Internet Browsers: A Simple Guide to How They Work

What's an Internet Browser? A Simple Definition

Close up of generic Internet browser
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An internet browser, also known as a web browser or simply a browser, is a software program that lets you view web pages on your computer. You can think of your browser as your gateway to the internet. If you want to enter online sweepstakes, for example, you must first open a giveaway's website in your internet browser.

The main purpose of an internet browser is to translate the code that computers use to create websites into the text, graphics, and other features of the web pages that we're used to seeing today.

Web browsers have evolved significantly since they were first introduced in 1990.

The First Web Browser

The first web browser was called WorldWideWeb and later changed its name to Nexus. Created by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, it was released in 1990 and gave people a basic way to view web pages. However, it was a long way from the immersive online experience we have today.

Without browsers, the internet as we know it today would not be possible. The internet was text-based, bland, and couldn't be used without technical know-how. This limited the number of people who had the ability and the interest to use the internet.

In the early 90s, the audience was so small and so niche that most companies didn't have an online presence and maga shopping sites like eBay and Amazon would never have had a chance of drawing a decent crowd.

That started to change with the introduction of Mosaic in 1992.

The Mosaic browser helped make the internet ubiquitous. The graphical interface made navigating the web easy to understand and the ability to display graphics on websites made web pages more interesting. Best of all, people no longer needed to be programmers to enjoy themselves online.

With more people spending more time on the internet, companies were quick to follow. E-commerce, online sweepstakes, social media, and many other things we take for granted today would be impossible without internet browsers.

Modern Internet Browsers

Internet browsers have developed into powerful tools that let you safely and quickly access your favorite websites.

Modern internet browsers have many helpful features. Tabbed browsing, for example, helps you open up many web pages in individual tabs, instead of needing a resource-intensive separate window for each page. This is very helpful if you want to enter sweepstakes faster.

Modern browsers offer security features, embedded video, nearly instant loading times, and many other things that make the net such a fun place to spend time.

Which Internet Browsers Are Available Today?

Most browsers are available for free download. The six most popular internet browsers today include:

Each of these internet browsers has advantages and disadvantages. Read their websites, then try out the ones that appeal to you the most.

Due to the way they are coded, some websites display better in one internet browser or another. For this reason, it's a good idea to have at least two browsers available on your computer, especially if you want to enter sweepstakes. If an entry form isn't displaying in your primary browser, it might work flawlessly on your secondary internet browser.

Many internet browsers support plug-ins, which are helper programs that you can download to customize your browsing experience. Plug-ins can help you fill out forms automatically, check your grammar and spelling, mute unwanted sounds in your browser, send you reminders, and much more.

Plug-ins can help you work or play online, but not every browser allows them. Firefox and Chrome each allow plug-ins, for example, but not all are available for each system.

The best way to find out which browser is right for you is to download them and play around with them. Which extra features are important to you? Do websites load quickly and reliably? Is your browser using too many resources and slowing down other programs you're using?

How Internet Browsers Work:

Here's a very quick overview of how browsers work:

  1. You type a website's URL into your browser's address bar; "http://www.thebalance.com" is an example of a URL.
  2. The browser locates and requests that page's information from a web server.
  3. The browser receives a file in a computer code like HTML or Javascript, which includes instructions about how to display the information on that page.
  4. The browser interprets that file and displays the page for you to read and interact with. And it does all of this in just a few seconds, usually.

If you want a more detailed technical breakdown of how browsers work, check out Behind the Scenes of Modern Web Browsers by Tali Garsiel and Paul Irish on HTML5Rocks.com.

The important thing to know is that different browsers have slightly different ways of working so that if you are having trouble getting pages to display or sweepstakes to load on one browser, it makes sense to try another. Install two or three of your favorite browsers and switch between them if something doesn't work.