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Internet for Beginners > Surfing the World Wide Web:

What's in a Web Address? | Navigating the Web | Searching the Web | Digital Privacy
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How to know where you are...Understanding a Web Address

We'll start with, for a guide, an address from your own computer. This may be something you are probably familiar with: C://My Documents/DearJohn.doc. "C" would be the name of your hard drive, "My Documents" would be the directory on your C drive, and "DearJohn.doc" would be the name of your file.

Windows document location

file cabinet A comparison would be to say that your computer hard drive (such as your "C" drive) is like a file cabinet. Directories (such as "My Documents") are like the hanging file folders. Files (such as "DearJohn.doc") would then be like the papers filed in the hanging folder.

Similarly, a web page address is translated as a file located on a computer out on the 'Inter-network':

"HTTP" indicates that it is a file out on the web (as opposed to a file on your computer), gives the location of the computer holding the file (also known as a domain), "~melissas/" gives the name of the directory in the computer, and "DearJohn.html" is the name of the file.

Some other addresses you might come across on the web might be https:// for secure or encrypted web sites and ftp:// for "file transfer protocol"

ftp site address

An explanation of "domain names"

A web site is just a collection of files stored on a computer that is connected to the Internet all the time, hence allowing access to that website at any time by any Internet user. The local address to that website appears as a directory location on the hosting computer's hard drive.

A domain is an easy name that people can remember that will point the web surfer's browser to your actual web address. As an example of how this works, Internet Montana has a customer whose username is "JW". The directory on our computer "" for that customer is named "jw", according to her username. Her website address would therefore look like: (click to open in a new window)

However, JW uses her web page to advertise her business, and so has decided to buy a domain address that will be easy for her customers and potential customers to refer to, as they browse the Web. When they type in that domain address, (click to open in a new window), their browser is automatically pointed to her 'virtual' (actual) web address on Internet Montana's computer.

A domain has two or more parts. Often, the first part "www" indicates the type of the address, and is usually optional. (Remember from previous, ftp sites generally start with ftp.) The middle part is the domain name. It may interest you to know, in fact, that 98% of the words listed in Webster's dictionary have been registered as a domain. The last part, or extension, is the 'top level domain' (tld) classification of the website's content. Altogether, the whole address (i.e. is known as a 'fully qualitfied domain name, or "FQDN" (Don't worry, there won't be a test on this)

Until recently, there were only 6 extensions were used:

  • .edu -- educational site (usually a university or college)
  • .com -- commercial business site
  • .gov -- U.S. governmental/non-military site
  • .mil -- U.S. military sites and agencies
  • .net -- networks, internet service providers, organizations
  • .org -- U.S. non-profit organizations and others

In mid November 2000, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) voted to accept an additional seven new tld's (top level domains), which are now available:

  • .aero -- restricted use by air transportation industry
  • .biz -- general use by businesses
  • .coop -- restricted use by cooperatives
  • .info -- general use by both commercial and non-commercial sites
  • .museum -- restricted use by museums
  • .name -- general use by individuals
  • .pro -- restricted use by certified professionals and professional entities

You can check out for more information on domain name extensions.

Internet representation What happens when you use a domain address? Domains are acquired through a registering company, such as Network Solutions. What happens when a person surfing the Internet sends a request to view a domain address? Most servers store domain 'directions' on their own system. When a match is made, it is known as "authoritative". If the user's server does not have an authoritative answer, that request is sent to another server on the Internet until an authoritative match can be made. That user's browser is sent to the virtual location of the requested web site, and all that in the space of a few moments.

Internet for Beginners > Surfing the World Wide Web:
What's in a Web Address? | Navigating the Web | Searching the Web | Digital Privacy


Material last updated March 2009

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