A Conceptual Explanation of the World Wide Web


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Tutorial Overview

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Topics covered in this tutorial (click link to jump to topic):

1. What is the Web?   2. What does the address mean?


What is the Web?

The World Wide Web is like a huge electronic magazine with its pages stored on many computers (called "servers") around the world. Pages on the web are connected by links called "hypertext". Each hypertext link jumps to another page... so unlike reading a book where one page follows another in sequence, on the World Wide Web you follow a web of links to visit the information your are interested in.

What is termed "surfing the web" is clicking through one page to another - from hypertext link to hypertext link. You can go on an endless adventure from web page to web page, turning back at any time, or going off in tangents.

To access the World Wide Web you need, a computer, a modem (or some other connection device), a phone line, and software called a "browser"... and an account with an Internet Service Provider. The browser itself is a relatively simple piece of software that interprets a computer code called HTML - or hypertext mark-up language. Most web pages are written in HTML - the browser merely interprets the HTML's instructions to display the text, pictures, play sounds or run animation. The two most popular browsers are Firefox and Microsoft's Internet Explorer.

What does the address mean?

To get to one of the pages of this electronic magazine, you have to start up your Web browser and enter the address of a web page you wish to visit. Every HTML document on the Web has a Universal Resource Locator or "URL". This is literally the address of that particular HTML document - where it lives on the web. e.g. http://www.dynamicwebs.com.au/tutorials/index.htm

  • The "http" stands for Hyper Text Transfer Protocol - it tells your web browser what communication protocol to use to receive the document.
  • The "www" says that the computer you wish to retrieve information from is a web server - a special computer designer to "serve up HTML files".
  • The next set of words, dynamicwebs.com.au, is the domain name of the server you are visiting, it's like the address of that computer. The domain name is assigned to a nameserver which in turn has an IP address. We use the plain English terms while the computers use the IP address.
  • The ".com" says it is a commercial server or a company server
  • and the ".au" means that this particular server is in Australia.
  • You will notice that the URL contains "/tutorials" this is directing your browser to a particular directory on the server. It is from this directory (which is simply a portioned space on the server's hard drive) that you have requested the html file.
  • and finally the file itself, in this case called index.htm

Other documents

From time to time you will notice the address in the browser window includes files that end with extensions such as:

  • .xml - extensible mark up language
  • .shtml - html with server side includes
  • .asp - asp server pages
  • .cfm - cold fusion. Indicates database content.
  • .php - doesn't stand for anything particular. Indicates database content.

Some of the above are scripting languages and some are programming languages. As ecommerce starts to hit its straps, many tools are bring used to make web sites. They each have strengths and weaknesses. From your point of view that, if the browser can render it, and the site works, the underlying technology is not that important.

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