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What is a URL Address and How do They Work?

What is a URL? Everybody has to start somewhere, and this is one of the basic pieces of information that you are going to need to understand because everybody online (and offline) talks about URLs. URLs are all around us, whether you know what they are called or not. You need to know what people mean when they are talking about what a URL is. You’ll also hear the word canonical thrown around, especially if you are trying to create a website. I’ll teach you what that means next. Continue Reading...

What is a URL?

URL stands for Uniform Resource Locator and it’s what is used on the Internet, and specifically within web pages that you click on to get you from one place to the next.

URLs are what makes the world go around, well, at least the world as it applies to the Internet and they’ve only been around for a relatively short period of time.

A URL is similar to your house address (for example).  It’s made up of specific parts that tell computers how to get to the place online you want to get information from.

You clicked on a URL to get here, to this page. Every time you click on a link (usually they’re blue, underlined, or stand out from the rest of the text especially when you move your mouse over them), like the one you clicked on to get here.

For those of you that want a deep dive, I’ll get into more detail in just a bit.

What is My URL?

From time to time you are going to come across forms that ask you for “your” URL.  They’ll probably have some text like “My URL” or they’ll say “Website”, or possibly “What is Your URL?”

All they are asking you for is a URL to your website, something you don’t likely have currently.

If you are interested in having a website of your very own, I can help you get set up with your very own website in less than 5 minutes!

 

Most of the time you can safely ignore these fields by leaving them blank.

The Parts of a URL – Let’s Dissect the URL

I’ve prepared a video that I think will help you understand what a URL is.

 

In the video, I take you through the parts of a URL, but in case you’d rather read instead of watch the video, I’ll explain it.

The Protocol is How to Get to Where You are Going

Let’s start with the protocol, typically that is either HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) or HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure).  The protocol is the method of transportation.  So, kind of like a car, but instead of a car, you’re using a web browser.

Chrome, Internet Explorer and Firefox are all examples of web browsers on a PC.  If you are using a mobile phone, then you are likely either using Safari (if you have an iPhone), or Chrome if you are using an Android phone.

Of course, if you have a windows phone you are likely using Internet Explorer (or Edge as it’s called today).

The difference between HTTP and HTTPS is that the one without the “S” on the end is not secure, and the other with the “S” is secure.

All that means is that any data that gets transmitted between you and the other computer you are trying to get to is encrypted (meaning that the bad guys can’t read anything).

To continue our analogy, if HTTP is a car, then you can kind of think of HTTPS as a car with dark tinted windows that nobody on the outside can see into obscuring who, or what is inside the car.

Since more and more sites are requiring secure connections, we’re going to forget about HTTP and we’ll focus on HTTPS.

So far, our URL looks like this:  https://

The “://” is nothing more than a separator.  It’s kind of like a comma in a US address between the city and the state.  It’s a way for machines to understand that everything to the left of it is the protocol specification to use (it is the “how to get there” part), and everything to the right is part of the actual address (the “where to go” part).

The Domain is the General Region You are Trying to Get To

The next part of the URL is the domain, the domain is the part of the address that gets you to the server that is going to give you the information you are looking for.

In our ongoing analogy, you can think of the domain as an individual country, state/province, and city.

The domain itself is made up of three parts, one of which is optional.  For example:

www.buzzymarketing.com

The domain is most specific to the far left and gets less specific as you move to the right.  Just like a physical address in the real world.

You can think of the “.com” as the country, for example.  Though the example isn’t exactly accurate because a .com has nothing to do with geography, remember.

A “.com” can exist anywhere in the world, so you have to kind of think of it in abstract terms.  There are meanings to the TLD (Top Level Domain – the “.com” part).  For example:

  • .com – was once supposed to stand for commercial though today anybody can use .com
  • .net – was once supposed to be reserved for networks and service providers, but it too can be used for just about anything.
  • .org – is primarily for non-profits and other organizations, and while it’s harder to get, it too can be used for just about anything
  • .gov – is strictly just government related
  • .mil – is strictly for military organizations
  • Just about every country has their own TLD as well
    • .uk – United Kingdom
    • .us – United States
    • .ca – Canada
  • Country top level domains can have a SLD (Second Level Domain)
    • .co.uk – SLD for the United Kingdom commercial

There are many, many more TLDs but those listed are the most common and have been around the longest.

The next part “BuzzyMarketing” is the specific “domain”.  You can think of that as the state or even the city.   Many domains will take you to a single server today, but some domains span multiple servers and multiple countries, however, they are all “owned” by a single system.

The “www.” is traditionally meant to get you to a single type of system (a region in our analogy), “www” traditionally stands for World Wide Web, and describes the type of system (a website).  So, you can think of the “www” as a city or a region (like a zip/postal code) within a city.

Buzzy Marketing does not use a sub-domain (no www), so in this case, BuzzyMarketing is referring to a small region, and the sub-domain is not necessary, or you can think of it as being implied.

Now if we combine the parts we have:

https://buzzymarketing.com

The Port is Like the Zip/Postal Code

The port often is not listed within a URL.  It can be, and when it is it will be a colon followed by a number, for example “:80”.  The port is kind of like the four-part extension to a United States zip code and gets to a specific part of a server.

In our analogy, the port is like the street of your destination, which means you’re almost there.

When the port is missing, then it is implied because every protocol (HTTPS) has a specific default port.  In the case of HTTPS, it is port 443.  So if we were to write it out the URL would be:

https://buzzymarketing.com:443

Luckily, since the port is implied we don’t have to remember that part of it at all.  Just understand that if you ever see a colon (:) at the end of the domain, that it’s a port on a specific server.

The Most Specific Part of the URL is the Path

The next part of the URL is called the path.  Sometimes it’ll be as simple as a single forward slash “/”, sometimes it will contain a lot of information, and sometimes it will be missing.

If it is missing or it is a forward slash (a slash that leans forward like this “/” and not a backslash, which is a backward leaning slash like this “\”) then that is typically the main page for the site.

When the forward slash (/) contains text to the right of it, then it is taking you to a different page, and in our analogy, that’s the final part of the address.  Think of it as the house.

A URL can contain many slashes and other symbols, if it makes you feel better you can think of the text after the first slash as an apartment building, with everything else taking you to specific floors and rooms within that apartment building.

The page address of the page that you are reading right now is “/what-are-urls-address”.  Finally, by putting it all together we have:

HTTPS:// (the protocol and separator) BuzzyMarketing (the main domain with implied sub-domain) .com (the TLD) and finally /what-are-urls-address.

https://BuzzyMarketing.com/what-are-urls-address

That is all there is to it.  That’s what a URL is; it’s the vehicle, location, and object that you are trying to get to.  Simple, isn’t it?

If you would like more information about URLs in general, check out the Wikipedia page on URLs.

Do You Still Have Questions about URLs?

If you still have questions, or you just want to say hello, I encourage you to use the form below to let me know.

In fact, you’ll notice a form field labeled “Website”, that’s where you would put your URL if you have one.  If you don’t, why not consider getting your own website?  It’s really not that hard, it literally only takes about five minutes.  Plus, you’ll have people like me to help you along the way!

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