A web browser (commonly referred to as a browser) is a software application for accessing information on the World Wide Web. Each individual web page, image, and video is identified by a distinct URL, enabling browsers to retrieve and display them on the user's device.
A web browser is not the same thing as a search engine, though the two are often confused. For a user, a search engine is just a website, such as google.com, that stores searchable data about other websites. But to connect to and display websites on their device, a user needs to have a web browser installed.
The first web browser, called WorldWideWeb, was invented in 1990 by Sir Tim Berners-Lee. He then recruited Nicola Pellow to write the Line Mode Browser, which displayed web pages on dumb terminals; it was released in 1991.
1993 was a landmark year with the release of Mosaic, credited as "the world's first popular browser". Its innovative graphical interface made the World Wide Web system easy to use and thus more accessible to the average person. This, in turn, sparked the Internet boom of the 1990s when the Web grew at a very rapid rate. Marc Andreessen, the leader of the Mosaic team, soon started his own company, Netscape, which released the Mosaic-influenced Netscape Navigator in 1994. Navigator quickly became the most popular browser.
Microsoft debuted Internet Explorer in 1995, leading to a browser war with Netscape. Microsoft was able to gain a dominant position for two reasons: it bundled Internet Explorer with its popular Windows operating system and did so as freeware with no restrictions on usage. Eventually the market share of Internet Explorer peaked at over 95% in 2002.
In 1998, desperate to remain competitive, Netscape launched what would become the Mozilla Foundation to create a new browser using the open source software model. This work evolved into Firefox, first released by Mozilla in 2004. Firefox reached a 28% market share in 2011.
The last major entrant to the browser market was Google. Its Chrome browser, which debuted in 2008, has been a huge success. It steadily took market share from Internet Explorer and became the most popular browser in 2012. It has remained dominant ever since.
The purpose of a web browser is to fetch information resources and display them on a user's device.
This process begins when the user inputs a URL, such as https://en.wikipedia.org/, into the browser. Virtually all URLs on the Web start with either http: or https: which means the browser will retrieve them with the Hypertext Transfer Protocol. In the case of https: the communication between the browser and the web server is encrypted for the purposes of security and privacy. Another URL prefix is file: which is used to display local files already stored on the user's device.
Web pages usually contain hyperlinks to other pages and resources. Each link contains a URL, and when it is clicked, the browser navigates to the new resource. Thus the process of bringing content to the user begins again.
To implement all of this, modern browsers are a combination of numerous software components.
All major browsers allow the user to open multiple pages at the same time, either in different browser windows or in different tabs of the same window. They also support the use of extensions to add to or modify browser operation in a variety of ways.
Common user interface features of browsers:
- Back and forward buttons to go back to the previous page visited or forward to the next one.
- A refresh or reload button to reload the current page.
- A stop button to cancel loading the page. (In some browsers, the stop button is merged with the reload button.)
- A home button to return to the user's home page.
- An address bar to input the URL of a page and display it.
- A search bar to input terms into a search engine. (In some browsers, the search bar is merged with the address bar.)
- "What is a Browser?". Google (on YouTube). 2009-04-30.
Less than 8% of people who were interviewed on this day knew what a browser was.
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- Media related to Web browsers at Wikimedia Commons