How Does A Browser Do It?
Taking a Deep Dive into Browser Function
A browser is something we all use every time we access the internet, from a desktop or mobile device. Think of browsers as the go-between software, translating the computer code that makes up web pages to the text and images we see, or playing a video or audio clip. Without this sequence of events, you could not watch YouTube videos, shop online or check email.
Knowing a little more about how browsers work will help you pick the best one for your needs, and help keep your browsing experience more secure.
The Most Popular Browsers
By far, Google Chrome is the most widely used internet browser. As of December, 2022 here are the most popular internet browsers, listed by percent of overall internet users.*
Google Chrome: 65.84%
This top browser seamlessly connects with other Google products, such as Gmail, YouTube, Google Docs, and Google Drive. However, this also means Google collects a massive amount of data on you and your browsing history.
Made for Apple devices such as MacBooks, iPhones, and iPads in 2003, you can use this browser on a PC too. However, Apple stopped providing Windows updates for Safari back in 2012. You can’t load it on Windows 11 without a workaround.
Microsoft Edge: 4.44%
Contrary to what some others have written, Microsoft Edge is not the same software as Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. In fact, you can still download Internet Explorer for Windows 10, as well as Edge. However, Edge is newer, and is the software Microsoft is updating to match new internet protocols. Internet Explorer is not available for Windows 11, and has been replaced by Microsoft Edge.
Firefox has been around since 2002, created by Mozilla, the group that brought us the early Netscape browser. Those looking for greater privacy tools than Chrome often prefer Firefox. There are also some advanced tools for web developers built in.
Samsung Internet: 2.66%
Samsung Internet is a mobile browser, widely used across the globe. Its foundation is in Chromium, an open source browser that also lends code to Chrome, Edge, Opera and others.
Opera is another privacy-focused browser that comes with some unique features, such as a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Opera is the first major browser to offer a Crypto Browser, allowing users to seamlessly make transactions with cryptocurrency.
*Usage data from Gs.statcounter.com
What are HTML, HTTP and HTTPS?
People that design and program websites use different languages. One common computer language is hypertext markup language, or HTML. A line of code from an online newsletter that details how the title “News You Can Use” appears, includes information on font style and size, color and page alignment that looks like this:
Even though programmers can read and write this code, you don’t have to. HTTP, short for Hypertext Transfer Protocol will translate this code, and other computer languages, for you.
HTTPS, adds an “S” on to the end of this acronym, which stands for “Secure.” HTTPS creates a more secure connection by encrypting data transmitted to and from the web page you connect to. It does this by creating a secure socket layer (SSL) and transport layer security (TLS). While you rarely need to concern yourself with these last two security acronyms, it is critical to make sure you see the “S” in HTTPS at the beginning of a website address whenever you are transferring any personal data back and forth, especially sensitive or financial information and passwords.
How Does a Browser Work?
You probably know the basics of browser navigation already. Either type a website address you know into the address box at the top, or Google a search term, then click on a link from the results. Here is what happens after you make your request.
The browser uses HTTP (or HTTPS) to send a request to the worldwide system of computer networks, aka the internet, to fetch resources like HTML from the specific address you requested. The requested site will then communicate back through HTTP(S) to your browser so the browser can render the requested information. Content is displayed to you in a matter of seconds. That is, if you typed the address correctly, or if the link you clicked on was valid. Pretty amazing when you think about it- an almost instantaneous information system! And, the page you are viewing may have been retrieved from many different servers- the basic page content, a different site hosting videos or other large files, servers for advertisements on the page, extensions and more.
Getting to Know the Lingo
Web browsers have features you likely are using already. It is helpful to learn the correct terms for each of these elements. They are commonly used in business, and knowing them may help you accurately communicate with tech support when having a computer problem. You can also see this page on GFC Global for a visual representation of these terms.
- Address bar: Located at the top of the browser, this is where you type the URL (Uniform Resource Locator) of the website you want to access.
- Add-ons or extensions: Extensions are little bits of software that add functionality to the browsing experience. These can add elements in, like pdf making capability or take things away, like unwanted ads. Some add-ons are included with the browser and can be added as an option. Others can be downloaded through an app store. Access your extensions at the top of the browser, usually indicated by a puzzle piece icon.
- Bookmarks: If there are website you visit often, or want to easily find again, you can bookmark it and easily navigate to it in the future without having to type out the URL. Bookmarks are commonly indicated with a star icon next to the search bar, though on Safari you have to go to the share menu first.
- Browser history: Your browser history is a record of what websites you’ve visited. The amount of history kept depends on your settings. Keeping a browsing history can help find information again after a browsing window is closed. There are times you might want to erase your browsing history, especially if you are on a shared computer.
- Browser window: A browser window is the main feature of a browser that lets you view the web page content.
- Cookies: Cookies are text files that store information about you and the data you share with a particular website. Cookies can be helpful by saving your login info or shopping cart, but they can also be a privacy concern. When given a choice, select the option to only allow strictly necessary cookies. It’s also a good idea to clear out the cookies regularly in your browser cache.
- Home button and home page: A browser allows you to set a default home page- your starting point when you open the browser. This is done in settings. For example, on Chrome, my browser opens to a Google search page. On my husband’s account, his Chrome opens to a Google News page. Yours could open to a favorite site or page you visit most often. After viewing other webpages, you can easily navigate back to where you started by hitting the home icon, which is typically located next to the search bar at the top of the page.
- Navigation buttons: Also at the top of the browser are arrows that indicate going back a page, forward a page, or reloading a page.
- Tabs: Each time you open a new web page during a browsing session, it will add a tab at the very top, above the search bar. You can switch between tabs by clicking on them to view different pages you have opened. A word of caution though- having too many tabs open will slow down your browsing experience. You should also close all tabs before closing your browser, especially if on a shared computer.
Browsers are part of our everyday life. There are tradeoffs with any browser. Chrome is the most convenient, but can be more difficult to manage your privacy. Opera provides more security, but the searches are not as robust. Review the options to see what works best for your needs.