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A web browser (commonly referred to as a browser) is
application software Application software (app for short) is computing software designed to carry out a specific task other than one relating to the operation of the computer itself, typically to be used by end-users. Examples of an application include a word proce ...
for accessing the World Wide Web. When a user requests a
web page
web page
from a particular
website
website
, the web browser retrieves the necessary content from a web server and then displays the page on the user's device. A web browser is not the same thing as a search engine, though the two are often confused. A search engine is a website that provides
links Link or Links may refer to: Places * Link, West Virginia, an unincorporated community in the US * Link River, Klamath Falls, Oregon, US People with the name * Link (singer) (Lincoln Browder, born 1964), American R&B singer * Link (surname) * ...

links
to other websites. However, to connect to a website's server and display its web pages, a user must have a web browser installed. Web browsers are used on a range of devices, including
desktops A desktop traditionally refers to: * The surface of a desk (often to distinguish office appliances that fit on a desk, such as photocopiers and printers, from larger equipment covering its own area on the floor) Desktop may refer to various comput ...
,
laptop A laptop, laptop computer, or notebook computer is a small, portable personal computer File:Crystal Project computer.png, upright=0.9, An artist's depiction of a 2000s-era desktop-style personal computer, which includes a metal case with ...

laptop
s, tablets, and
smartphone A smartphone is a mobile device that combines cellular and mobile computing functions into one unit. They are distinguished from feature phones by their stronger hardware capabilities and extensive mobile operating systems, which facilitat ...

smartphone
s. In 2020, an estimated 4.9 billion people used a browser. The
most used
most used
browser is
Google Chrome Google Chrome is a cross-platform In computing Computing is any goal-oriented activity requiring, benefiting from, or creating computing machinery. It includes the study and experimentation of algorithmic processes and development of both c ...

Google Chrome
, with a 65% global market share on all devices, followed by
Safari A safari () is an overland journey to hunt or (in more recent times) observe wild animals, especially in east or southern Africa Africa is the world's second-largest and second-most populous continent, after Asia in both cases. At about ...
with 18%.


Function

The purpose of a web browser is to fetch content from
the Web The World Wide Web (WWW), commonly known as the Web, is an information system where documents and other web resources are identified by URL, Uniform Resource Locators (URLs, such as ), which may be interlinked by hyperlinks, and are acce ...
and display it on a user's device. This process begins when the user inputs a
Uniform Resource Locator A Uniform Resource Locator (URL), colloquially termed a web address, is a reference to a web resource that specifies its location on a computer network and a mechanism for retrieving it. A URL is a specific type of Uniform Resource Identifier (U ...

Uniform Resource Locator
(URL), such as ''https://en.wikipedia.org/'', into the browser. Virtually all URLs on the Web start with either ''http:'' or ''https:'' which means the browser will retrieve them with the
Hypertext Transfer Protocol The Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) is an application layer protocol for distributed, collaborative, hypermedia information systems. HTTP is the foundation of data communication for the World Wide Web, where hypertext documents include hyper ...
(HTTP). In the case of secure mode (HTTPS), the communication between the browser and the web server is
encrypted In cryptography, encryption is the process of Code, encoding information. This process converts the original representation of the information, known as plaintext, into an alternative form known as ciphertext. Ideally, only authorized parties can ...

encrypted
for the purposes of
security Security is freedom from, or resilience against, potential Potential generally refers to a currently unrealized ability. The term is used in a wide variety of fields, from physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), phys ...
and
privacy Privacy (, ) is the ability of an individual or group to seclude themselves or information about themselves, and thereby express themselves selectively. When something is private to a person, it usually means that something is inherently special o ...
. Once a
web page
web page
has been retrieved, the browser's rendering engine displays it on the user's device. This includes
image File:TEIDE.JPG, An Synthetic aperture radar, SAR radar imaging, radar image acquired by the SIR-C/X-SAR radar on board the Space Shuttle Endeavour shows the Teide volcano. The city of Santa Cruz de Tenerife is visible as the purple and white a ...

image
and
video Video is an Electronics, electronic medium for the recording, copying, playback, broadcasting, and display of moving picture, moving image, visual Media (communication), media. Video was first developed for mechanical television systems, wh ...

video
formats supported by the browser. Web pages usually contain
hyperlink In computing Computing is any goal-oriented activity requiring, benefiting from, or creating computing machinery. It includes the study and experimentation of algorithmic processes and development of both computer hardware , hardware and soft ...

hyperlink
s to other pages and resources. Each link contains a URL, and when it is clicked or
tapped
tapped
, the browser navigates to the new resource. Thus the process of bringing content to the user begins again. Most browsers use an internal
cache Cache, caching, or caché may refer to: Places * Cache (Aosta), a frazione in Italy * Cache Creek (disambiguation), several places United States * Cache, Idaho, an unincorporated community * Cache, Illinois, an unincorporated community * Cache ...
of web page resources to improve loading times for subsequent visits to the same page. The cache can store many items, such as large images, so they do not need to be downloaded from the server again. Cached items are usually only stored for as long as the web server stipulates in its HTTP response messages.


Settings

Web browsers can typically be configured with a built-in
menu In a restaurant, the menu is a list of food and beverages offered to customers and the prices. A menu may be à la carte – which presents a list of options from which customers choose – or table d'hôte, in which case a pre-established sequen ...
. Depending on the browser, the menu may be named ''Settings'', ''Options'', or ''Preferences''. The menu has different types of settings. For example, users can change their
home page A home page (or homepage) is the main web page of a website A website (also written as web site) is a collection of web pages and related content that is identified by a common domain name and published on at least one web server. Notab ...

home page
and default search engine. They also can change default
web page
web page
colors and
font In metal A metal (from Ancient Greek, Greek μέταλλον ''métallon'', "mine, quarry, metal") is a material that, when freshly prepared, polished, or fractured, shows a lustrous appearance, and conducts Electrical resistivity and conducti ...

font
s. Various network connectivity and
privacy settingsPrivacy settings are "the part of a social networking website, internet browser, piece of software, etc. that allows you to control who sees information about you". With the growing prevalence of social networking services (SNS), opportunities for pr ...
are also usually available.


Privacy

During the course of browsing,
cookies A cookie is a baked or cooked food Food is any substance consumed to provide nutritional support for an organism In biology, an organism (from Ancient Greek, Greek: ὀργανισμός, ''organismos'') is any individual contiguou ...
received from various
website
website
s are stored by the browser. Some of them contain login credentials or site preferences. However, others are used for tracking user behavior over long periods of time, so browsers typically provide a section in the menu for deleting cookies. Finer-grained management of cookies usually requires a
browser extension A browser extension is a small software module for customizing a web browser. Browsers typically allow a variety of extensions, including user interface modifications, ad blocking, and cookie management. Browser plug-ins are a separate type o ...
. Browsers also usually provide menu items for deleting browsing history,
cache Cache, caching, or caché may refer to: Places * Cache (Aosta), a frazione in Italy * Cache Creek (disambiguation), several places United States * Cache, Idaho, an unincorporated community * Cache, Illinois, an unincorporated community * Cache ...
entries, and other potentially sensitive data. An alternative approach is the private browsing mode, in which the aforementioned items are not stored by the browser. But this is a temporary option, only activated when using this special mode.


Features

The most popular browsers have a number of
features Feature may refer to: Computing * Feature (CAD), could be a hole, pocket, or notch * Feature (computer vision), could be an edge, corner or blob * Feature (software design) is an intentional distinguishing characteristic of a software item ( ...
in common. They automatically log browsing history or can be used in a non-logging private mode. They also allow users to set bookmarks, customize the browser with extensions, and can manage user
password A password, sometimes called a passcode, is a memorized secret, typically a string of characters, usually used to confirm a user's identity. Using the terminology of the NIST Digital Identity Guidelines, the secret is memorized by a party called ...

password
s. Some provide a sync service and
web accessibility Web accessibility is the inclusive practice of ensuring there are no barriers that prevent interaction with, or access to, website A website (also written as web site) is a collection of web pages and related content that is identified by a ...
features. Most browsers have these
user interface 300px, The Reactable, an example of a tangible user interface In the industrial design field of human–computer interaction, a user interface (UI) is the space where interactions between humans and machines occur. The goal of this interaction ...
(UI) features: * Allow the user to open multiple
pages Page most commonly refers to: * Page (paper) A page is one side of a leaf A leaf (plural leaves) is the principal lateral appendage of the vascular plant plant stem, stem, usually borne above ground and specialized for photosynthesis. T ...

pages
at the same time, either in different browser windows or in different tabs of the same window. * ''Back'' and ''forward'' buttons to go back to the previous page visited or forward to the next one. * A ''refresh'' or ''reload'' and a ''stop'' button to reload and cancel loading the current page. (In most browsers, the stop button is merged with the reload button.) * A ''home'' button to return to the user's
home page A home page (or homepage) is the main web page of a website A website (also written as web site) is a collection of web pages and related content that is identified by a common domain name and published on at least one web server. Notab ...

home page
. * An
address bar In a web browser A web browser (commonly referred to as a browser) is application software for accessing the World Wide Web upright=1.35, A global map of the web index for countries in 2014 The World Wide Web (WWW), commonly known a ...
to input the
URL A Uniform Resource Locator (URL), colloquially termed a web address, is a reference to a web resource that specifies its location on a computer network A computer network is a group of computers that use a set of common communication prot ...

URL
of a page and display it. * A search bar to input terms into a search engine. (In some browsers, the search bar is merged with the address bar.) While
mobile browser A mobile browser is a web browser designed for use on a mobile device A mobile device (or handheld computer) is a computer A computer is a machine that can be programmed to carry out sequences of arithmetic or logical operations automat ...

mobile browser
s have similar UI features as desktop versions, the limitations of
touchscreen A touchscreen or touch screen is the assembly of both an input ('touch panel') and output ('display') device. The touch panel is normally layered on the top of an electronic visual display of an information processing system. The display is often a ...

touchscreen
s require mobile UIs to be simpler. The difference is significant for users accustomed to
keyboard shortcut In computing, a keyboard shortcut is a series of one or several computer keyboard, keys that invoke a software program to perform a preprogrammed action. This action may be part of the standard functionality of the operating system or applicat ...
s. The most popular desktop browsers also have sophisticated web development tools. Besides the common usage of graphical browsers, there are niche
text-based In computing Computing is any goal-oriented activity requiring, benefiting from, or creating computing machinery. It includes the study and experimentation of algorithmic processes and development of both computer hardware , hardware and sof ...
and headless types of browsers.


Security

Web browsers are popular targets for
hacker A computer A computer is a machine that can be programmed to carry out sequences of arithmetic or logical operations automatically. Modern computers can perform generic sets of operations known as Computer program, programs. These progr ...

hacker
s, who exploit security holes to steal information, destroy
files File or filing may refer to: Mechanical tools and processes * File (tool), used to remove fine amounts of material from a workpiece **Filing (metalworking), a material removal process in manufacturing ** Nail file, a tool used to gently abrade aw ...
, and other activities. Browser vendors regularly patch these security holes, so users are strongly encouraged to keep their browser software updated. Other protection measures are
antivirus software Antivirus software, or anti-virus software (abbreviated to AV software), also known as anti-malware, is a computer program A computer program is a collection of instructions that can be executed by a computer to perform a specific task. ...
and avoiding known-malicious s.


History

The first web browser, called
WorldWideWeb WorldWideWeb (later renamed to Nexus to avoid confusion between the software Software is a collection of Instruction (computer science), instructions and data (computing), data that tell a computer how to work. This is in contrast to Computer ...

WorldWideWeb
, was created in 1990 by Sir
Tim Berners-Lee Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee (born 8 June 1955), also known as TimBL, is an English computer scientist best known as the inventor of the World Wide Web upright=1.35, A global map of the web index for countries in 2014 The World Wide W ...

Tim Berners-Lee
. He then recruited
Nicola Pellow Nicola Pellow is an English mathematician and information scientist who was one of the nineteen members of the ''WWW Project'' at CERN working with Tim Berners-Lee. She joined the project in November 1990, while an undergraduate maths student enro ...

Nicola Pellow
to write the
Line Mode Browser The Line Mode Browser (also known as LMB, WWWLib, or just www) is the second web browser ever created. The browser was the first demonstrated to be portable to several different operating system An operating system (OS) is system software th ...
, which displayed web pages on
dumb terminals A computer terminal is an electronic or electromechanical hardware device that can be used for entering data into, and transcribing data from, a computer A computer is a machine that can be programmed to carry out sequences of arithmeti ...
. 1993 was a landmark year with the release of
Mosaic A mosaic is a pattern or image made of small regular or irregular pieces of colored stone, glass or ceramic, held in place by plaster/mortar, and covering a surface. Mosaics are often used as floor and wall decoration, and were particularly popu ...
, credited as "the world's first popular browser". Its innovative
graphical user interface The graphical user interface (GUI "UI" by itself is still usually pronounced . or ) is a form of user interface that allows User (computing), users to Human–computer interaction, interact with electronic devices through graphical icon (comput ...
made the World Wide Web system easy to use and thus more accessible to the average person. This, in turn, sparked the Internet boom of the 1990s, when the Web grew at a very rapid rate.
Marc Andreessen Marc Lowell Andreessen ( ; born July 9, 1971) is an American entrepreneur, investor, and software engineer. He is the co-author of Mosaic, the first widely used web browser; co-founder of Netscape; and co-founder and general partner of Sili ...

Marc Andreessen
, the leader of the Mosaic team, soon started his own company,
Netscape Netscape Communications Corporation (originally Mosaic Communications Corporation) was an independent American computer services company with headquarters in Mountain View, California and then Dulles, Virginia. Its Netscape web browser was once d ...

Netscape
, which released the Mosaic-influenced
Netscape Navigator Netscape Navigator was a proprietary web browser A web browser (commonly referred to as a browser) is application software for accessing the World Wide Web upright=1.35, A global map of the web index for countries in 2014 The World ...
in 1994. Navigator quickly became the most popular browser.
Microsoft Microsoft Corporation is an American multinational corporation, multinational technology company with headquarters in Redmond, Washington. It develops, manufactures, licenses, supports, and sells Software, computer software, consumer electroni ...

Microsoft
debuted
Internet Explorer Internet Explorer (formerly Microsoft Internet Explorer and Windows Internet Explorer, (from August 16, 1995 to March 30, 2021) commonly abbreviated IE or MSIE) is a discontinued series of graphical user interface, graphical web browsers develop ...
in 1995, leading to a browser war with Netscape. Within a few years, Microsoft gained a dominant position in the browser market for two reasons: it bundled Internet Explorer with its popular
Windows Microsoft Windows, commonly referred to as Windows, is a group of several proprietary {{Short pages monitor