredients of your typical web address, starting with the beginning of the scheme the most familiar will probably be HTTP.

HTTP stands for HyperText Transfer Protocol. The set of commands that handles the transmission of webpages. But there are other Schemes as well. If you have ever clicked on an email address, you might notice that the link starts with “mailto:” scheme. That tells the browser to open up your email clients, you can fire off a message.

There is also FTP or you can say File Transfer Protocol. Which is used to send files, as the name suggests and from remote servers and even IRC or Internet Relay Chat, which allows to connect directly to a chat-room.

The next part of a typical URL is usually a domain name. The name of a website like “Suratnow.com” or “Google.com”. The “.com”, “.org” and “.net” at the end is called top level domain or TLD.

Which you can think of as the main categories that sort every websites on the Internet and help route requests through a certain group of servers to get you to the correct website.

Typically “.com” will indicate a commercial website of some sort, “.org” indicates a non-profit organization and there are plenty of TLDs that indicates sites associated with a certain country like “.in”, “.us” or “.uk”.

Recently country based TLDs have been used in so called domain hacks like “Youtu.be”. Which allows links to YouTube videos to be shorter. This doesn’t mean however that these site has anything to with Kingdom of Belgium.

Much of the rest of the URL, the part that is separated by slashes, indicates the path or the specific location of paeg or other piece of content on the specific website. Each slash indicates another sub folder, link of like how files on your computer storage drive are organized.

As for question marks, these make a URL hard to read, but their existence actually makes a lot of sense. They indicate a query defined by the user.

For example, if you type a search into Google, you will see your string in the results page URL after the question mark symbol. Which tells the server to execute that search if a URL has multiple queries.

These will be separated by Ampersands showing that the browser is relaying multiple pieces of information to the website, such as what kind of browser you are using or whether you were referred to a page from a certain site.

As you have ever clicked a link just to have it send you somewhere else on the same page that was probably done through a fragment indicated by a hash sign. Fragments can mark specific spots on a webpage but can also indicate other things like the folder you are looking at in Gmail.

URLs can also incorporate a few rarely seen variations. For Example, If you are trying to access a website that requires a login and password, some sites will allow you to just enter the username and password in the URL directly. Logging you in automatically.

Convenient, if you need to quickly share a link to a protected site, but not the best thing for security as your browser history will show your password in plain text.

And if you have ever visited a site based in a country that doesn’t use Latin characters like Greece or China, you might see a really weird domain name that includes “xn--” this means that the original characters were converted into a domain name compatible with DNS. So, computers can worldwide can view these pages.

But if the path after the domain name contains special characters, you will probably see these displayed with percent-encoding. Which is also sometimes used for other symbols. For Example “%24” corresponds to “$”. or “%20” corresponds to Blank space.

So, I hope this helped you unpack the mystifying stuff, you see in web addresses. There are top level domains “.ninja” or “.meme” but some unscrupulous people disagree. Comment me what do you think about this blog or information about URL.


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