To understand what happens when you type a URL in a browser, it’s important to know a few internet basics first so you understand what’s happening behind the scenes.
What is the internet?
For many people, how the internet works is a mystery. The reality is actually quite simple.
The internet is essentially a massive network of cables connecting computers all over the world so they can share information and communicate with each other. Information is sent from one computer, translated into small data packets and transmitted over a mixture of traditional copper cables, newer fibre-optic cables, wireless radio waves or satellite. Once transmitted to their destination, the data packets are reassembled and translated back into information that you – the human in front of the computer accessing the internet – can understand.
What is a website?
A website is, simply put, a set of files that have been created in HTML (hyper text markup language), which is the code that is used to structure a web page and its content. The website is stored on a dedicated computer called a server. Servers have the necessary power and storage to store many files, and can be standalone machines or part of a large data farm. The files on a server are accessible via a network connection (such as the internet) to other computers via its own digital address, known as an IP address. In June 2021 there were 1.86 billion websites on the internet, stored on millions of servers worldwide. Google is estimated to run on 1 million servers.
What is an IP address?
An IP address is a series of numbers in a set format, such as 22.214.171.124 or 126.96.36.199. Every device (computer, tablet, phone, etc) connected to the internet has a unique IP address. You can type this number directly into your browser and if it’s a valid address, your browser will find it. However, remembering websites by their numeric IP address is onerous and not something that humans are naturally good at, so URLs are used by your browser instead. IP addresses can also change, but URLs generally stay the same (website dependant). Think of your IP address as similar to your home address – it’s the unique address that the postie uses to find you and deliver your mail.
What is a URL?
A URL (Uniform Resource Locator) is used to find a website, and contains the domain name and the file path. For example, 188.8.131.52 is the IP address for Ebay (the address of the server that Ebay’s HTML files are stored on), and the URL is www.ebay.com. Typing either one will open Ebay in your browser, but using the URL is a lot easier to remember.
Looking further into a URL related to Ebay, www.ebay.com takes us to the website’s home page, but navigating further through requires specifying what path we want to take. This is where we need further information- the path to the file. As an example, the URL https://www.ebay.com/b/Electronics/bn_7000259124 is the domain name and the file path of Ebay’s website files relating to their electronics category.
What happens when you type a URL in a browser?
Now that you know some internet basics, what happens when you type a URL in a browser? The Domain Name System (DNS) is what happens.
DNS is the internet’s directory service, and contains the mapping of domain names to IP addresses (the DNS records), much like a telephone book. DNS records are distributed across a multitude of linked databases, and searched when you type a URL into a browser. Because you don’t want a slow search each time you look up a website via its URL, the search process follows this routine to speed it up:
- The cache (stored records) of your browser are checked first
- The cache of your operating system is checked
- The cache of your router is checked
- The cache of your Internet Service Provider (ISP) is checked
Once the URL is found, your browser displays the website.
Need help with your internet?
Knowing what happens when you type a URL in a browser is one of those seemingly simple yet intriguing internet mysteries that we like to help our clients understand. Here at Computer Cures we want to help our clients get the most from their computer because we understand how important it is to be connected and in control. We also understand the problems you may experience configuring and using your internet at home.
For fast, friendly and experienced support with your internet installation, email setup, or how to use your PC in plain English, without all the complicated jargon, get in touch with the Computer Cures team.
Need home internet installation support?
Need your internet setup, or having problems with your internet connection? Our friendly team are here to help. Give us a call on 1300 553 166 or fill out our contact form, and get more from your internet service.