The web browser, popularly called a browser, is a software app that accesses and retrieves information from the World Wide Web.
When a user seeks a web page from a specific website, the web browser collects the required information from the server. It then shows the page on the user’s device.
A browser is not the same feature as a search engine, though the two words are frequently interchanged.
A search engine is just a site that gives links that directs to other websites to a user.
To be linked to a website’s server and show its web pages, the user must install a web browser.
Web browsers are utilised across devices such as desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones.
This year alone, approximately 4.9 billion people use at least one browser on their device, with a majority of them from Asia.
The most popular and commonly used browser is Google Chrome, with an overwhelming 66% worldwide market share on all devices. Its distant second is the Safari browser with 17%.
Other well-known browsers are Firefox and Microsoft Edge.
WorldWideWeb is the name of the very first browser; it was created and founded in 1990 by Sir Tim Berners-Lee.
He subsequently hired Nicola Pellow to program and design the Line Mode Browser, which showed web pages on dummy terminals; it was launched in 1991.
The year 1993 was a milestone year in the history of web browsers with the launch of Mosaic. It was labelled the world’s first popular browser.
Its creative graphical interface enabled easier use of the world wide web system and granted more access to the average user.
This eventually triggered the Internet boom of the 1990s, when the Web developed at a rapid rate. Marc Andreessen, the head of the Mosaic team, soon founded Netscape, his own company.
This company launched the Mosaic-impacted Netscape Navigator in 1994. Soon after, the Navigator quickly became the world’s most popular browser.
Microsoft first launched the Internet Explorer in 1995, and this triggered an intense rivalry with Netscape.
Eventually, Microsoft was able to secure a leading position for two reasons. First, it equipped Internet Explorer with its famous Microsoft Windows operating system.
Second, it equipped it as freeware with unlimited usage. Ultimately, Internet Explorer dominated the global market share with an astonishing rate of over 95% in 2002.
In 1998, Netscape released what would later be known as the Mozilla Foundation to design a new browser utilising the open-source software model. This project metamorphosed into Firefox, initially launched by Mozilla in 2004. Firefox achieved a 28% global market share in 2011.
Apple launched its Safari browser in 2003. It maintains its status as the leading browser on Apple platforms. Though, its dominance did not extend beyond Apple platforms. Google launched its Chrome browser in 2008.
It eventually usurped the dominance of the global market share from Internet Explorer. It attained the status of the most popular browser in 2012. Since then, Chrome has maintained its stance in the market.
In 2011, the first version of HTTPS Everywhere was released, while NoScript won its major awards. That same year, Mozilla released the Tor Firefox browser’s stable version, and the free add-on to browse the dark Web.
Microsoft launched its Edge browser in 2015 as part of the Windows 10 launch. It was redesigned as a Chromium-based browser in 2019. Although, the Internet Explorer is still being used on older versions of Windows.
The purpose has been to give room for more advanced websites, such as web apps. Another factor is the noticeable increase in broadband connectivity.
This allows people to gain access to data-intensive web content, such as YouTube streaming, that was not accessible or even thought of during the period of dial-up modems.
A web browser aims to fetch information resources from the Web and display them on a user’s device.
How do web browsers function?
This process commences when the user types a Uniform Resource Locator (URL), such as , into the browser’s search bar.
Nearly every uniform resource locators on the Web begin with either http: or https: Meaning the web browser will access them using the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP).
With HTTPS, the interaction between the browser and the server is encoded for security and privacy purposes. Once a web page has been accessed, the browser’s engine rendition shows it on the user’s device. This contains image and video content formats supported by the browser.
Web pages typically include hyperlinks to other pages and contents. Each link carries a uniform resource locator, which enables the browser to navigate to the new web page when clicked.
Majority of browsers use internal storage of frequently used information of web pages to enhance loading times for recurrent visits to the same page.
The cache can keep numerous items, such as large-sized images, to ensure they won’t need to be downloaded from the server twice. Cached content’s duration on the device depends typically on the stipulation of the server in its HTTP response information.
Web browsers can usually be tweaked using the internal settings menu. According to the browser, the nomenclature of the menu could vary. It can be labelled as Settings, Options, or Preferences. The menu has various categories of settings.
For instance, users can configure their home page and default search engine. They can set the fonts and colours of the default web page. There are also available settings for different network connectivity and privacy control.
While surfing the Web, the browsing history cookies are usually collected from the websites and are stored by the browser. Some of these cookies include sign-in credentials or site preferences.
However, other cookies are also used for monitoring user behaviour over lengthy periods.
Browsers usually have available settings for erasing cookies when exiting the browser. Subtle management of cookies typically needs a browser extension.
The most commonly used browsers have some mutual features. They usually permit users to configure bookmarks and browse incognito. They also can be personalised with extensions, and a good number of them offer a sync service.
Majority of browsers share these user interface features:
- Tabs: This permits the user to open several pages simultaneously, either in various browser windows or in multiple tabs of the same window
- Navigation buttons or icons: Back and forward icons to navigate back to the page previously visited or move forward to the next page
- Refresh icon: A refresh/reload and a stop icon to refresh and reverse loading the current page. The majority of browsers sync the stop button with the reload button
- Home button: A home button’s function is to return the user to the browser’s home page
- Address bar: An address bar gives you space to type in the uniform resource locator of a page and show or load it
- Search bar: A search bar to type words into a search engine. In a good number of browsers, the search bar is synced with the address bar
Most browsers have niche browsers with separate features. One example is text-only browsers, from which people with poor internet connections and visual impairments can benefit from.
Web browsers are common and interesting targets for hackers, who seek to take advantage of security gaps to illegally capture data, damage files, and other malevolent activities.
Browser merchants frequently patch these security gaps, so users are highly advised to keep their browser software up to date. Alternative protection methods are antivirus software and staying away from known-malicious websites.
Latest statistics on browsers global market share (October 2020)
- Google Chrome: 69.53%
- Microsoft Edge: 9.71%
- Mozilla Firefox: 7.15%
- Internet Explorer: 4.53%
- Safari: 3.92%
- QQ browser: 1.49%
- Sogou Explorer: 1.35%
- Opera: 0.9%
- Yandex Browser: 0.84%
- UC Browser: 0.29%
- Others: 0.29