What is a URL?

Here we define the Uniform Resource Locator or URL.

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URL aka Uniform Resource Locator

The URL has helped make the globally connected computer system much more user-friendly and easier to navigate. Any person that has used a modern web-browser has used a URL. Many people don’t even realize they are using one; instead, they refer to it as the website’s name or address. The URL has a long history, one that has helped shape the internet into today’s communication tool.

URL stands for Uniform Resource Locator. This is the global address of resources and documents on connected computers, otherwise known as the World Wide Web. The URL is the information inserted into the address bar of a web-browser and helps the user navigate the correct website. Each website is located on a server, which serves the website to the user when asked. The URL is a simple set of directions that guide the user to the server’s right location. The URL acts as a map but for Information and not distance.

How does a URL function?

The first part of any URL designates the type of protocol used. This is a standard method of communication among machines. The most common protocol is HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol), but other protocols exist, such as FTP, NEWS, and HTTPS. A colon and two slashes follow these protocols.

The main part of a URL indicates the hostname of the computer that is being accessed. Although WWW is commonly used at the beginning of the hostname, this can be replaced by a variety of words. The word used depends on what is needed at the time. Many modern web servers omit the need to use WWW, which stands for World Wide Web, to contact the host.

The end of the URL is called an extension. This displays what kind of institution where the webpage belongs to. The .edu extension indicates an educational website; .com represents a company, while .gov indicates the government. Many extensions represent several business types and countries around the world. These are also referred to as a ‘top-level domain’ since every URL needs this extension to function. The URL as a whole is often referred to as a domain, although technically, it is just one part of the whole URL.

There are also file names and directories that can come after the extension. This can help display files, sub-domains, load up music, and other functions. If a website shows off a picture, the name of that picture will often be shown after the main URL. This is the same for any other type of data in the website folder and can be accessed via the website.

The URL is so common that many people don’t know that the web wasn’t always accessed by using one. Once upon a time, websites were accessed by numbers and not by any name.

History of the URL

The URL came about through a series of steps over a 9-year period. The domain name came about by users of the ARPANET to help users remember certain sites’ location. Before the domain name existed, the only way to find a site was by remembering the numerical value. The domain name process started slowly but became official in 1985. The syntax of the URL, using slashes to separate the different portions of the URL, came into common use after adopting the Domain name. This helped users input a string of information in an organized and conscious way. Protocols were also in use at this time, creating a way for different computers to talk to each other.

The separate portions of the URL were brought together with one unified format in 1994. As graphic-based web-browsers like Internet Explorer and Netscape rose is used, the URL became the industry standard for users to access websites.

Current URL statistics

Updated December 2019.

Total Internet Users Worldwide: 4,412,939,406
Total Number of Websites (aka URLs): 1,733,872,596
Emails sent daily: 147,969,330,872
Daily Google Searches: 3,933,894,835
Daily tweets: 435,896,910
Daily YouTube videos watched: 4,067,160,374
Total Facebook users: 2,375,374,102
Pinterest users: 265,903,332
Daily Internet traffic in GB: 4,159,059,428

Source: https://www.internetlivestats.com/

The World Wide Web is humongous and made up of millions of URLs. The top-level domains, which make up each URL’s extension, consist of 250 country domains, 21 generic domains, and the ARPA domain. The country domains relate to each country on the planet, such as .US for the USA and .ca for Canada. The generic top-level domains are the extensions such as .com, .net, .biz and .co. As of December 2011, 366,848,231 websites on the internet branch off from all the top-level domains.

The governing body for top-level domains is called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers or ICANN. This body decides which top-level domains are relevant, which needs to be deleted and added. All URLs must have a top-level domain of some sort, so this body decides what will be and what won’t be used.

Future of the URL

With the rise of websites acting as applications (Or ‘apps’), some feel that the decline in the URL’s use is not far off. In this version of the future, people wouldn’t actually type in a website address, but use a search engine or a preexisting app to navigate a particular website. The rise of mobile products has helped push this idea forward since apps are popular on phones and tablets.

With close to 400 million domains roaming the worldwide wasteland, the URL’s upcoming death won’t happen anytime soon. In 2012, there has been a spike in domain name registration, with about 12 million domains registered. Many technology pieces are getting their own IP addresses as well, making it possible that something as mundane as a microwave could have its own domain name. It has happened with game consoles in the past to happen with kitchen appliances in the future.

More people worldwide are also becoming net savvy, with the World Wide Web and computers becoming a part of daily life. This means that many people are just now learning what a URL is and how to use one. Many of these people will become interested in the technology and start their own website, leading to even more domain names and URLs.

The Last Hurrah

The URL isn’t going anywhere. The technology is relatively new, with the 19th year of the URL almost upon the world. Even if all websites on the World Wide Web become nothing more than mobile apps, the URL will still exist behind the scenes. The web will always need a set of instructions for retrieving data from a location. The URL serves that job with grace and dignity. The URL will be kept around unless something else is created to make retrieving data off a server easier. The URL is the web’s workhorse, providing users with internet sites and information that can be shared with humanity.