A Simple Guide to Understanding URLs

URLs: Their Meaning, Definition, and Useage

Close up of address bar on internet browser
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What Does URL Mean?

Definition: URL is an abbreviation that stands for "Universal Resource Locator." It's another name for a web address, the text that you type into your internet browser when you want to go to a website.

A URL works like a house address. If you give someone a house address, they can navigate to find a home or business. If you give your browser a URL, it can find where to go to find the web page you want to visit.

(That web page is the "resource" that your browser is "locating" for you with a URL)

Example: The URL for Contests is http://contests.about.com. So if you want to visit the site, you simply open your web browser, and type that URL into the address field.

How Do URLs Work?

URLs are designed to be easy for people to remember and to use, but computers need information to be presented to them differently in order to navigate to the correct website for you.

Your web browser finds web pages using an IP, or Internet Protocol. The IP is a series of numbers, which might look something like:

Imagine if you had to remember a number like that for every website that you wanted to visit. Ugh, I think the internet would never have taken off if that were the case!

Not to mention that not every site has a "static" URL. Some change on a regular basis. Which would make it nearly impossible for people to effectively use the net.

So instead, we use URLs, which generally stay the same, and which make sense to our brains. When we type a URL into an address field, your web browser uses something called a DNS (Domain Name Server) to translate the URL to the corresponding IP. The browser can then use those numbers to find information for you.

The Anatomy of a URL

A URL usually looks something like this:

  • It (usually, but not always) starts with "http://"
  • it is often followed by "www"
  • and then the name of the website you want to visit
  • then by specific directories where the information you want to read is stored, separated by / marks
  • and finally, the location of the page you want to read.

Another example of a URL: http://contests.about.com/od/sweepstakeslistings/a/newsweepstakes.htm

To compare it with the breakdown above, this URL:

  • Starts with "http://"
  • In this case, my subsection of "Contests," replaces the www
  • Add the name of the website you wanted to visit
  • "od", "sweepstakeslistings", and "a" are all directories, separated by / marks
  • newsweepstakes.htm is the location of the page you want to read.

If you want, you can click the link above to be brought to that page and see for yourself how it works.

Links: URL Shortcuts

Links are an additional time-saving tool. Links are snippets of text that have been associated with a specific URL. In most browsers, if you "hover" over (hold your mouse over, without clicking) a link, you can see the associated URL at the bottom of the browser window.

Secure URLs

A URL that starts with "https://" indicates that you're on a secure site.

That means that if you enter personal information on that site, it will be encrypted before it's transmitted so that it cannot be intercepted by other people.

Many sweepstakes websites will use https in the URL of their entry forms, so that your personal information is safe when you submit your entry.

Any website that requests sensitive information, such as credit card information, should use a secure protocol in their URLs.

URLs Are Also Known As: Universal Resource Locator, web address, internet address.