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What are Web Browsers?

Web browsers bring convenient internet access and are an intricate part of most people's daily lives. In this publication, we will talk about:

  • What Exactly is a Web Browser?
  • Components and Processes of Web Browsers
  • History of Web Browsers
  • Security When Using a Web Browser.

What Exactly is a Web Browser?

A web browser is a software application / user interface that allows a person to interact with data on the internet, specifically with web sites. Web sites are collections of files (usually HTML files) designed to give a specific browsing experience for the visitor. 

Components and Processes of Web Browsers

This image shows the main parts of a web browser:

User Input / Interface: The place where a user can interact with the web browser. Some interface options include: refresh button, address bar, status bar, forward button, back button, page zoom, tabs, printing support, searching within a web page, and more. They also have pop-up blockers so users can choose to prevent unwanted windows from opening. Many functions of a web browser can be expanded by installing a plugin or extension.

Browser Engine: This connects the user interface (UI) to the rendering engine. It sends data queries to the rendering engine based on multiple user inputs.

Rendering Engine: Displays requested content onto the computer screen. Using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to format, the rendering engine translates images and files (HTML, XML files). It is also able to display other kinds of contents with the use of extensions or plugins.

Networking: Using protocols such as The Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) or File Transfer Protocol (FTP), networking retrieves Uniform Resource Locators (URLs). It also maintains facets of Internet security and communication. Networking is able to cache a retrieved document, in order to decrease network traffic.

JavaScript Interpreter: Able to translate and execute a website's JavaScript code. Results are then sent to the rendering engine. The rendering engine then displays the results on the user’s device.

UI Backend: Allows use of various widgets, such as drawing combo boxes. It specifies a generic interface (generic, meaning it allows creation of command processors that only process specialized commands).

Persistent Data: A database stored on the computer’s local drive, where the browser is installed. The non-volatile storage / persistent data is a layer used by the browser. It stores various information locally, such as cookies, cache, bookmarks, preferences and more. A browser also utilizes other storage like: WebSQL, IndexedDB, sessionStorage / localStorage, and filesystem (fs).

If you are looking for data-driven information on web browser choices, please see our up-to-date research publication, Top 50 Web Browser Alternatives. Also, receive a free custom report by participating in our custom web browser survey, where you can layer in your own importance rating for each web browser feature.

History of Web Browsers

In the past, when dial-up modems were used, it was problematic for users to access websites that were data intensive, but then faster broadband connections came along. For this reason, among others, browsers have greatly improved and expanded their technology.

Some of the major milestones include:

1990: The first web browser was created by Sir Tim Berners-Lee. It was called WorldWideWeb (later it was renamed Nexus).

1991: Line Mode Browser – able to use multiple operating systems.

1993: Mosaic – It was more popular because it allowed images / graphics to be embedded into text.

1995: Internet Explorer – this was the first web browser created by Microsoft.

1998: Netscape created Mozilla Organization, later taken over by Mozilla Foundation.

2003: Release of Apple’s Safari (for Macintosh computers)

2008: Google Chrome – became very popular.

2011: Opera Mini – for mobile device browsers.

2015: Microsoft Edge – released for Windows 10

Security When Using a Web Browser

Some important tips for maintaining security while using a web browser include:

  • Protect your credentials and browsing history (a map of where you have been on the internet) by clearing your browser cache, especially after engaging in activities such as online banking. Web browsers allow users to set up automatic cache clearing. It is wise to always be aware of what your browser settings are.
  • Take advantage of free password managers to store passwords, through use of a master password. They offer convenience and security. Don’t share your passwords with other people. To find a password manager that fits your needs, check out 74 Password Managers Compared.
  • While the autocomplete option (in various online forms) is convenient, don't use autofill for confidential / personal information.
  • Clearing or purging cookies on a regular basis can help with security. This does, though, bring an inconvenience, in that you’ll have to manually enter info into websites.
  • Incognito mode can also be useful: Command-Shift-N (macOS) or Ctrl-Shift-N (Windows).
  • Use two-factor authentication, if possible and always be on the lookout for questionable activity.

Web browsers are a common tool in today's world. Internet users often take them for granted but it is good to know how they work. We’ve defined what a web browser is, illustrated the components and processes involved, shared web browser history, and some web browser security tips. If you are interested in learning about available web browsers, check out Doakio’s Top 50 Web Browser Alternatives.

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