Web browser

Last updated

A web browser displaying Wikipedia Chromium (web browser).png
A web browser displaying Wikipedia

A web browser (commonly referred to as a browser) is application software for accessing the World Wide Web. When a user requests a web page from a particular 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. [1] [2] A search engine is a website that provides 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. [3]

Web browsers are used on a range of devices, including desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. In 2020, an estimated 4.9 billion people used a browser. [4] The most used browser is Google Chrome, with a 63% global market share on all devices, followed by Safari with 19%. [5] Other notable browsers include Firefox and Microsoft Edge.


Nicola Pellow and Tim Berners-Lee in their office at CERN NPellow.jpg
Nicola Pellow and Tim Berners-Lee in their office at CERN

The first web browser, called WorldWideWeb, was created in 1990 by Sir Tim Berners-Lee. [6] [7] He then recruited Nicola Pellow to write the Line Mode Browser, which displayed web pages on dumb terminals; it was released in 1991. [8]

Marc Andreessen, lead developer of Mosaic and Navigator Marc Andreessen.jpg
Marc Andreessen, lead developer of Mosaic and Navigator

1993 was a landmark year with the release of Mosaic, credited as "the world's first popular browser". [9] Its innovative graphical interface 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. [9] Marc Andreessen, the leader of the Mosaic team, soon started his own company, Netscape, which released the Mosaic-influenced Netscape Navigator in 1994. Navigator quickly became the most popular browser. [10]

Microsoft debuted Internet Explorer in 1995, leading to a browser war with Netscape. Microsoft was able to gain a dominant position for two reasons: it bundled Internet Explorer with its popular Windows operating system and did so as freeware with no restrictions on usage. Eventually the market share of Internet Explorer peaked at over 95% in 2002. [11]

In 1998, Netscape launched what would become the Mozilla Foundation to create a new browser using the open source software model. This work evolved into the Firefox browser, first released by Mozilla in 2004. Firefox reached a 28% market share in 2011. [12]

Apple released its Safari browser in 2003. It remains the dominant browser on Apple devices, though it did not become popular elsewhere. [12]

Google debuted its Chrome browser in 2008, which steadily took market share from Internet Explorer and became the most popular browser in 2012. [13] [14] Chrome has remained dominant ever since.

In 2011, the HTTPS Everywhere extension was released, and the NoScript extension received numerous awards. The same year, Mozilla launched the stable version of Tor Firefox for navigating the dark web. [15] [16]

Microsoft released its Edge browser in 2015 as part of the Windows 10 release. (Internet Explorer is still used on older versions of Windows.)

In terms of technology, browsers have greatly expanded their HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and multimedia capabilities since the 1990s. One reason has been to enable more sophisticated websites, such as web applications. Another factor is the significant increase of broadband connectivity, which enables people to access data-intensive web content, such as YouTube streaming, that was not possible during the era of dial-up modems.


The purpose of a web browser is to fetch content from the Web and display it on a user's device.

This process begins when the user inputs a 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 (HTTP). In the case of https:, the communication between the browser and the web server is encrypted for the purposes of security and privacy.

Once a web page has been retrieved, the browser's rendering engine displays it on the user's device. This includes image and video formats supported by the browser.

Web pages usually contain hyperlinks to other pages and resources. Each link contains a URL, and when it is clicked or 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 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. [17] Cached items are usually only stored for as long as the web server stipulates in its HTTP response messages. [18]


Web browsers can typically be configured with a built-in menu. 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 and default search engine. They also can change default web page colors and fonts. Various network connectivity and privacy settings are also usually available.


During the course of browsing, cookies received from various websites are stored by the browser. Some of them contain login credentials or site preferences. [19] However, others are used for tracking user behavior over long periods of time, so browsers typically provide settings for removing cookies when exiting the browser. [19] Finer-grained management of cookies usually requires a browser extension. [20]


The most popular browsers have a number of features in common. They allow users to set bookmarks and browse in a private mode. They also can be customized with extensions, and some of them provide a sync service.

Traditional browser arrangement: UI features above page content Wikipedia Homepage Chromium Web browser 36.png
Traditional browser arrangement: UI features above page content

Most browsers have these user interface (UI) features:

There are also niche browsers with distinct features. One example is text-only browsers that can benefit people with slow Internet connections or those with visual impairments.


Web browsers are popular targets for hackers, who exploit security holes to steal information, destroy files, and other malicious 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 and avoiding known-malicious websites. [21]

Market share

NetMarketShare October 2020
desktop share [22]
Google Chrome
Microsoft Edge
Mozilla Firefox
Internet Explorer
QQ browser
Sogou Explorer
Yandex Browser
UC Browser

See also

Related Research Articles

Internet Explorer web browser developed by Microsoft

Internet Explorer is a series of graphical web browsers developed by Microsoft and included in the Microsoft Windows line of operating systems, starting in 1995. It was first released as part of the add-on package Plus! for Windows 95 that year. Later versions were available as free downloads, or in-service packs, and included in the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) service releases of Windows 95 and later versions of Windows. New feature development for the browser was discontinued in 2016 in favor of new browser Microsoft Edge. Since Internet Explorer is a Windows component and is included in long-term lifecycle versions of Windows such as Windows Server 2019, it will continue to receive security updates until at least 2029. Microsoft announced in August 2020 that as of August 2021, web-based Microsoft 365 products will no longer support Internet Explorer, while Microsoft Teams ended support for IE earlier in November 2020.

Netscape Navigator Web browser

Netscape Navigator was a proprietary web browser, and the original browser of the Netscape line, from versions 1 to 4.08, and 9.x. It was the flagship product of the Netscape Communications Corp and was the dominant web browser in terms of usage share in the 1990s, but by around 2003 its use had almost disappeared. This was partly because the Netscape Corporation did not sustain Netscape Navigator's technical innovation in the late 1990s.

Netscape 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 dominant but lost to Internet Explorer and other competitors in the so-called first browser war, with its market share falling from more than 90 percent in the mid-1990s to less than 1 percent in 2006. Netscape created the JavaScript programming language, the most widely used language for client-side scripting of web pages. The company also developed SSL which was used for securing online communications before its successor TLS took over.

Firefox Free and open-source web browser by Mozilla

Firefox Browser, also known as Mozilla Firefox or simply Firefox, is a free and open-source web browser developed by the Mozilla Foundation and its subsidiary, the Mozilla Corporation. Firefox uses the Gecko layout engine to render web pages, which implements current and anticipated web standards. In 2017, Firefox began incorporating new technology under the code name Quantum to promote parallelism and a more intuitive user interface. Firefox is officially available for Windows 7 or newer, macOS, and Linux. Its unofficial ports are available for various Unix and Unix-like operating systems including FreeBSD, OpenBSD, NetBSD, illumos, and Solaris Unix. Firefox is also available for Android and iOS. However, the iOS version uses the WebKit layout engine instead of Gecko due to platform requirements, as with all other iOS web browsers. An optimized version of Firefox is also available on the Amazon Fire TV, as one of the two main browsers available with Amazon's Silk Browser.

Avant Browser is a freeware web browser from a Chinese programmer named Anderson Che, which unites the Trident layout engine built into Windows with an interface intended to be more feature-rich, flexible and ergonomic than Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE). It runs on Windows 2000 and above, including Windows 8, Windows 8.1 and Windows 10. Internet Explorer versions 6 through 11 are supported.

Browser wars

A browser war is competition for dominance in the usage share of web browsers. The "First Browser War" during the late 1990s pitted Microsoft's Internet Explorer against Netscape's Navigator. Browser wars continued with the decline of Internet Explorer's market share and the popularity of other browsers including Firefox, Google Chrome, Safari, Microsoft Edge and Opera.

Comparison of web browsers

The following tables compare general and technical information for a number of web browsers.

Netscape Browser

Netscape Browser is the eighth major release of the Netscape series of web browsers, now all discontinued. It was published by AOL, but developed by Mercurial Communications, and originally released for Windows on May 19, 2005.

Mozilla Firefox has features that allow it to be distinguished from other web browsers, such as Chrome and Internet Explorer.

Usage share of web browsers Relative market adoption of web browsers

The usage share of web browsers is the proportion, often expressed as a percentage, of visitors to a group of web sites that use a particular web browser.

Mozilla Application Suite Discontinued Internet suite

The Mozilla Application Suite is a discontinued cross-platform integrated Internet suite. Its development was initiated by Netscape Communications Corporation, before their acquisition by AOL. It was based on the source code of Netscape Communicator. The development was spearheaded by the Mozilla Organization from 1998 to 2003, and by the Mozilla Foundation from 2003 to 2006.

AOL Explorer, previously known as AOL Browser, is a discontinued graphical web browser based on the Microsoft Trident layout engine and was released by AOL. In July 2005, AOL launched AOL Explorer as a free download and as an optional download with AIM version 5.9. AOL Explorer supported tabbed browsing.

An HTTP cookie is a small piece of data stored on the user's computer by the web browser while browsing a website. Cookies were designed to be a reliable mechanism for websites to remember stateful information or to record the user's browsing activity. They can also be used to remember pieces of information that the user previously entered into form fields, such as names, addresses, passwords, and payment card numbers.

Bookmark (digital)

In the context of the World Wide Web, a bookmark is a Uniform Resource Identifier (URI) that is stored for later retrieval in any of various storage formats. All modern web browsers include bookmark features. Bookmarks are called favorites or Internet shortcuts in Internet Explorer, and by virtue of that browser's large market share, these terms have been synonymous with bookmark since the first browser war. Bookmarks are normally accessed through a menu in the user's web browser, and folders are commonly used for organization. In addition to bookmarking methods within most browsers, many external applications offer bookmark management.

A web browser is a software application for retrieving, presenting and traversing information resources on the World Wide Web. It further provides for the capture or input of information which may be returned to the presenting system, then stored or processed as necessary. The method of accessing a particular page or content is achieved by entering its address, known as a Uniform Resource Identifier or URI. This may be a web page, image, video, or other piece of content. Hyperlinks present in resources enable users easily to navigate their browsers to related resources. A web browser can also be defined as an application software or program designed to enable users to access, retrieve and view documents and other resources on the Internet.

Firefox 4

Mozilla Firefox 4 is a version of the Firefox web browser, released on March 22, 2011. The first beta was made available on July 6, 2010; Release Candidate 2 was released on March 18, 2011. It was codenamed Tumucumaque, and was Firefox's last large release cycle. The Mozilla team planned smaller and quicker releases following other browser vendors. The primary goals for this version included improvements in performance, standards support, and user interface.

Firefox 2 2006 web browser

Mozilla Firefox 2 is a version of Firefox, a web browser released on October 24, 2006 by the Mozilla Corporation.

Google Chrome Web browser developed by Google

Google Chrome is a cross-platform web browser developed by Google. It was first released in 2008 for Microsoft Windows built with free software components from Apple WebKit and Mozilla Firefox. It was later ported to Linux, macOS, iOS, and Android where it is the default browser built into the OS. The browser is also the main component of Chrome OS, where it serves as the platform for web applications.

Browser security is the application of Internet security to web browsers in order to protect networked data and computer systems from breaches of privacy or malware. Security exploits of browsers often use JavaScript, sometimes with cross-site scripting (XSS) with a secondary payload using Adobe Flash. Security exploits can also take advantage of vulnerabilities that are commonly exploited in all browsers.


  1. "What is a Browser?". Google (on YouTube). 30 April 2009. Less than 8% of people who were interviewed on this day knew what a browser was.
  2. "No-Judgment Digital Definitions: Internet, Search Engine, Browser". Mozilla. 11 October 2017. Let’s start by breaking down the differences between internet, search engine, and browser. Lots of us get these three things confused with each other.
  3. "Difference Between Search Engine and Browser".
  4. "World Internet Users Statistics and 2019 World Population Stats". www.internetworldstats.com. Retrieved 11 November 2019.
  5. "StatCounter Global Stats". StatCounter. Retrieved 29 January 2021.
  6. "Tim Berners-Lee: WorldWideWeb, the first Web client". W3.org. Retrieved 7 December 2011.
  7. Stewart, William. "Web Browser History". Archived from the original on 20 January 2011. Retrieved 5 May 2009.
  8. Gillies, James; Cailliau, R. (2000). How the Web was Born: The Story of the World Wide Web . Oxford University Press. pp.  6. ISBN   0192862073.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  9. 1 2 "Bloomberg Game Changers: Marc Andreessen". Bloomberg. 17 March 2011. Retrieved 7 December 2011.
  10. Enzer, Larry (31 August 2018). "The Evolution of the Web Browsers". Monmouth Web Developers. Retrieved 31 August 2018.
  11. "Mozilla Firefox Internet Browser Market Share Gains to 7.4%". Search Engine Journal. 24 November 2004. Retrieved 7 December 2011.
  12. 1 2 "StatCounter Global Stats – Browser, OS, Search Engine including Mobile Usage Share" . Retrieved 2 May 2015.
  13. "Internet Explorer usage to plummet below 50 percent by mid-2012". 3 September 2011. Retrieved 4 September 2011.
  14. "StatCounter Global Stats – Browser, OS, Search Engine including Mobile Usage Share" . Retrieved 2 May 2015.
  15. Alan Pearce (24 December 2014). The dark web. Youtube. Brighton: TEDx . Retrieved 23 September 2020.
  16. Sudhanshu Chauhan; Nutan Kumar Panda (2015). "Online Anonymity". Hacking Web Intelligence: 147–168. doi:10.1016/B978-0-12-801867-5.00008-2. ISBN   9780128018675.
  17. "Definition of browser cache". PCmag. Retrieved 19 February 2020.
  18. Fountis, Yorgos. "How does the browser cache work?" . Retrieved 19 February 2020.
  19. 1 2 "Tracking Cookies: What They Are, and How They Threaten Your Privacy". Tom's Guide. Retrieved 11 March 2019.
  20. "Alternatives to Cookie AutoDelete extension". AlternativeTo. Retrieved 11 March 2019.
  21. "Securing Your Web Browser". www.us-cert.gov. Retrieved 21 April 2019.
  22. "Desktop Browser Market Share Worldwide". Net Applications.