What Internet Browsers Are & What You Need to Know About How They Work

A Web Browser Is Crucial to Getting Online and Entering Sweepstakes

Close up of generic Internet browser
Your Web Browser Is Your Gateway to the World Wide Web. 07_av / Getty Images

What's an Internet Browser? Here's the Definition:

An internet browser, also known as a web browser or simply a browser, is a software program that you use to access the internet and view web pages on your computer. You can think of your browser as your gateway to the internet. If you want to enter online sweepstakes, for example, you must first open the giveaways' websites in your internet browser.

The main purpose of an internet browser is to translate, or render, the code that websites are designed in into the text, graphics, and other features of the web pages that we are all used to seeing today.

The First Web Browser:

The first web browser was called WorldWideWeb, and later changed its name toNexus. Created by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, it was released in 1990, and at least gave people a basic way to view web pages. But it was a long way from the immersive online experience we have today.

Without browsers, the internet as we know it today would be impossible. Before the first popular graphical browser, Mosaic, was released in 1992, the internet was text-based, bland, and required technical knowledge to use. Because of this, the number of people who had the ability and the interest to use the internet was limited.

Mosaic helped make the internet ubiquitous. The graphical interface made navigating the web easy to understand and the ability to display graphics next to the text on websites made web pages more interesting to browse.

And people no longer needed to have deep technical knowledge to be able to go online.

With more people online, companies were quick to follow. E-commerce, online sweepstakes, social media, and many other things we take for granted today would be impossible without internet browsers.

Modern Internet Browsers:

Internet browsers have developed into powerful tools that let you safely and quickly access your favorite websites.

Modern internet browsers have many helpful features. Tabbed browsing, for example, helps you open up many web pages in individual tabs, instead of needing a resource-intensive separate window for each page. This is very helpful if you want to enter sweepstakes faster.

The ability to mute sound in individual tabs is another helpful feature that many modern browsers support.

Which Internet Browsers Are Available Today?

Most browsers are available for free download. The six most popular internet browsers today include:

Each of these internet browsers has advantages and disadvantages. AOL Explorer is a customized version of Internet Explorer which gives AOL members quick access to news, weather, and other useful information. Chrome and Firefox are quick and powerful web browsers used by millions of people.

Due to the way they are coded, some websites display better in one internet browser or another. For this reason, I recommend having at least two browsers available on your computer, especially if you want to enter sweepstakes.

If an entry form isn't displaying in your primary browser, it might work flawlessly on your secondary internet browser.

Many internet browsers support plug-ins, which are helper programs that you can download to customize your browsing experience. Plug-ins can help you fill out forms automatically, check your grammar and spelling, send you reminders, and much more.

Plug-ins can help you work or play online, but not every browser allows them. Firefox and Chrome each allow plug-ins, for example, but not all are available for each system.

The best way to find out which browser is right for you is to download them and play around with them. Which extra features are important to you? Do websites load quickly and reliably? Is your browser using too many resources and slowing down other programs you're using?

How Internet Browsers Work:

Here's a very quick overview of how browsers work:

  1. You type a website's URL into your browser's address bar; "http://www.thebalance.com" is an example of a URL.
  2. The browser locates and requests that page's information from a web server.
  3. The browser receives a file in a computer code like HTML or Javascript, which includes instructions about how to display the information on that page.
  4. The browser interprets that file and displays the page for you to read and interact with. And it does all of this in just a few seconds, usually.

If you want a more detailed technical breakdown of how browsers work, check out Behind the Scenes of Modern Web Browsers by Tali Garsiel and Paul Irish on HTML5Rocks.com.