What Is a URL?
Trail: Custom Networking
Lesson: Working with URLs

What Is a URL?

If you've been surfing the Web, you have undoubtedly heard the term URL and have used URLs to access HTML pages from the Web.

It's often easiest, although not entirely accurate, to think of a URL as the name of a file on the World Wide Web because most URLs refer to a file on some machine on the network. However, remember that URLs also can point to other resources on the network, such as database queries and command output.


URL is an acronym for Uniform Resource Locator and is a reference (an address) to a resource on the Internet.

A URL has two main components:

Note that the protocol identifier and the resource name are separated by a colon and two forward slashes. The protocol identifier indicates the name of the protocol to be used to fetch the resource. The example uses the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP), which is typically used to serve up hypertext documents. HTTP is just one of many different protocols used to access different types of resources on the net. Other protocols include File Transfer Protocol (FTP), Gopher, File, and News.

The resource name is the complete address to the resource. The format of the resource name depends entirely on the protocol used, but for many protocols, including HTTP, the resource name contains one or more of the following components:

Host Name
The name of the machine on which the resource lives.
The pathname to the file on the machine.
Port Number
The port number to which to connect (typically optional).
A reference to a named anchor within a resource that usually identifies a specific location within a file (typically optional).

For many protocols, the host name and the filename are required, while the port number and reference are optional. For example, the resource name for an HTTP URL must specify a server on the network (Host Name) and the path to the document on that machine (Filename); it also can specify a port number and a reference.

Previous page: Working with URLs
Next page: Creating a URL