Mar 29, 2012

What is a URL?

Since websites are considered resources, and every website the world over has a unique address per a uniform addressing scheme, “Uniform Resource Locator” (formerly Universal Resource Locator) or URL, is a fancy name for website address. A synonym that is actually more precise but less well-known is URI, or Uniform Resource Identifier. The term “URI” developed after URL had already gained widespread public use; hence URI is used by those involved in Internet development, standards and protocols, while URL is the prevalent term outside those circles. 

A Web browser is software used to cruise the World Wide Web. Every browser has a URL window where the address of the currently viewed webpage is displayed. Clicking on a hyperlink within a webpage will direct the browser to a new URL or Web address, changing the text inside the URL window. In tabbed browsing the active tab’s address will show in the browser’s URL window. A website address can also be manually typed or pasted into the URL field.

It’s a good idea to be at least marginally familiar with what a website address looks like. Common webpages start with http:// for "HyperText Transfer Protocol". Pages that start with http:// are not encrypted, so all information that passes between your computer and the Internet can be “seen” by eavesdroppers. For this reason it is unwise to enter personal information into a webpage that starts with http:// in the URL window. 

If you are about to enter personal information into a webpage, first check that the URL starts with https://. The extra “s” stands for “secure” and indicates the information exchanged between your computer and the Internet will be encrypted, making it useless to eavesdroppers or hackers. If a part or all of the transmission is captured en route, it will only appear as blocks of garbled characters.

When downloading or uploading files to a website, the File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is often used. In this case the URL address will start with ftp://, with the website address following. Often people use special FTP clients (software) to more easily handle transfer of large files, rather than using a Web browser. FTP clients are especially useful for domain maintenance, and are more streamlined than a Web browser.

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