We all use universal resource locators (URLs) every day, but a lot of us don’t understand what they are or how they work. There is also a lot of confusion about them, so let’s talk about what a URL is and how it works, and how it differs from domain names and other things often confused with them.
What is a URL?
URL stands for universal resource locator, and it is the specific address of a unique resource on the web. Each URL has to be unique and it points to a unique resource.
In this context, a resource can be a specific page on a website, a text file, a PDF for download, an image, etc. A URL, thus, is what you type in somewhat plain English (or another language) to access a specific location. The URL must be unique. You can’t, for example, have the same URL point to two different contact pages (although there’s a way around this which we’ll talk about later in the article).
Isn’t a URL the Same Thing as a Domain?
No. A URL refers to a specific web page. The domain is the name of the website itself.
So, for example, FlickMax is a domain. https://flickmax.com/hosting/ is a URL leading to a page on that domain. One reason for the confusion is that simply going to flickmax.com will get you to a resource. The top level of the domain redirects to https://flickmax.com/indexin in a way that’s not visible to the user. This is where you put the “main page” of your site. (If you’re using a content management system, it generates this automatically). You can also edit it to direct to a different URL.
How is the URL Put Together?
Every URL on your site will contain the domain name. A good way to think about it is that the domain is the “town” the URLs live in.
Going back to our example URL:
The URL here is a simple one and it consists of three parts:
- https. This is the protocol, and tells the connecting computer that they have to connect to the site using SSL encryption. You will still sometimes see it without the s, but there is a strong movement to eliminate unencrypted sites. It also tells them to expect a html file.
- flickmax.com. This is the domain name. It tells the computer what other computer or server they are talking to.
- hosting. This points to the file that’s going to be loaded. In this case, it’s a html file that loads a specific page on the website.
Some URLs can be a little bit more complicated, but they all follow this basic structure. For example, https://flickmax.com/domains/domain-name-search/ has a two-part file path, which tells the computer to look in domains for domain-name-search. This allows you to organize your website by topic, much as you might have files in folders on your own computer. The :// part separates the protocol or scheme from the domain, and the / tells the computer to go to each “level.” In a few cases, you might see a number after a colon at the end of the website.
There are also some optional things that might show up in a URL. Let’s take this example URL: https://mydomain.com:80/path/myfile.html?search47655#somewhere. You can see some extra things in there (this isn’t a real URL). There are three extra things in there:
- 80. This is the port. The vast majority of websites access port 80, so it’s normally omitted. You may occasionally see a different port number. Usually this is for internal private sites or secure documents, or if there is, for some reason, more than one site on the same domain. IT might do this for development purposes.
- ?search47655 is a parameter. Usually these are used for tracking purposes. If you do a search on Amazon, take a look at the URL. Amazon uses parameters a lot, and the parameter records what search you did to get to that page.
- #somewhere is an anchor. This tells the computer to load a specific part of a file. The most common use for this is if a webpage is particularly long, anchors let users go to the part of the page they want.
In a few cases, you might see a different protocol, such as file: (tells the computer to download a file) or mail to: (tells the computer this is an email address and to open the user’s email software). The vast majority of URLs go to HTTP files, however.
Another thing you might see is a subdomain. Here’s an example of a subdomain: yorick.wordpress.com.
(Also not a real URL).
In this case, wordpress.com is the domain. Yorick is the sub-domain and refers to a specific blog on wordpress.com. A subdomain is a site inside a site. Subdomains are most often seen on blogging and social media sites. Because subdomains don’t cost any money, you can have as many of them as you want. You can have, for example, contact.html files on every subdomain.
So, URLs tell computers where to go. Except it’s actually a little more complicated than that.
The URL is a Translation
In fact, the URL is a translation of what computers tell each other. It’s designed to be readable by humans so you can look at the address bar and see where you are on the web.
Under that URL is a string of numbers. The domain name, for example, refers to the IP of the site. Think of it as a nickname people can remember. For example, flickmax.com is associated with the IP 126.96.36.199.
So, you could type in https://188.8.131.52/hosting to go to the first example site, but that would be annoying.
What’s actually sent between computers is all in numbers, but we translate it so we can actually understand it and remember it.
In conclusion, a URL simply means the human language overlay on how computers tell other computers where to find a specific web page. You don’t have to worry about them much as your web hosting software will generate them as needed, but it helps to understand how they work.
Looking for a domain? Check out Flickmax’s lookup tool to make sure that your domain name is available and then talk to us about our domain registration and Webhosting services.