Why is a web browser so important
Simply explained: what is a browser and how does it work?
It is no secret that you cannot access the Internet without a browser, because this is what makes the graphic representation of the WWW possible in the first place. But how does the surfing software work and are there different types for different tasks? In this post we answer these and other interesting questions about browsers.
The British physicist and computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee developed the first web browser at CERN in Geneva (Switzerland) as early as 1989, which later became known under the name Nexus.
No, the functions of a modern browser include the ability to open and display documents and images (e.g. PDF or JPEG).
In the meantime, there are also mobile versions of all current browsers, which you can use to surf the Internet not only on your PC, but also with your smartphone, tablet and even game consoles.
1. Definition: What is a browser and what is it used for?
A web browser, or browser for short, is software (usually free) that you can use to display web pages on the Internet. The term is derived from the English word "to browse", which translated means something like "rummage" or "leaf through".
With a browser you make the contents of the World Wide Web visible on a user-friendly surface and move around in it. For this purpose, cross-references (so-called "hyperlinks") are used, via which the various pages can be accessed with the aid of the software.
In addition to "normal" HTML pages, browsers can also open and display documents, for example in the form of images or PDF files. A rudimentary email management as well as downloads and file sharing are also possible with some programs.
Each browser also provides its own browser cacheby caching content that has already been downloaded. In this way, the loading time of the relevant page is enormously accelerated, since the individual elements are loaded from the hard disk instead of from the network when the page is accessed again.
In addition, modern browsers offer even more convenience in the form of bookmark management: If you really like a page, you can save it as a favorite and call it up again at the next session with just one click.
The most important tasks of a browser summarized again:
- Request and display web pages from the WWW and save their history
- Navigation through the hypertext
- Interpretation of source code
- Provision of the browser cache
- Bookmark management
2. A simple explanation of how a browser works
To display a website, you simply have to enter the URL of the relevant page in the address bar of the browser. This then takes over the contact with the web server on which the page to be called up is stored.
The web server then sends the requested data and the linked files (e.g. images) back to the browser. Communication takes place using the http protocol (“Hypertext Transmission Protocol”).
Good to know: html documents are nothing more than source code that is resolved line by line by the browser. It is important that the browser interprets this as intended by the developer. For this purpose, special conventions have been introduced for the markup language that must be adhered to.
3. Modern browsers are quite similar
Speed is the be all and end all when surfing.
There is now a large number of different browsers on the Internet, which are quite similar in their basic functionality. This not infrequently presents a challenge, especially for beginners, because how can you find the right one for your personal needs among all the programs? With many browsers there are also significant version differences, as the developers implement new features and extensions with each update.
How good a browser is depends primarily on its abilities in terms of the parade discipline (namely the display of web pages). There are, however, some criteria that every program should meet:
- Ease of use and the simplest possible, intuitive handling
- Compatibility with different operating systems
- Number and usefulness of the features
- Help & support
In addition to the Internet Explorer successor Microsoft Edge, the most popular browsers currently include Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Opera and Safari (for macOS). TOR has also been established especially for excursions into the dark web, although it is a modified version of Firefox.
Good to know:You can find a detailed test of the best browsers for Windows in our browser comparison. In our article Alternative Browser, we show interesting alternatives that, for example, advocate better security.
4. Special forms of browsers
4.1. Reduced alternative: text-based browsers
Despite all the progress, there are still browsers today that can only display simple text. These so-called "text-based browsers" are mainly used when things have to be done quickly, as graphics, images and the like do not even have to be loaded. One of the best-known examples of this type is the “Lynx” web browser.
4.2. Save data volume with offline browsers
Offline browsers work, as the name suggests, without an internet connection. You only use local content and copies for the display of websites.
If the browser works as an offline browser, it copies the web pages called up in online operation to the hard drive, where they can later be worked through in detail offline. Offline browsers are particularly useful for very low transfer rates or for lowering connection costs for volume- and time-based data contracts. Please note, however, that you have to use special download tools to download entire websites.
5. Add-ons, add-ins and plugins in times of open source
With the introduction of open source tools such as Firefox, the foundation stone for the development of browser extensions was laid at the same time.
These are externally programmed functions that you add to your browser in order to optimally adapt and personalize it to your requirements.
The palette of possible features ranges from simple color schemes to new menu bars and control buttons. The largest range of such extensions is currently offered by Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox.
Good to know: In everyday parlance, the terms “plug-in”, “add-on” and “add-in” are often used as synonyms, but these are completely different types of extensions.
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