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Web? What's a Web? Hypertext Addresses
Browsers Source Code

Related documents:
Constructing a Web Site
Fundamentals of HTML

Web? What's a Web?

The web represents a particular way of accessing and moving through the internet. It is based on hypertext, which allows the user to jump to other places within a document, to other documents, and to other sites. Unlike traditional internet access which required the user to move in a strict hierarchical/linear fashion, the web lets the user bounce through cyberspace, jumping in at the beginning, middle, end, or anywhere else within a location or document, as long as that particular location or document is linked.

To use the web, you need a browser. There are two basic kinds: line or text browsers, such as Lynx®, and graphical browsers, such as Firefox®, Explorer®, Opera®, etc. Text browsers let users see the text files of documents mounted on the web in a limited way; graphical browsers let users see the text, plus access other kinds of files which might appear, such as photographic files, sound files, or video files.

Sometimes the browser is referred to as the client and the machine holding the data or information being accessed is called the server.

The physical appearance of the document and how much of it you can access depends on several things: the kind and version of browser that you have; the way in which the data within the document was entered (that is, the kind of markup or modeling language used, and the version or standard of that language, whether scripting is involved, and how that scripting is accomplished); the way in which you have set your preferences; and the hardware and software available on your computer.


Web sites and pages are joined by the use of hypertext links. These links are embedded in the source code of the documents offered on the web and appear to the user as coloured, shaded, underlined, or otherwise distinguishable items (text, icons, pictures). Clicking on the coded item activates the link, causing the user to jump to another part of the document, to hear an audio file, to view a video, or to move to another computer. These links have to be built into the document by the creator.


To access an internet site via the web, you need to know the URL, the Universal (sometimes Uniform) Resource Locator. The URL has standard parts: a protocol, a machine name, and a path/file name. (Occasionally, there may be a port number given as well. Usually, if it is the standard port, 8080, it does not appear as part of the address.) The protocol indicates the application (telnet, gopher, ftp, nntp, http, etc.) being used to access the machine (site) and file. URLs which are not persistent undergo frequent changes. The file you accessed yesterday, may be moved today and removed tomorrow. This has a tendency to frustrate novice users. With a bit more experience you will learn to track down files that have moved and accept the complete removal of files as "just the way it is on the web".

Most URLs we see on the web are aliases consisting of letters, rather than appearing as the IP (internet protocol) number as assigned. For example, may be the "real" address of the University of New Brunswick but it is a whole lot easier for most people to remember The "letters" used have some meaning to us as well. For instance, .ca is the country code for Canada and is assigned by an internet registry which follows certain guidelines about who can use that country code. is the address for Harvard University, an educational institution in the United States. You can determine this because .edu is in the top level domain position in the address. Some URLs combine the two ideas; for instance, is the address of the Coombs web server at Australia National University, an educational institution in Australia.

Addresses on the web are often case, space and symbol sensitive. You should always enter them exactly.


It is often your browser that governs how much or how little you can do within a particular site on the web. Many of the graphical browsers have incorporated a variety of Windows® features such as the ability to select and save portions of text, save files, print files, etc. As well, many browsers have electronic mail features which may allow you to mail files to yourself or anyone else with an email address, or to read your email from the browser.

Browsers let the user set personal preferences which will have an impact on the displayed appearance of the document on the user's machine. Unless there are compelling reasons, your personal preferences should be set to a standard when you are using your browser/computer to create web documents or what you see may not be what anyone gets.

Occasionally, you may go to a web site and see absolutely nothing, even though your browser tells you the document load is complete. There are several reasons why this might happen, including choice of preferences. Remember, the browser only interprets the code to the best of its ability. The closer that code is to standard, the closer you will come to seeing the coded item in the way in which its creator intended.

Source Code

Web documents consist of displayed content and source code. The most common kind of source code used to create web pages is hypertext markup language, or html. HTML is a formatting language. It allows the creator to code a document so that a displayed version of the document will look somewhat like the original -- for instance, so that bold type will stand out. Other kinds of markup language, such as SGML, are metalanguages which do much more than simply format the documents. They may allow the content of a document or documents to be manipulated in various ways, creating, for example, a table of contents, a nominal index, or a collection of items based on a requested set of criteria. The more you know about markup language and how it works, the more efficiently and effectively you will be able to move through the web and access needed materials.

For more on html and how it works, please see: Fundamentals of HTML.

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This page created and maintained by Linda Hansen.
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Created: 1997/08/20 Last updated: 2010/08/19
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